Gear Guy

How Can I Improve My Running Form?

When I’m in a road race, sometimes I hear a guy running nearby who’s louder than a Budweiser draught horse. How do I learn better form so I won’t end up like that?

Bob Parks

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Good, specific advice on running form is scarce. The scientists and researchers backing midfoot and barefoot running styles don’t usually go into detail about how to do it. And tips from friends and fellow runners can be contradictory and uneven.

It turns out, there’s an app for that. Noted running form coach Danny Dreyer and his organization launched the ChiRunning iPhone App on May 6 (an Android version is in development).

Dreyer wrote one of the most comprehensive books on midfoot running form in 2004, and consolidates some of the principles through audio and video in the new app. Influenced by T’ai Chi practice, he argues that engaging core muscles, stepping lighter, and holding better posture can make you a faster runner and possibly reduce injuries.

Plug in some earbuds, fire up your phone, and listen to Dreyer describe the principles in short bursts while you run. He talks about how to lean forward slightly, about “lifting the crown of your head” to keep from slouching, and keeping a steady cadence. The app’s metronome conducts you through Dreyer’s recommended cadence if you choose (Dreyer along with other coaches suggest a goal of 180 steps per minute.) Quick video snippets guide you through a warm-up routine and post-workout stretch session. (Following recent physiology studies, Dreyer puts stretching after the run.)

We liked the brevity of the lessons, each offering just a kernel of advice. The warm-up, for instance, adds a mere 10 minutes to your routine. And like most exercise software today, ChiRunning tracks your route via GPS and records your pace and distance.

We were confused about the various choices of runs, whether interval, tempo, or long slow distance. Picking one of these categories merely invokes different principles to focus on. We were expecting Dreyer to prompt us through the actual workouts like coaching apps from Adidas and Runkeeper. It was disappointing not to get his level of guidance.

Is it worth the $10 download fee? We found ChiRunning motivating and full of useful drills. The reliance on holistic principles was sometimes grating to me personally, because I usually seek advice rooted in evidence-based physiology. Dreyer attributes good biomechanics to managing your body’s innate Chi, a life force that emanates from the core. Then again, most coaches use extended metaphors to create memorable instruction, and many of the ideas presented in Dreyer’s app have their corollaries in current physiology. I’ll chalk up my personal resistance to some of the ideas as a minor concern in the context of a coaching program that seeks to bring biomechanical principles to life.

Price: $9.99 (Android version in development)

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