Have you ever seen somebody running who doesn't look like they're going anywhere? They are moving but that movement isn't really carrying them forward. They look cumbersome and effortful. They occasionally have people walking past them. Their motion is maybe more accurately described as a shuffle than a jog or a run. What is this all about?
Let us look at the opposite end of the spectrum to get our answers. Here is a video of Mo Farah, one of the world's greatest distance runners at present. Running a sub 51 second lap here, he looks light, bouncy and his legs turn over quickly. Looking at the legs a little more, we can see that his stride is quite long – the angle between the front knee and back knee when they are furthest away from each other is greater than 90 degrees. We can also see that after his foot leaves the floor having powered him forward, his hip and knee bend in such a way that his heel comes very close to his buttock. In running circles this is called a tight heel recovery. It is an indicator of an efficient stride.
The shuffle is different. The shorter stride, the poor heel recovery, the slow turnover, the heavy thudding stride.
Have you ever consciously tried to change these things, for example, have you made yourself run with a longer stride? If you have, you will have found that this “right way” of running feels even harder than what you already do and as much as you practise like this, the habit never sticks. This is because your set-up at rest dictates how you can run. Your posture holds you into your current style.
Let's imagine for a second you have very stiff ribs. For a tight heel recovery, the knee, hip and ribs of that side must all be able to fold easily. The lumbar and thoracic spine must fold easily to this side. All of this allows the pelvis to lift easily – this is essential with it being one of the largest bones in the body that many of the most powerful muscles are attached to. The converse is true for the pushing off part of the stride. The side must lengthen easily to do this effectively.
To ask your body to perform new movements whilst performing a challenging task where you cannot give your full attention to doing them just doesn't work. Focusing on these movements away from your running and making them an automatic, easy choice in less demanding activities means that when you run, you won't be able to help running better without paying a great deal of attention to it.
Make your running easier by learning to use your body with more freedom and save the shuffling for the dancefloor.