If you’ve been running regularly for some time, but the activity still doesn’t quite seem effortless or even enjoyable yet, then you might have poor running form. This is a common issue for many beginner runners, so don’t beat yourself up about it.
Every runner’s form will depend on their individual strengths and weaknesses, and there are a few simple ways that you can improve your form to reach your full running potential. We’ll discuss these methods in this article. Read on for more about how to improve your running form so you can run further, faster, and better.
Finding a Balance
As a runner, you are going to want to find a good balance of tension and relaxation throughout your body, as this will help direct you forward and avoid wasting energy on lateral movements. It will also help you bounce back more efficiently rather than just stomping on the ground with your feet.
Generally speaking, improving your posture is quite important, and this applies to your running form, too. If you have a full-time desk job, your head might start to lean back with your chin sticking out, your shoulders hunched, and your back rounded. When you run or jog in this position, you’ll exhaust yourself very quickly.
You want to aim for a posture that is tall, leaning slightly forward. These points can help you achieve a healthy posture:
- Maintain a stable midsection – Proper tension in your abdominals and back will aid in the efficient transfer of force from your limbs to the ground.
- Stand tall – Try to imagine that someone is pulling you up from the hair at the top of your head.
- Look straight forward – Fight the urge to look down or tilt your chin up.
- Keep your shoulder blades tight – Imagine that you’re squeezing a pen between your shoulder blades. This is going to help open your shoulders up and prevent them from slouching.
- Lean forward slightly – Doing this will allow for better propulsion and more hip extension. The lean should not come from the back, but rather from your ankles and hips.
Having specially fitted running shoes for your foot type can also help with correcting your posture.
Setting Your Rhythm
It’s normal to think that changing your running form means starting at your legs, but the importance of the upper body and arms when running is often underestimated when people think about running technique. Beginner runners will often run with their arms down at their sides, especially when they’re fatigued.
Keeping your arms straight, or even crossing them against your body, makes running so much more difficult. If you don’t believe us, then try it for yourself. Good arm swings means keeping your arms active, with your fists relaxed and elbows bent.
Try following these tips when improving your arm swing:
- Bend your elbows – Keep your elbows at a 90° angle.
- Start from the shoulders – Pull your shoulder blades together and allow your arms to swing freely and with a relaxed motion.
- Don’t clench your fists – Doing so creates a surprising amount of unnecessary tension. You want your arms to be relaxed throughout the entire movement when you’re running.
- ‘Tuck’ your elbows in, and keep them there – Pull your elbows backward and parallel to your body in such a way that your arms are not dangling by your sides.
There’s a major difference between your running pattern and your walking pattern. When you walk, you lead the step with your foot and lower leg, making contact with the heel first while keeping your knee more or less extended. Doing this in running will likely lead to overstriding.
Striking the ground with your heel in front of your knee works as a kind of ‘braking mechanism’, slowing you down rather than pushing your body forward.
Your running stride should begin with your knee driving forward. This movement is very similar to the movement you make when you step over something as opposed to stepping on a flat surface.
Follow these simple steps to avoid overstriding:
- Use your back leg – A rapid, powerful lift off of your back leg propels you forward with brilliant efficiency.
- Lift & bend your knee – A bent knee works more like a spring and less like a brake, pushing you forward with greater power.
- Lift the heel of your back leg – Lifting your heel after you push off will prepare your leg for a better forward swing.
Additional Tips for Better Running Form
Running stride is not about lengthening your stride, but is instead about quickening your turnover so that your feet land directly below you. Below are a few more general tips that you can incorporate into your running practice to help improve your form.
Keep your feet flat
Keeping your feet flat will help you maintain excellent form when you’re running; you don’t want to run like you’re wearing high heels. In the beginning, it can help to imagine flexing your foot and landing on your entire foot.
This will help you stop heel striking if you tend to land in front of your body, because you’ll be forced to pull your foot closer to land with your full foot to get the most power out of your stride. Ideally, you should be aiming to land with control by using an even, smooth foot stride.
To avoid bouncing, imagine that there’s a ceiling 1 inch above you – you don’t want to slam your head into that ceiling repeatedly. Each time you raise your foot too far from the ground, you are sending your energy upward rather than forward.
Focus on your cadence
You want to aim for a cadence around 180 footfalls a minute. While 180 is commonly thought to be the ideal that all runners should strive for, it’s not, but you should try to get as close to it as possible.
Having a slight forward lean is one of the more challenging habits for runners to learn, but it can completely change the game when it comes to your running form. Remember that you absolutely do not want to be leaning from your waist. The movement should start from your ankles, and your body should stay in a straight line.
Strengthen your glutes
This is something that you have to do, and not that you should consider doing!
Many running issues stem from weak glutes or tight hips and quads, which decreases your power and range of motion. If you want to have the best form possible, you need to work on strengthening your glutes.
This should be something you do before each of your runs in your warmup routine, and something that you should be focusing on each week during your strength training sessions.
Pay attention to how you feel
It’s so important to listen to your body and think about how you feel when running. If there is something wrong with your form, you’ll feel it – trust your intuition. Pain during or after running is a clear sign that you have a strength or mobility issue somewhere in your body, and you should work on resolving that issue so that you can have the best form possible.
While you’re at it, check out the below video by one of our favorite runners, Sage Canaday on improving your running form:
We’ve mentioned footfalls a couple of times already, and not for nothing. Running up on your toes will create a series of problems for your running, as will heel striking, which is why you want to strike the ground with your entire foot flat.
Like we said earlier, when you land with your heel first, you’re essentially pushing the brakes and slowing your body down, sending the shock all the way up your legs and through your spine. Sounds pretty horrible, doesn’t it? Now imagine doing that thousands of times in just one run, and you’ll start to see why you could cause a lot of back, hip and knee pain for yourself.
As a matter of fact, striking with the heel while overstriding is one of the biggest reasons why people say that they aren’t able to run due to pain. Of course running is going to hurt when you’ve got poor form.
Most beginner runners fall into the habit of heel striking as a result of them stretching their legs out far too much, thinking that it will make them run faster. It won’t, so avoid doing it! In fact, it can lead to injuries and muscle strain, so keep this at the front of your mind.
We can’t stress enough how you should not be striving for perfection when trying to improve any aspect of your running performance. Changing your running form and style can be incredibly frustrating, and the best way to approach it is to pick a point that interests you and focus on it.
You don’t have to change anything instantly – this would be almost impossible anyway. Take a deep dive into your running style and find the tips and tricks that make you feel ‘lighter’ when you run. This way, you will be able to run faster and for longer as you get stronger in your running form.
Marko Rakic is a trail runner and fitness enthusiast from Sydney, Australia. He is the lead writer for The Ultimate Primate and believes the best way to live a happy life is to take a holistic approach to fitness and health.