With the shift from the relatively new, heeled-shoes to low-stack-height, zero drop shoes in the last decade, there has been much discussion on ‘healthy’ running, and often in those discussions, this idea of ‘perfect form’ get’s bandied about as some sort of panacea to all running woes. More likely than not, someone has told you that bringing your cadence up to 180 is the easiest way to start sorting your form, or maybe it had something to do with your footfall. Unfortunately, there is probably a pretty good chance that if you force yourself to have ‘perfect form,’ you are going to get injured.
Firstly, what is perfect form and who has it? The answer to the first part is a bit long, but as to who has perfect form, the answer is almost no one. Perfect form is rather hard to come by, as it usually means someone has no biomechanical abnormalities, and let us face it, we are all slightly abnormal. If you want a fairly good idea of perfect form, go watch some world class sprinters (granted they are up on their toes a bit much for perfection but…). They drive their knees with a quick cadence and rapid footfall. Their arms are like an old locomotive chuffing forward, pumping up and down in a plane perpendicular to the ground. Their backs are straight with a slight lean forward. All of their energy is put into moving forward; nothing is wasted going side to side. You can do this too, and I suggest you do. It is a great opportunity to feel what ‘should’ be going on. Go to a track and do some sprinting. Just 100 meter sprints down the straights as fast as you can. You might be able to keep this up for 200, maybe even 400 meters, but eventually as your muscles start to tire, your form will also start to deteriorate. It is hard to keep that perfect form for long, and it probably is not exactly the best form for you. It might be the most efficient, but efficiency is not always best; though you can, and should, take parts of that perfect form and keep them in mind when you run.
There are a number of different ways your form may stray from perfect, and to be honest, there are not many absolute no-noes. The only one I can really think of is a massive heel strike due to overstriding. I will try to come back to some of these form differences another time, but I think it is important to remember the old addage: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If you have a weird tick to your form, and you do not get injured, your body is probably compensating for some biomechanical abnormality; leave it alone. If you have a weird tick to your form and you do get injured, then it might be time to reevaluate what you are doing.