Even if you’ve never seen the Rocky movies, you’ve probably heard the gist of the story.
Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky Balboa” is the great American underdog, an unknown boxer who goes the distance in the ring to reign over world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed.
You might be hearing “Eye of the Tiger” in your head right now. That, the Rocky theme “Gonna Fly Now,” and other now-famous songs play over Rocky’s training montages, several of which show Sylvester Stallone running. And that’s actually a very accurate depiction of how boxers train—but not for the reason you might think.
Legs are everything in boxing
Fighters don’t run just to warm up, get loose before we train, or increase our endurance in the ring.
Back when I boxed professionally, my training always consisted of a lot of roadwork (the boxing term for running). I ran primarily to strengthen my legs and my mind.
Many people don’t realize just how much of your legs are involved in boxing. Everything from defense, evasion, and attack are all dictated by the endurance of your legs. Outside of sparring, the best way to develop this leg endurance is by sprinting and distance running.
Running also increases your ability to concentrate on repetitive movements. A lot of people say that running is boring, but that’s a pro, not a con. It strengthens your focus and the repetitiveness is soothing after a while. When I trained, I would spend 60 to 90 minutes hitting the heavy bag or my coach’s mitts. The same punch, the same technique, the same effort.
Over and over and over and over and over.
Running trains your body to move. It also trains your mind to keep your body moving, even when you don’t feel like it. I’m not saying you should lace up and go for a run right now. It’s actually better to wait to run until you’ve learned the proper form. That’s right, there is a right way and a wrong way to run.
Alongside sitting and walking, running is one of the most natural movements there is. So why is it so easy to get it wrong? Because unless you’re three years old, you’ve probably learned some bad habits and lost your innate technique.
The advice I’m going to dish out is based on what works for me and other professional boxers I’ve known over the years (including the greats like Mike Tyson) and it’s all about getting that technique back. You can break these learned mistakes and run the way your body was designed to move. I’m not a kinesthesiologist, but if you want to learn more about natural movement, I recommend following Erwan Le Corre (@ErwanLeCorre).
Why isn’t running as simple as getting on the treadmill, heading out to the sidewalk, or stepping out into your backyard? The farther you run, the more important it is that you do it right. I’ll explain why.
The Components of Proper Running Form
What you’re about to read may seem like running for beginners or jogging 101. The reason is simple—the fundamentals work. They work for people who’ve never dashed a hundred meters in their life, and they work for pro fighters who want strong, agile legs that give them an advantage in the ring.
Proper running form is basically a system with two components: function and efficiency. Function is the way you move; efficiency is how you get the most out of each movement. Our musculoskeletal system is designed to move a certain way. Proper form means you work with your body, not against it like most people do.
When we move with proper form in alignment with our natural design, we function optimally with as little resistance, stress, and strain as possible. It’s impossible to perform an activity like running without some stress on the body, but proper form can preserve the integrity of your joints and effectively eliminate any running-related injuries.
Proper form is also important for efficient running. To get the most out of your workout, you want to be able to run hard, fast, and for as long as possible. When you have the proper form, your output is optimized and you’re simply able to get more out of every workout.
You burn more calories, work your muscles harder, and keep your heart rate elevated longer. All of this means a better workout and a better return on time invested into running.
How to Run Properly in 3 Steps
Gait. So what is proper running form? It starts with getting to know your gait. We rarely think about the way we walk. The best way to become aware of your gait is to spend time walking barefoot.
Start by taking notice of how you balance your weight on your bare feet. Pay attention to what feels comfortable to you as you take each step. This creates a working mental model for how your weight should be distributed when you run.
Push. Running is about moving forward with a push. I see many novice runners who don’t push off enough with the leg that’s on the ground. Instead, their running looks more like stepping in place.
Remember to push off the ground until it feels like trying to go airborne. As your feet leave the earth, picture Michael Jordan leaping off the foul line and soaring towards the rim. How he looks on the way towards the hoop is how you should feel every time you leap off each leg while running.
Balance. Your arms are there to balance you, making your running more efficient. The effort that you exert when you lift a leg should be matched by the swing of your opposite arm and the force pushing you forward by the leg still in contact with the ground. This is how we walk without even thinking about it.
When you develop awareness of your gait and think about pushing yourself forward, balancing your arm swing should come naturally, giving you great running form.
The #1 Running Mistake
Even if your gait, push, and balance are all aligned, you may not run as efficiently as you could. Usually, the reason why is your lift.
The most common mistake I see runners make is they simply don’t raise their legs high enough off the ground. This shortens their stride, which makes them need more energy to cover a shorter distance.
Tired runners often feel that slacking on proper form will save them energy, but the opposite is true. Putting the effort into maintaining proper form will allow you to get further with less energy than if you drop your stride and drag your feet.
The easiest solution to this problem is to consciously remember to lift your legs. This is an especially helpful reminder for beginners. There’s no quick fix for low legs, but you can start ingraining a new habit now. All you have to remember is to keep your stride as long and as high as possible by lifting your legs.
Visualize leaping off each leg to create as much time in the air as possible. This one change will make an instantly noticeable difference in your running capabilities.
How to Jog Properly to Lose Weight (Hint: Don’t)
What if you want to start running to get fit? Running by itself is not an effective weight loss strategy. However, it’s a great addition to any program designed to lose weight by cutting fat, provided you consume adequate protein and lift weights to build lean muscle.
It’s also a surefire way to clear your head, which can reduce stress-eating. If you’re looking for more ways to reduce stress, declutter your thoughts, and get back in the game, click for more Mindset Mastery tips.
Running is for Everyone
You don’t have to be working towards a weight loss goal or training to fight to enjoy running.
Anyone can enjoy running as a form of meditation, where it’s simply you alone with your thoughts. It’s also a great time to consume your favorite podcast or audio books.
If you want to just zone out and jam, it’s one of the best times to listen to music. It’s your time. Invest it as you please.
External standards for running are nice, but what’s most important is to continually push yourself. Whether that means running farther, covering the same distance in less time, or hitting the pavement more often, running is an excellent way to challenge yourself.
And one last thing to keep in mind. Your runs don’t all have to be a long form jogging event. I’m a big fan of hill sprints, sprints at the track, shuttle runs, suicide sprints, or even brisk walking. The point is to get your body in motion whenever opportunity strikes.
Until then, like Rocky’s girl Adrian says, “I’ll be here waiting for you.”
Out on the pavement.