Podcast, Running, Science

Running form and the search for common ground among top coaches, researchers, physicians, and physical therapists with Jonathan Beverly | EP#116

 April 5, 2018

By  Mikael Eriksson

Running form and the search for common ground among top coaches, researchers, physicians, and physical therapists with Jonathan Beverly | EP#116

Jonathan Beverly is the author of Your Best Stride, former editor of Running Times, running coach, and lifelong runner. In Your Best Stride, he discusses running form and biomechanics, and his search for common ground among the world's top coaches, biomechanical researchers, physicians, and physical therapists.

Discuss this episode!

  • Let's discuss this episode and the topic in general. Post any comments or questions in the comments at the bottom of the shownotes. Join the discussion here!

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Is there such a thing as a right way to run?
  • Hip flexibility, glute strength and inhibition - the top reasons preventing runners from achieving their best running form.
  • The few form cues that are actually worth using in your running. 
  • Everyday habits and how they affect running form. 
  • Is a high cadence really all that necessary?
  • What's the experts' consensus on running shoes?

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About Jonathan Beverly  

1:00 - 

  • Jonathan is the author of Your Best Stride, which describes his search for common ground among the world's top coaches, biomechanical researchers, physicians and physiotherapists.
    • He describes how experts all agree that there is no one ideal running style, but a there are a few common strategies that everyone should adopt.
    • These things can become compromised by our daily habits.
  • Jonathan describes clear ways to restore mobility, strength, balance and posture that are necessary to run well.
  • Jonathan has also written the book Run Strong, Stay Hungry.
  • He used to be the editor of Running Times.
  • Jonathan has also coached runners for many years and has been a lifelong runner himself.

Is there one right way to run? 

5:36 -

  • This was the question that started me on the path to write Your Best Stride.
  • Minimalism running came with a rush and told us we had to run a certain way on our forefoot with a certain cadence.
    • If we did this we'd supposedly all be Kenenise Bekele!
    • This got quickly disproven by science and experience and everybody went back to their previous ways.
  • The simple answer is no, there isn't a right way to run.
    • Every body is different.
  • You don't expect peoples voices to sound the same so we also don't expect them to run the same.
    • Running is affected by limb length, tightness of joint, angles of joints, and many more elements.
  • Your body finds the best stride for your body.

Finding your best stride

8:06 - 

  • It’s not the case that we all go out and run perfectly.
  • The problem is that your body is not your body - it's not the body you were born with, or the body you'd have if you lived in type of environment that we were designed to be in.
    • If we were walking and running, lifting and carrying the way we were supposed to, then we'd run naturally and the way we are supposed to.
    • But we don’t!
  • If you go to the playground and watch 4 year olds, they run very naturally, comfortably and lightly.
    • As soon as they're sitting, or driving or hunching over a computer, the mechanics change.
    • This is why we don't run the way our bodies naturally should.
  • This is what my book is about, finding a way back to how we're meant to run.
  • It's best to restore the mechanics and then let your nervous system re-find it's best path and your best stride.
  • This process is difficult in the sense that you have to change the systems.
    • You train to get faster, but you think about your form and technique.
    • What I discovered, and the experts agree, is that you actually have to train for the right form.
    • You don't run incorrectly because you develop bad habits.
    • Once you get a form that's inefficient and keep doing it over time you dig that rut.
    • But primarily, your systems are incorrect (e.g. hips too tight). So you have to change those systems.
    • It's a process of restoring what once was, which is a better type of stride.
  • It takes months, I can't give you three cues and you'll run better tomorrow.

