Richard, 70: Running Technique – Dos, Don’ts, and Cues
Welcome back to this special series featuring the stories of the Senior Planet Sponsored Athletes as they pursue their fitness goals in 2023. You can find all of our Sponsored Athletes’ stories here.
Richard Westbrook, 70, is a competitive runner, but it wasn’t always that way. After a drastic health transformation, Richard rediscovered his love of being out on the track. Today, Richard wants to provide as much encouragement as possible to fellow older adults athletes, no matter their level of expertise.
I’ve been training for Masters track for over a decade. I’ve made every mistake at least once, so I thought I’d share some dos, don’ts, and cues about running technique. Being mechanically efficient as possible will help you get the most out of your energy, help prevent injury, and make running more enjoyable — or at least less of a pain in everything that moves! Here are five areas that you can focus on for running with better form:
Good body position results from having a “neutral” spine — as if someone is lifting you by your ears so you stand tall. Slouching forward with your upper back puts extra strain on your back and perhaps hamstrings, too. “Sitting down” (rounding the lower back) makes it difficult to get good hip extension and robs you of forward motion.
For the right body posture…
DO stand tall.
DON’T slouch forward or “sit down”.
CUE: Imagine being lifted by your ears. 👂
Running is a pushing motion. Pushing your foot into the ground creates energy which is transferred to the calf then released when you push off with your toes. It’s related to jumping. Foot and ankle mechanics are very similar to skipping rope. You should land on the balls of your feet, not your heels. Your toes should point forward – you’re not a duck or pigeon! Don’t let your ankle roll inward (pronation) or outward (supination). Whether jogging slowly or sprinting intensely, the foot strike pattern is virtually the same.
The worst foot strike is with the heel. Heel striking is natural when walking, but not when running. It’s one of the most common and most detrimental mistakes. It sends shock waves – perhaps 10x times body weight – directly into your legs. Your foot motion should be like how you jump rope. (Hint: jumping rope is a great exercise to improve your running.) Who skips rope by landing on their heels? Elephants strike heels-first.
For the proper push-off and landing…
DO mimic skipping rope.
DON’T mimic an elephant.
CUE: Tiptoe through the tulips. 🌷
Your knees lift the lower leg to get your foot in position to push into the ground. Ideally, they should rise vertically as if you were climbing a ladder. The knees that move or rotate inward or outward indicate weaknesses or misalignments you should address. When you climb a ladder, you also raise your toes to get to the next rung. This too, is good running technique. It puts the foot in position to strike the ground properly.
For good foot position…
DO lift your knees (and toes).
DON’T let your knees wander or rotate.
CUE: Climb a ladder. 🪜
Your hips provide mobility for the legs and get stability from the lower back and core. Runners who twist their body (arm and shoulder swing) are robbing the hips of power. Less power = less speed = more work.
For maximum mobility…
DO make a stable platform for your legs.
DON’T lose energy by twisting.
CUE: “The Twist” is a dance. 🕺
Arm motion provides balance and some stimulus. Stand with your arms at your side. Bend your elbows 90 degrees. Imagine your shoulders as pivots and your arms as pendulums – move them forward and back accordingly. “Tick-tock, tick-tock.”
Cross-body motion wastes energy by generating twist. (Remember: the twist is a dance, not a running form.) Legs tired? Move your arms more energetically – your legs will respond.
For better balance and stimulus…
DO move your arms front to back.
DON’T waste energy going sideways.
CUE: Steam locomotive drive arms. 🚂
To put it all together: If you stand tall, use your shoulders as pivots to swing your arms front to back, don’t twist your torso, raise your knees to get your feet into position, and land on the balls of your feet… you’ve got good running form! Or, as my father used to say: “Do everything just right, and you’ll probably be OK!”
If you’d like to learn more about running technique with a live demonstration, join me online at seniorplanet.org/fitness on Wednesday, June 21 at 1:30pm EDT for my live discussion and exercise session. (Event details will be posted soon!)
In need of a little motivation to get moving? Join our free online exercise programs, get the latest fitness updates from Senior Planet by signing up for our health and wellness newsletter, and follow us on social media (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) to get to know these awe-inspiring athletes. You might just find a new love for fitness along the way!
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