Reader to Reader: Ch-ch-changes


This week's questioner was advised by a friend and a coach to alter her running style. But can your running style really be changed – and should you try?

"Running with a friend the other day, he pointed out that I should alter my running style; try to cultivate that nice mid-foot striking thing. (Coach has said so too.) But I've also heard that you shouldn't change whatever feels natural – and it's hard to maintain a new style. Anyone successfully altered theirs?"Lyra

Your best answers

  • Change will help, but do it slowly
    I used to be a heel striker but changed to running on my forefoot, and I swear blind it makes me quicker. During the switchover I had sore calf muscles, but once I got used it I was fine. The trick is to take the change over very gradually or you will injure yourself. I gradually increased the miles on my toes and gradually decreased the "heel" miles; whole process took about 10 weeks. The morning walk down the stairs took longer than normal, but it felt great running at my new race pace. – David Stamp
  • Don't sweat it, but tweaks may help your performance
    If you're not injured, think about what suits you. None of us is perfect. That said, I have been following some of the techniques in Danny Dreyers' ChiRunning, and they work. By having better "form" you have to fight your body less and you flow better, getting more out of less mileage. – Neil Osborne
  • Technique matters – it's like learning to drive
    I've spent nearly a year with ChiRunning and I'm beginning to feel I'm getting there. But I'm someone who took years to learn to drive, so I'm probably not typical. Driving is relevant, because it's a matter of awareness and co-ordination, and so is changing your running style. For all sorts of reasons I'm glad I've made the effort. If you don't like the particular emphases of Pose or Chi, have a look at books like Master the Art of Running by Malcolm Balk and Triathlon Training Running by Ken Mierke. Malcolm Balk is an Alexander Technique teacher, so he tries to maximise the benefit for the whole body and the whole of life, while fairly obviously the Triathlon book focuses on getting most speed from least energy. – More Haste, Less Speed
  • Another vote for ChiRunning
    I used to heel strike and was very injury prone. Last year I started working on changing to a midfoot strike using the ChiRunning book. I'm now far less prone to injuries, and I'm running in lighter shoes with less support. My running seems to flow better, and I'm working with my body rather than against it. It's still a work in progress, but the way the book is written allows you to change gradually. – Mister W
  • Tweaking your style is hard but worth it
    I have a terrible running style. Hubby can always pick me out of a crowd because my knees knock together and my feet swing out sideways with every step. This puts a lot of pressure on my ankles, which are pretty weedy anyway. One of the things that helps me to improve slightly is to concentrate on the stronger bits of my legs – be conscious of the movement of my thighs pushing my legs forward. This seems to make me faster and relieves the pressure on my ankles. Anyway, concentrate on the good areas and build up the weak areas so that your gait has a chance to sort itself out naturally. – LauraF
  • Get some expert input, and prepare for a long slog
    Having gone through a really annoying phase of shin splints, I got some physio input and they gradually re-engineered my running style. It was a ground-up (well, hip-down) re-think about each muscle group and its role in the cycle of movement. A lot of subtle tweaks were made over three months, pretty much working on it every day.It was every bit as dull as it sounds. Result, though? Injury evaporated (primary objective achieved) but also my footfalls are very quiet now. Less noise means not only less shock to the tissue of the lower legs, but also less energy used for a given distance. Less energy used means more in the tank and thus more speed. I am definitely quicker now for a given amount of perceived effort. However it depends on your personal situation. Get some serious biomechanical expert to look at your style before embarking on a change regime; you might be fine already!

    Further word of warning: if you are trained to a reasonable level you will find it incredibly frustrating bringing your speed and distance down to beginner level when you get started on the new style. If you go for your usual distance/speed using a newly modified gait, you're practically guaranteed to hurt something! Gently does it. – LeeBee

  • Study runners' form on YouTube
    Bear in mind that you'd have to reduce your milage considerably while you make the transition, or you'll almost certainly get injured. It will help if you do some strength training for your calves and ankles, because you will be using muscles in an unfamiliar way. Do a bit of research into running form, and look at the way runners with good form run – this could be one genuine benefit of YouTube! – terryh
  • Find what suits
    What's important is finding a running style that suits you. There are a number of world class heel-strikers. if you land on the balls of your feet, you are most definitely a mid-foot striker. I feel you have been misinformed - if anything, my feet feel more relaxed on running now that I mid-foot strike. If heel-striking feels weird, don't do it. – B (Ewok's Mate)
  • Some things aren't worth it
    I tried switching from midfoot to forefoot just out of curiosity, and the pain in my calves was unbelieveable – I could hardly walk down the stairs! Now I'm back to my old style, inury free and happy. Tread with caution. – Paul Robertson
  • Stick with your natural style
    I was told that your natural running style is natural for a reason. That's not to say that tiny tweaks aren't possible, and your natural running style may alter over time – for example your stride may get longer. But unless you're categorically doing something that's "wrong" and/or going to cause you an injury, I think best just to stick with what you've got. Take a look at any runners in races - there are all sorts of weird and wonderful gaits, and don't even get me started on shapes and sizes! – WelshCath
  • Beware of foot-fall fads
    Don't just change your running style because it's the latest "in-thing" or fad, or even a suggestion from a mate. If you enjoy the way you run and you're fairly niggle free – if you complete training sessions feeling mentally better then when you started, and you're physically "pleasantly fatigued" (as opposed to quite sore) – don't change. – nrg-b
  • Invest in good cushioning
    I run on my toes naturally. It does help me to avoid some injuries, but it makes me extremely susceptible to tight calves and stress fractures of the metatarsals. The natural method of shock absorbtion happens during the heel strike phase, which obviously you don't benefit from as a forefoot striker. I find the most important thing to look for when I buy trainers is the level of forefoot cushioning in the shoe. I like the feeling of leaning forwards whilst running – it feels more natural to me to fall into the next stride. It has pros and cons like all things, I guess. – RIBS
  • The right shoes are key
    When you're running long and hard, for example in a marathon, you'll forget all about how you're running and revert to your normal style. My husband reckons I run like a lizard: my one foot swings around a little as well and there's nothing I can do to stop it, as it feels so natural. I'm also a flat-footed mild supinator. But it doesn't matter, because I wear the right shoes and, despite training hard for my 3rd marathon, I rarely get injured and am hitting a few PBs every month. So as long as you're not injured and wearing the correct footwear, relax and enjoy. – Little lizard
  • Appearances can be deceptive
    I have a friend with a very strange running style, which makes her look slow... and she's not. I guess there may be a point beyond which these things can't be unlearned. – kittenkat
  • No injury? No problem
    Your coach should know better, unless he or she has spotted a specific problem causing an injury. In general there's nothing wrong with a forefoot strike. – Swerve


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