How to make changes to get a better running form

12:15 - 

  • The focus was misplaced on the foot strike.
    • Experts agreed that the foot is the end of the chain. The foot strike is the result.
  • The core of the strike is the hips, which is where focus should be.
  • Based on all the sitting we've done over the years hip flexors are too tight and the glutes and the back are shut off.
    • Glutes and back muscles are needed for power and stabilising but they're asleep and weak.
  • There's not an exact way to stride, but effective strides are primarily from landing beneath you and driving behind you.
    • If you think of a top triathlete running, their leg is in extension when they're running - i.e. knee behind hip and they're driving backwards.
    • If you think of a jogger, typically they're in more of a sitting position where they're reaching in front of them and pulling down to neutral.
      • This isn't because they learn bad habits, it's because they don't have the flexibility and strength to do the pushing motion.
      • The mechanisms have changed.
  • The first step is to get your hips flexible.
    • This is done through old fashioned static stretching, 3-5 minutes daily for several months.
    • We used to do static stretching before running, and it's been proven that this is detrimental, but if you have an imbalance in this area you have to lengthen it.
    • Jay Dicharry talks a lot about this, he is a physical therapist and biomechanical researcher from Oregon.
    • To lengthen the muscle takes a lot of time. 
  • This doesn't all have to be extra work.
    • One of the key hip flexor stretches is a kneeling lunge position. If you're stretching your right hip you put your right knee down, you have your left leg up and then you get tall and tighten your glute.
    • This opens up your hip flexor.
    • You can do this in front of your desk while you're answering emails!
  • The next key thing is to activate and strengthen your glutes.
    • This involves squats, donkey kicks etc.
    • They key is not just doing the exercise, but learning what it feels like to have your glute activated.
    • These things start to work together to improve the run.
  • There isn't one perfect routine for these exercises.
    • They key is to do them regularly and to focus while you're doing them.
    • It's not a mindless exercise, you need to focus on what's happening, retraining and feeling your balance differently.
    • Rotating them is good because they work different ways.
      • E.g. side leg lifts are a great way to activate the glute medius.
  • Do squats properly! Quad dominant people will often struggle with this and drop over to use the quads rather than sit back.
    • To help you can put yourself up against a chair with your foot next to the chair, and don't let your knees kick the chair forwards.
    • It may take a while but you'll be able to feel what should be turning on and how the balance works.
    • Eventually you'll be able to do this on the run.
  • The upper body is often also out of balance and we often end up with forwardly rotated shoulders from constant forward reaching and hunching.
    • Pecs are overly tight and short, lats and traps are tight too.
    • Triathletes have an advantage because swimming opens up these muscles.
    • Incorporating backstroke into swimming can help open up the upper body.
  • I coach high school cross country and every morning we start with arm circles, arm swings, catching your hands behind you, pulling your shoulder back and down.
  • One area where you can use some cues is getting your elbows back and thinking about your arm drive.
    • Arm drive should be from zero back - effective arm drive is just back and it recovers forwards.
    • If you're driving forwards you know everything is out of balance and your legs will go forwards.
  • John Kiely is a UK scientists who talks about neuromuscular plasticity, which suggests the central nervous system finds the best drive for whatever your systems are right now.
    • Once it finds it, it does create a groove.
    • These become ruts, your body has been doing it for 20 years so even if you change the system (e.g. improve hip flexibility and posture) you still need to shake things up!
    • This is where barefoot running comes in, going hard on a technical trail.
    • Also doing some technical drills, which are primarily to get you into different ranges of motion or patterns to make your central nervous system realise there are new ways.
  • It's a gradual process of learning new patterns.
    • Barefoot strides is one of the great ways of doing this because it changes how you move and it wakes things up.
  • It works by itself - you'll feel it in the middle of a run as you lift your hips and activate your knees.

Incorporating these adjustments 

24:13 - 

  • Make sure that you go fast, every time you run.
    • Towards the end of the run do 3-10 quick sprints, 10 seconds, full range of motion as fast as you can.
    • It will shake things up and get your systems looking for new ways to move.
  • A couple of times a week, finish your run somewhere with smooth grass, take off your shoes and do some strides.
    • Do some at race pace, some at all out sprint, some at jogging speed - vary the movement patterns.
  • Once you get back to your shoes, put them on while you're standing up - incorporate some balance work!
  • You will cue your body to be aware of using different muscles.
  • I do some form drills every day and do a more extensive set before a track workout (e.g. high knees, butt kicks etc).
    • I recommend this for people I coach too.
    • A lunge matrix can also help - Jay Johnson on YouTube is a good resource.
    • Leg swings, both lateral and transverse are really helpful.
    • The aim is to get you out of the seating posture and the stilted range of motion.

Cues to changing form

28:02 - 

  • Run tall, it cues so many things.
    • If you can get your head up and tall you'll correct balance.
    • Think about reaching as high as you can without going on tip toes, then drop your shoulders and bring your arms down but keep that posture.
    • From that, lean forwards and start to run.
    • Even on the run, you can always think about being tall.
  • Golder Harper from the Altra Running company talks about throwing your arms up in the air on the run.
    • I find this actually works really well!
    • It lifts you up and helps you run tall.
  • Elbows back is the second cue.
  • If you do both, that'll be pretty huge.

