Proper Running Form: Tips To Improve Form

Natalie Cecconi
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Are You Making These Running Form Mistakes?

Good running form is all about efficiency.

The great news is, with a little practice, you can learn how to run more efficiently and prevent injuries.

By definition, running isn’t an efficient activity, but there are ways to make it more efficient.

The most important aspect is to avoid overstriding.

Stop landing too far in front of your center of gravity.

Instead, use a midfoot/forefoot strike.

Strike against the ground with your midfoot or forefoot, rather than landing heel-first.

This will ensure that your foot has enough time to adjust to the landing, and it will allow you to exert force onto the ground, which will increase your velocity.

Overstriding can cause shin splints, knee pain, plantar fasciitis, and other injury-related conditions.

A lot of runners also tend to lean forward with each stride.

This impairs your running mechanics and causes you to land with a heel-striking motion.

You should be aiming to run comfortably upright.

Here’s one way to test your posture:

Hold two fingers against the base of your throat and imagine them staying there throughout your run.

By repeating this test daily, you’ll notice whether or not you are leaning forward, which is bad posture.

Running Technique: Why Form Matters

Running technique matters just as much as shoes, nutrition, and strength and conditioning when it comes to running effectively and efficiently. While it is time and energy consuming to make a change to your technique, it can pay off in the long run — especially with injury prevention.

Dr. Irene Davis, Ph.D., director of the Spaulding National Running Center at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, studied running biomechanics for more than 25 years. In this interview, she outlines the benefits of improving your running form, how to do it, and what is involved in a typical gait analysis.

What should runners focus on to improve running efficiency?

There are three things you can do. The first is to change how your foot strikes the ground. Your foot should be landing under your center of mass, and you want to minimize the braking action when your foot is in contact with the ground. The second thing is to alter the position of your arms and posture. You need to be taking shorter steps, and you need to reduce vertical oscillation of your center of mass. And the last thing is that your knee should be going over your foot in the foot strike.

What does vertical oscillation of the center of mass mean?

What are the Basics of Good Running Form?

Good running form means being in control of your body throughout your running.

An efficient stride develops the least resistance against the air and the ground.

Ideally, you want to land on the ball of your running shoe (not your heel) to cushion impact forces.

As you land, the foot should roll inward slightly until the center of your weight shifts forward. Follow through by pushing off with the ball of the foot. Repeat.

Alternatively, you could try visualizing taking "mini steps."

Do this by trying to visualize the distance between your feet. This can help you keep an even pace, prevent your legs from swinging side-to-side, and allow you to maintain proper form.

Maintain a Fast Turnover

Look Ahead and Stand Straight

Align yourself inside your feet.

Not being centered inside your feet is one of the top five reasons most runners get injured. Stand inside yourself so that your weight is fully grounded on both feet.

If you’re off balance when you land and mid-step you cause muscle strain and increase your risk of injury. If you’re not aligned, tension isn’t flowing properly into your body, which means less power and stamina when you’re running.

With that in mind, how do you make sure you’re always grounded in the center of your feet?

One way is to stand straight with your ankles, knees and hips aligned.

Keeping yourself aligned makes it easier to run with proper form.

Lacing your arms against your chest is another way to straighten yourself.

Hold your arms to your chest to keep your shoulders in line with your elbows and your fingers facing inwards.

This will also encourage you to relax your shoulders, so you can maintain good running form.

Finally, look ahead. Eye contact with what you’re running towards will also keep your body aligned. Looking ahead also helps you relax your gaze.

When you’re stressed, your eyes will be pulled to the periphery.

Land Midfoot

Landing too far forward on your toes causes a lot of problems. If your foot hits the ground flat, before you hit the heel, your ankle is not in a good position anymore.

This forces you to run on your toes for a longer time (push off harder) which means that more of the shock and force is being transfered to your toes. When you run on your toes, the toes are more prone to injuries.

Furthermore, if you're the only one putting his/her weight on your toes (runner, walker or cyclist), the entire leg, foot, ankle and up to the back is overstrained.

So overall, landing too far forward is not necessary and it's not efficient. A midfoot landing is easier on the ankle, more effective on the step and you're able to transfer the weight to the heel better because of the higher knee position.

Another good thing about a midfoot landing is that your pelvic (hip) is pushed forward. That's why the best sprinters have an extreme forward pelvic tilt.

You should develop this habit to some extent. Why?

The weight is put directly on the hip. The hip abductors (gluteus medius, minimus etc.) will make sure that the pelvis doesn't twist and stabilize the whole chain.

