I’ve been working with several kids on running skills and since I’m training for a marathon I’ve had ample mileage to really look at and analyze some of the components of running! When a child goes from walking to running it usually starts as a fast walk. Its officially termed running when they are able to achieve both feet off the ground at the same time. Children may often start out running flat footed and progress into a heel strike. Interestingly enough the Nike Sport Research Lab did a study looking at running in children and found that by age 3 at least 80% of the kids were hitting with their heel as opposed to with a flat foot.
In addition to achieving both feet off the ground, mature running also consists of reciprocal arm swing (one arm and then the other on a different side than the foot that is moving forward) and trunk rotation. In children with challenges affecting their gross motor development, I often see the reciprocal arm swing and trunk rotation either absent, or very understated.
As I have watched kids running (and been logging in ample mileage myself) I have realized the importance of a good push off. This helps to propel the child forward and increase the foot clearance. It is what can make running look smooth and easy as opposed to feet thudding to the ground with every step.
After push off, when their foot is in the air it also helps to be able to actively lift their toes up so they can achieve a nice heel strike. This helps to prevent flat footed running which is tough on the joints and not very efficient!
Some children will look almost as if they are bending at their hips while they are running. This is because they have their weight back but they are leaning their head and shoulders forward as if to make themselves go faster. This can be a result of weaker core and hip muscles so that they don’t feel that they can prevent themselves from falling if they put their weight forward. Another indication of potential hip weakness is a wide base of support while ‘running’. By keeping their base of support wide they don’t need to transition into standing on one foot and thereby decreasing their stability. As these children get stronger in their hips and core muscles you will see a lot more forward momentum for running!