How To Build Proper Running Form – Your Checklist From Head to Toe

Looking to improve your running form? Then you’ve come to the right place.

You Are born To Run

Running is an activity we humans were designed to do. In fact, according to evolutionary thinking (and running gurus like Chris MacDougal), running is one of the most natural actions of the human body.

Not only that, some scientists even claim that running is what made us human in the first place. (For more on this, check the Endurance Running Hypothesis Wikipedia Page for a treasure trove of information and research references)

All you need to do is put on some shoes, and off you go.

That said, proper technique might not come naturally for most of us.

The majority of recreational runners I know have poor form. In fact, proper form is a not a topic that a lot of runners talk about.

They, often than not, ignore (or just underestimate) its importance for training efficiency and injury prevention. This is a big mistake.

Why Form is King?

But, first things first, why should you care?

Proper running form is the foundation of efficient and injury-free training.

Running with the right mechanics will do wonders for your speed, efficiency and injury prevention. Opt for poor form, and this could hamper your speed and exponentially increase your risk of injury.

To prevent undue fatigue and increase training efficiency, you must learn all there is to learn about proper running form, and that includes proper posture, foot strike, head position, breathing, etc. These traits are the things you need to pay special attention to if you’re looking to improve your form and technique—and enjoy all the perks that come with.

From first glance, the above might seem overwhelming to put into practice while you’re simultaneously trying to run.

But, don’t fret yet. With the right progression and practice, it can be done. In fact, upgrading your running form is easier than you might think.

Therefore, today, dear reader, I’m going to share with you some of the best proper form guidelines you need so you can start running like the elite.

So, are you excited? Then here we go…

How To Build Proper Running Form

Posture – Stand Tall

Just as you should keep proper posture while walking, standing, or sitting, maintaining an upright, relaxed upper body position while running is crucial too.

Proper posture—both on and off the running field—can help reduce strain on your upper body, which can ward off muscle fatigue, back pain, and soreness. It also helps keep your spine in proper alignment, improves training efficiency, and can help you develop a more efficient foot strike.

Good posture begins with the correct body angle. Here are the three main traits

  • Keep your spine straight, shoulders relaxed and back with a slight forward lean.
  • Keep your torso straight and avoid sticking your chest or butt out too far.
  • Focus on engaging your core muscles. A strong and tight core is the foundation of good posture and efficient running.

To get a tactile sense of proper posture, stand up straight against a wall. Push your butt firmly against the wall while keeping the chest up, core engaged, and back flat. This is the posture in which you should run.

For more, imagine there is a plum line running from above your head down through your trunk is a perfect vertical line.

Also, build the habit of checking your posture every 10 to 15 minutes to make sure everything is all right and on the right path.

Lean Gravity assisted Running

Get this: there is a big difference between gravity assisted leaning and bending forward at the waist. These are not the same thing.

Slouching, or too forward leaning from the waist, is a common form error committed by many runners who try too hard to master the forward lean.

But doing so can only put undue pressure on your lower back muscles.

So, what should you develop the forward lean without commiting this costly mistake?

Well, it’s simple. All you have to do is to shoot for a slight forward tilt—roughly two to three degrees—in which you’re falling forward from your ankles, not the waist. When leaning this way, you’re engaging the forward pull of gravity, putting it to your advantage.

Just whatever you do, do not lean too far forward or too far back—that’s bad form, and you don’t want bad. Also, do not bend backward or forward from the waist as doing so puts a lot of pressure on the hips.

A good example of perfect forward lean is the Nordic ski jumpers.

The Head

The way you hold your head has a huge impact on your overall posture, which, in turn, as we have already seen, can influence how efficiently you run.

Keep your head up, and in line with the shoulder, so the chin is parallel to the ground. Allow for no side-to-side or up-and-down motion.

Let your gaze guide you forward. Your eyes should be focused on the ground 15 to 20 feet ahead of you, scanning the horizon.

Avoid looking down at your feet as doing so can lead to tension in your neck and shoulders, especially in the latter portion of your runs. Do not allow your chin to jut out.

The Shoulders

Your shoulders are the foundation for proper arm motion.