Think of a Puppet

What was your favorite childhood toy? Chances are, your answer included some form of a puppet (maybe a sock puppet).

The idea of a puppet is quite easily transferable to running form. If the body is the puppet, then the actual puppet master would be the brain at work. Your goal is to get from point A to point B (the brain) by successfully controlling the puppet with your thoughts (running form).

I love this wonderful analogy because it gives you a quick and easy way to visualize the process and to remind you of the importance of the brain or in this case, the runner’s motivation.

We can’t entirely control our bodies but we certainly can control our minds. For example, with a running goal in mind, i.e., to run faster, longer or to run this 5k race with your friend. These goals play an integral part when it comes to running form.

Here is my two cents worth on choosing a good running goal that will not only motivate you to improve your form but will also keep you running year after year.

First things first, let’s take a look at the two key factors that influence your running form ….

Self Control Motivation

Self-control relates to the impulse of running.

Swing Forward

Or Hesitate?

You are running on the street when suddenly a car cuts you off and you are forced to swerve or stop to avoid a collision. You react based on pure instinct and the car misses you by a few inches.

This near-miss makes you wary about your running safety. You immediately begin to wonder about the chances of being hit by a car while out running on the road ‗ a primary reason why you avoid it.

You wonder when the next time you will need to spontaneously sidestep to avoid a car’s bumper. Or maybe you had forgotten all about it? At least until today…

This brings us to a situation few runners have considered and even fewer know how to handle. What should you do if a car makes a sudden or abrupt change in its driving direction and your safety is jeopardized? Who among us has practiced for the inevitable? Who can take the necessary action without thinking?

Runners need to be aware of how to handle themselves in these situations.

I have been outrun by a car. In one instance, I was on a long run and suddenly a car pulled out from a side road and started driving straight at me. It was early, and I wasn’t on a main road. I know I was the only one crossing that side road. I was the one who did the chicken dance.

Hold a Chip (or an Egg)

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For most runners, proper form is something that can be worked on. While you can’t always be happy with your running form, some bad habits can be replaced with good forms.

Now, there are many bad habits in running, but this article will focus on the one that most runners have in common and look at how you can replace it with a better form. I’m going to start this section with a little science lesson on the origin of the problem.

In order to improve form, we first need to understand what causes a bad form in the first place.

It is given that your body will move the way your brain tells it to move … But how exactly does the brain … or the central nervous system … tell the body to move?

It sends a series of electronic signals from the brain to the muscles, nothing else. The muscles then need to know what to do with the signal they are receiving but how do they know that?

They need to know the length of the signal they are receiving in order to know how quickly to contract and move the body. You also need to know how quickly to relax, and all of this happens based on the length of the signals.

Run Softly (and Carry a Big Stick)

The other element of running form is posture, or specifically, the position of the pelvis. No matter what running style you adopt, the pelvis must be level, meaning it should have a slight natural tilt toward the front.

Posture is an important element of running form because it has a direct effect on distance and control. The slower you run, the more control you will have. If you run with your pelvis tilted back, you will be using your gluteus maximus and quadriceps, which will tire quickly as they are large muscle groups.

If you want to run longer and further, you will want to concentrate on running with a horizontal or level pelvis. On the other end of the spectrum, if you are sprinting, you should run with a tilted pelvis.

Keep a Neutral Pronation

How To Properly Land On Your Feet After A Run

If you have ever wondered how to run properly, then you are in the right place. Many runners are unaware of their poor running form.

I have been running for so long and when I started with my yoga practice, I was shocked at what I realized – everything I had thought was correct about running was the opposite.

The biggest revelation came when I was told running properly is about relaxing and not tensing up my body.

Don’t worry. I used to be all tensed up during my runs. I was running with the most unnatural form possible.

Over the years, I have learned to become more relaxed and I have learned to run with a relaxed posture and a more natural form. Below, you will see a few tips to improve your running form. It’s kind of like learning a new sport.

It’s hard in the beginning. It’s even funny to see your first attempts. But trust me. If you practice, you will get it.

How Do You Get a Good Running Form?

Having good running form helps you run faster, farther, and easier. It reduces your risk of injuries, and it will make your running sessions more enjoyable.

Naturally, if you’re not happy with your running form, it’s easy to feel frustrated and discouraged, and possibly even give up. So here are some easy tips to help you improve your running form.

Start by checking the alignment of your body.

Make sure that your shoulders are relaxed and that your arms are swinging relaxed and reaching back and forward directly in front of you.

