I have meant to write this for a while, and the impetus for doing it is a runner I’d see around my hometown occasionally. I just saw her the other day, and that reminded me I need to write this piece.
In the engineering world, the term “form follows function” or “form over function” is used to describe a situation where a product’s aesthetics are put about its capabilities. A lot of people use this when describing Apple products (though Apple doesn’t say this, they consider the two intertwined and inseparable). It’s not usually a good thing from a usability or utility standpoint. But it looks good.
In running, however, it’s a must.
So what about this runner sparked my memory? She holds her phone in her right hand, with headphones dangling their way back to her ears. Holding her phone isn’t a problem in and of itself, but how she holds it is. You see, she’s putting function over form. Specifically, she’s putting not having her headphones sway back and forth and being able to see her phone screen (probably for a running app telling her about distance, pace, time, etc) above her running form. She holds her arm up, and keeps it rock solidly in place. No movement at all. Her elbow is bent and turned out from her body so her shoulder is at a nearly 90 degree angle, keeping her phone squarely in her line of sight. Her left arm, meanwhile, is down near her side, and also doesn’t move at all. I’ve watched her body mechanics as she runs, and her entire body is accommodating this awkward arm position. You can see it in her shoulders and neck, her hips, and how her legs move in uneven strides with her left leg having a broader range of motion than her right so as not to disturb her phone position.
Now, you could say, “Maybe she has a physical limitation, and that’s naturally how her body is.” Could be, but I’ve seen her around town while not running, and she seems to move freely.
I’d wager a good amount of money that she has or will have hip, knee, shoulder, lower back and foot/ankle issues. Maybe not every one of them, or not all at once, but she seems to cover a good distance with some regularity, so she’s asking for joint problems. She certainly has some serious muscle imbalance in her body, and is reinforcing that with every run. Those imbalances will drive joint issues to arise (if they haven’t already). My biggest concern is for her hip joints, and that they might be deteriorating faster than they would with a more even gait.
My point isn’t to critique her running form. And I applaud her for getting out there consistently. She also seems to like running based on her facial expression. All good stuff that deserves praise. My point is to bring awareness to the issue of putting the exercise’s needs first. You don’t run for your phone’s sake, so don’t put your body in a compromised position for your phone or running app’s needs. I see products advertised in Runner’s World to help you hold your phone during runs, and it worries me. I see people holding their phone or a water bottle, and not moving the arm its in, while moving the other or positioning the other in a counterbalancing way, which throws off the body and can lead to injury.
It reminds me of the Steve Martin movie The Jerk where he invents a little thing that helps hold your glasses up by bracing against the bridge of your nose. They sell in huge numbers, and end up acting like a magnet for the eyes, turning their users cross eyed. Of course, it’s all hilarious and made up, but it’s kind of the same thing here.
Try an arm band, a waist pouch (yes, even a full on fanny pack), or go phone-free. If you must have music, try something small and cheap, like a clip on iPod Shuffle. Or try to go music-free. I wasn’t interested in doing that at all, but I ended up with a dead iPod on a run, and realized that it can be incredibly enjoyable to just take in what’s around you.
Let form dominate over function, unless that function is that of your body. In that case, form and function are the same. After all, if your form ruins your function, how can you enlighten.your.body?
bryan falchuk is the founder of newbodi.es, a certified personal trainer, behavior change specialist and the best-selling author of "Do a Day". bryan coaches people on their whole health - the physical, mental and emotional combination of wellness that we need to thrive and change our lives.