Keep your shoulders relaxed and under your ears, with a neutral pelvis. Hunching the shoulders creates tensions and restricts breathing—all of which can lead to inefficient form.

Arms

Arm position is as crucial as your leg motion when running. Yes, running is mainly a lower-body sport, but do not forget your arms. They are not just along for the ride.

Efficient arm position can boost speed, improve balance, increase your overall coordination and rhythm. These are all good things if you ask me.

So, please pay extra attention to them.  Keep your arms at your sides. Make sure your arms and legs are swinging in rhythm with each other.

Keep your elbows bent at approximately 90-degree angle with your elbows somewhat pointed away from the torso, with the arm swinging from your shoulders in a relaxed manner.

Furthermore, move your arms in conjunction with your legs.

In addition, swing your arms forward and back, not across your body. This also allows your shoulders and neck to relax.

Hands

The hands regulate tension in the upper body. Tightness in this area can create tension all the way up to the back and shoulders.

Keep your hands in an unclenched fist, with the finger and thumbs lightly touch, hand cupped as though you are holding a delicate butterfly or an egg that you don’t want to crush nor break.

Do not let your hands cross the centerline of your body. The forearms should swing slightly across the body. But the hands should never cross this centerline.

Also, swing your arms to the read, not the front. Imagine that you’re trying to elbow someone behind you instead of punching someone in front of you.

Knees

Maintain a continuous slight bend in the knee throughout the gait cycle.

Keep your leading knee slightly bent and relaxed as you land a little in front of your center of gravity. A slight bend in the knees can also help absorb the impact of a foot strike.

Foot Strike

A foot strike refers to how and where the foot makes contact with the ground. Think of your foot strike as your signature as a runner. It’s the footprint you leave behind with every step you take.

Your foot strike has a huge impact on your overall alignment, posture, and the energy transfer through the kinetic chain.

According to the current theory, a proper foot strike can prevent running injuries—especially those sustained to the knees.

There are mainly three basic types of foot strikes: neutral, overpronated, and supinated.

Debate rages in the running world when it comes to the most appropriate foot strike, and whether mid-foot or heel striking is the better approach for efficient and injury-free running.

Some research shows that heel strikers are prone to knee and hip injuries, whereas forefoot strikers are more likely to suffer from Plantar Fascia and Achilles Tendon injuries.

But there is evidence refuting this hypothesis. For instance, many elite marathoners can be seen running with a rearfoot strike.

Since the foot strikes the ground roughly 1,000 times during every mile, I’d love if the current scientific community can offer us some definite answers about which foot strike works the best for injury prevention and training efficiency. But for the meantime, it is what it is.

Land on the Forefoot

But what do I recommend for beginner runners?

Well, here is my opinion. I think you should land on the forefoot for efficient and safe running, especially when opting for a faster pace.

I might be wrong. But according to my (non-scientific and completely subjective) observations, the forefoot strike is most suitable for beginners.

Here is how to do that

Aim to land below and just in front the center of gravity on the mid-foot. Your foot should land slightly ahead of your center of gravity, with the leading foot facing directly forward.

Think light and fast steps.. Land as lightly as possible, spending as little time in contact with the ground. You should not be making any loud noises

Land on the middle of your foot, then roll quickly through to the front of your toes, keeping the toes pointed in the direction you want to go the entire time.

Find What Works the Best

But what I really encourage you to do is let your foot do its own thing. Don’t interfere. Don’t fix something that ain’t broken.

Running should feel natural and smooth. That’s why you should not try to force your physiology and biomechanics to match a theory or way of moving.

You are the judge on that, and you should strive to find what works the best for you. If you’ve already found it, then kudos. Keep up the good work.

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David Dack

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3 Comments

    • jemny
    • June 17, 2017

    Nice article…I need this to imptove my form

      • lahsen
      • July 5, 2017

      thanks for these advices.I would like to ask you a question about preparing a marathon and how exercising.indeed I participated in half marathon many times,but I have never run the marathon ,it seems very difficult.Best regards .

      • Yes why not. You can get in touch wiht me through my contact page