Make sure that your shoulders are relaxed and that your arms are swinging relaxed and reaching back and forward directly in front of you. Keep your torso upright and relaxed.

Your natural posture will include a slight forward lean, but try to avoid letting your chest stick out or slumping.

You don’t want to constrict your lungs, so remember not to overextend yourself.

Your natural posture will include a slight forward lean, but try to avoid letting your chest stick out or slumping. You don’t want to constrict your lungs, so remember not to overextend yourself. Keep your knees slightly bent

Although your legs are the primary source of propulsion and power while running, you should not lock your knees as this can cause shin splints or stress fractures.

What is the Most Important Part?

When thinking about proper running form, there is a tendency to focus on the upper body. It is easy to think that the arms, legs, head and shoulders are the primary movers.

But running has three primary movers: The legs, arms and the head.

If you focus in on your upper body, you will forget about your legs and arms and you won’t run as efficiently.

Don’t worry, there are so many physiological factors that you’ll be surprised at how well your legs and arms carry you.

But the head is a tougher one.

When you’re running, your head and neck are the only things that move. If you land hard with your head facing forward, it will transfer the impact to your neck and shoulders and arms.

Instead, your head should be consistently pointed towards the ground no matter your running speed.

What are Some Extra Tips for Energy-Efficient Running?

So with proper posture, some tinkering to your swing…Sorry, I meant stride…You can reduce the amount of energy required to go a certain distance if you have not already seen improvements.

Try this great running form drill from Dr. Denis Walsh, a sports podiatrist in Dublin, Ireland, to improve speed: “Assume a running posture and place a book under your upper back, close to your shoulder blades. This will place you in a posture that will produce more forward propulsion with less vertical displacement.”

You can also try this helpful tip from personal trainer Roy Benson, the co-owner of North Park Fitness in Columbus, Ohio: “Run like you’re walking up a flight of steps. Each leg should forcefully turnover in a step-like fashion, and each step should happen closer to the ground.”

How Should I Handle Hill Running?

Your hill running form tips would be the same whether you chose a steep incline, a gentle slope, or a flat surface.

First and foremost, you should be relaxed while running up a hill. Ease into your stride, let your arms swing naturally, and allow your breathing to be relaxed. Look straight ahead and let your gaze fall just over the horizon to help keep your head up and balance.

Increase your cadence; focusing on running faster, more regular steps will help you propel yourself upward and keep your heart rate at a pace that will make the hill feel easier.

To maintain speed on a steep climb, concentrate on longer, quicker strides. Use the incline for advantage, rocking your body back slightly when your front leg lifts to propel yourself forward. Your arms are there to help your legs move forward, not just to pump air.

Keep your running posture straight-shouldered and upright. This will help you breathe easier while running uphill and help to decrease any muscle fatigue in the back of your thighs.

Here are some hill running form tips from Nathan to train your running form to perform better on hills:

What are Some Tips to Avoid Injury?

As powerful as your legs are and as effective as lifting weights and running can be, you still need to remember the importance of healthy running form.

What does this mean?

It starts with building your endurance and muscular strength to the point where you can increase speed and lose excess fat. Then it is a matter of maintaining this fitness and health by eating healthy foods and engaging in proper recovery techniques after your workouts.

Proper running form starts with having a good posture, which means keeping the chest up and head up. Lifting your chest up makes it much easier to oxygenate your blood as compared to a lower posture, and a lot of people make the mistake of having a low posture, which can contribute to excess or even prolonged stress on the spine and heart.

You also need to focus on keeping your stride length and size manageable. A longer stride will make you use your leg muscles more, which in the long run will make you move faster and get more aerodynamic. You simply don’t want to have a short stride as this means you will have to put in extra work and risk developing bad habits.

Also, it’s very important to focus on maintaining a good, proper posture and running form while you’re going uphill and downhill. If this is not present, injuries are likely to happen.

Final Thoughts

Each of the stretches or exercises I have listed above will help you find your ideal form for running or improve your current form.

Keep in mind that the stretches and exercises are meant as a supplement to running. The problem most people have is not a lack of flexibility but rather a lack of control over their core and muscles.

Is there something that absolutely kills your running time after time? Perhaps you have bad form, poor posture, a weak core or tight hamstrings?

When long distance runners are exhausted after a race, what is the most common thing I hear? “I’ve never been so tired in my life”, “I can’t walk for days” “I’m always sore and feeling beat up”.

If this is you, you need to do some intensive training on your form, posture and core strength.