Changing poor every day habits

29:35 - 

  • Besides sitting and hunching, another bad habit is wearing shoes.
    • In this day and age we can't be barefoot all the time, but shoes do compromise the strength of our feet.
    • Feet need time to move and open up.
    • Get your shoes off any time you can, and do short foot strengthening exercises (e.g. toe splay, picking things up with your toes etc.).
    • Your subconscious is always working on balance and foot plant.
    • All the power has to go through your foot so if you're compromised in that way your stride will alter to save your feet.
  • When you're walking, think about being tall and pushing back to activate the glutes.
  • Little things such as when you're driving in the car, sit upright and get really tall, then set your mirror there.
    • This will cue you to fix your posture if you start slumping.
  • Work on things throughout your life to keep your body moving.
    • Alternate things!
    • Keep things moving and keep things diverse.
  • Do what you'd do if you lived in a society like Kenya or Ethiopia - if you can work in that garden, do it, and instead of bending down to pick things up squat instead.
  • I have a standing platform for my desk which is really helpful. It's from Executive Office Solutions.
    • You can change the angle of three different levers to keep changing position.
  • Cadence is a whole chapter in my book and it's an interesting variable.
    • When I started doing research for this book I wrote an article called "It's all in the hips" and it was about needing to speed up your cadence.
    • More research recently suggests cadence is self-selected by your nervous system to be most efficient.
      • Bryan Heiderscheit from the University of Wisconsin has done a lot of work on this.
    • Changing your cadence is not going to make your more efficient, but it does alter things.
    • If you choose faster cadence it does spare stresses on your knees.
  • You can alter some of these variables to change stresses away from some of your weaknesses.
    • It doesn't need to be a permanent change.

Running shoes

36:00 - 

  • There's a chapter in my book and I was shoe editor for Runner's World for two years so I've done a lot of research on shoes! 
  • The primary thing is that shoes are not magic. We put too much emphasis on shoes.
  • Shoes do greatly affect how we interact with the ground and the different stressors there.
  • They're hugely important but not in the way we think about them.
  • Shoes cannot correct you. You can't put anything under your foot that's going to correct for weak hips.
  • Minimalism said that shoes can change you - you put on Vibrams and magically you'll be running perfectly, but again this isn't true.
  • Recent research from Benno Nigg suggests finding the shoe that matches your stride, and supports how you want to move.
    • When you touch down, it's where you expect.
    • It should feel like it's supporting where your foot wants to move, not changing it or correcting it.
    • If it works, then it works! You need to find the one that works for your stride.

About "Your Best Stride"

  • You can find it wherever books are sold!
    • It's on Amazon and there's an electronic edition as well.
  • To find more of my writing you can visit jonathanbeverly.com
  • As far as who should get the book, I say in the introduction "if you live in a modern society, you're getting older and you want to run, you should get the book".
    • Basically, everybody should get the book!

Rapid first questions

31:45 - 

  • What is your favourite book, blog or resources related to triathlon, running or endurance sports?
    • Jay Dicharry's Anatomy for Runners. This is the scientific book that would stand alongside my book. He has really done the research of how people move.
  • What do you wish you had known, or done differently, at some point in your career?
    • When I was at the peak of my fitness I was living in Belgium and I was going to run the London marathon and they asked me to be editor of Running Times. So I switched and got a bib for Boston marathon and they came and introduced me as editor of Running Times and I spent the whole week going to the expo and the parties and I didn't run my best time.
    • Then my son was born and I was editor and I never got to that level of fitness again. I wish I had just run in London that time and run my best time. I think I could have run a 2:40, I'd run a 34 minute 10K. My best is actually a 2:46 from Pittsburgh a couple of years before that now.
  • Who is somebody in running and endurance sports that you look up to and admire?
    • In terms of research topics I think Benno Nigg because he wrote the papers originally about the impact of shoes and pronation, and later in his life found that research didn't support it so he's now trying to find ways we can evaluate shoes.
    • In terms of an athlete Deena Kastor is remarkable for all she's accomplished and her perspective on life.

Key takeaways

  • Hip flexibility and glute strengthening and activation are the keys to finding your most efficient running pattern.
  • Whatever exercises you pick they need to be done with concentration and purpose.
  • There are a couple of form cues that are useful:
    • Run tall, and run with your elbows back. Drive backwards with your elbows.

Links, resources & contact

Links and resources mentioned

Connect with Jonathan Beverly

Connect with host Mikael Eriksson


Hi! I'm your host Mikael,

I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.

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Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

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  • hi there, i am a runner but i don’t know if i run in good or proper form. what is the best form? i ran on my forefoot and i got pain in my heel .. then i ran on my mid-foot i felt good but i can’t go faster pace.. i try my best but i am so depressed. what is the best way?
    i appreciate your tips.
    my name is Fadhel Alabbasi

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