Jay Dicharry, MPT, SCS, is one of the world’s leading biomechanists and the director of the REP Lab in Bend, Ore., the only comprehensive lab of its sort in the U.S. not in a university setting. For runners, Dicharry uses a force plate treadmill and high-speed 3D camera technology to measure and record step frequency, leg stiffness, stance time, loading and unloading rates, as well as various body position angles. Using this data, along with his clinical experience as a physical therapist, he is better able to understand and eliminate the cause of overuse injuries in endurance athletes, while also accurately measuring and validating improvement over time.
Here, he shares his three keys to running with better form.
1. Keep your stride tight.
You want to land as close as you can to your body for a given speed. Everyone is worried about cadence—and cadence matters to a degree—but what’s more important is your stride length. If you’re running slower, you’ll have a shorter stride length and as running speed increases, your stride length should increase as well. Think of your body like a pendulum: As that stride length increases, you want it to increase not just at the front side, but also the back side. One of the problems a lot of people make is that when they start running faster and faster, their stride starts to only increase from the front side. That’s because they don’t have a lot of hip extension. So, we’re always talking about how to get people more hip extension range—passively—and also teaching them how to use that hip extension range so you can keep that swinging pendulum close to the body.
2. Drive from the hips.
From taking measurements on the people that come into our lab, we’ve found that about 82 percent of runners don’t have enough hip extension, and again, that’s a passive length, and you can get that from stretching. But our research has shown if you stretch your hip flexors, and you get more range, people don’t actually take that new range and integrate into their gait, but they think they do. So the idea is being able to use range since it’s really critical. Drive from the hips, and driving from the hips means you extend the back and don’t cheat your lumbar spine. People run into problems all the time, even those who have pretty good body awareness, and they default to bad habits. The second you break your posture alignment, you basically lose the ability to activate your hips, so we need to make sure we keep that solid.
3. Develop good tendon strength.
It’s important to develop a robust tendon stiffness, and that comes from doing explosive types of drills. But to take people who have never run before and just have them jump into a bunch of explosive plyos is a great way to get people hurt. I tell folks, ‘You’d never put a Pratt & Whitney jet engine turbine on a paper airplane. That’s just dumb.’ Once you’ve established a baseline foundation of fitness, heck yeah, move right into that stuff. But if not, we need to work backward before moving on to the next level. You have to have good body awareness and good biomechanics.