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4 Principles for Proper Running Form

Running is the most convenient and accessible way to stay fit and get in shape. It does not require special equipment (except for a good pair of course), and you don’t need to pay any gym fees.

In other words, running is the epitome of freedom.

Nonetheless, if you are serious about making the most out of every run you do while avoiding pain and injury, then you should know that there is more to running than simply lacing up your shoes…

Enter Proper Running Form

If you are thinking about improving your running form, then you must be a wise runner because working on developing proper running form is one of the best things you can do to improve as a runner for the long haul.

Study shows that proper running form can help you become more of an efficient runner, helping you improve performance and avoid injury.

Truth be told, if you run with bad form, then expect pain, strains, aches, injuries and compromised running efficiency, hindering you from achieving your full running potential

Today I’m going to share with you some of the best tips and practices when it comes to proper running form. I know that this subject is full of controversy.

Nonetheless, I will do my best to provide you with all of the tools and guidelines you need to start the process of developing and improving proper running technique.

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Image Credit – Brian Carson via Flickr

The Importance of Running Form

It took me about three years of running to start looking for ways to improve my running form.

I know it was a long time, but I didn’t know better.

And every time I tried looking up the subject on the internet, I was usually bombarded by long articles full of scientific jargon that I didn’t quite get at the time.

And here is the big problem…

I think the subject of proper form is one of the most controversial topics in today’s running world.

There are many philosophies, like the pseudo-guru styles like Chi Running, the Pose method, and the minimalist movement, that claim that their way is the way while the others are on the wrong path. In fact, each philosophy has its own converts who swear their lives on the effectiveness of the method they are preaching.

On the extreme, there are even people, like many doctors and biomechanics experts that say that it’s a genetic thing and there is nothing we can do about it. They believe that people are born with a god-given way of moving and running which cannot be changed under any circumstance. That can be a limiting belief in itself.

With that all said, most experts say there is not sufficient research to definitely say that any of this method is the RIGHT one.

My Belief

I believe that we can change and have the power to make drastic improvements in the way we move and run, no matter what kind of a body we were stuck with at birth.

Plus, I also believe that there is no one “right” way to run.

Not convinced?

Well, just head to the nearest park or local stadium and watch, say, 20 different people run, and you would notice that each runner has its individual style.

Even elite runners are notoriously known for embracing different running styles. Watch this video of elite runners and see if they have the same running style or if they are opting for an identical running form.

Take a look at this short video:

Therefore, personally, I doubt the existence of a right way to run. Every runner is different and has different mechanics so it’s really impractical (and down stupid) to prescribe a running form that’s perfect for everybody.

But that’s not all.

I also believe that there a few, emphasis on few, general guidelines that most experts tend to agree on without too much hullabaloo. And today I’m going to try to distil these “universal principles” and share them with you without using any scientific or technical language.

By applying the tips and guidelines I’m sharing with you here, you will be able to refine your running form and technique (I’m using the two terms interchangeably).

4 Proper Running Form Principles

Without further ado, here are the essential guidelines you need to improve your running form.

Note: It Takes Time

Learning any new skill—whether it’s a new language, how to use new software, or in your case, how to develop proper technique—requires time and experimentation. It doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it might take you some work to develop it, but it’s surely worth the trouble and it’ll definitely help you ward off injuries and run more efficiently.

Run Tall (with a slight forward lean)

Good posture is the foundation of proper running form. In fact, the effectiveness of your running form depends significantly on the quality of your posture. Proper posture will not only make you go faster and stay relaxed, but it will also give you a boost of confidence and the feeling that you can accomplish anything.

So what’s the universal principle when it comes to proper posture?

The answer is really simple: Run Tall, no matter what. Make “running tall” your mantra and practice it all the time.

But that’s not all…

In my experience and thanks to the Chi running method, a little forward lean can make a big difference. This little tweak can help you put gravity to use, developing some forward momentum and free speed.

Thus, I prefer the cue “run tall with a slight forward lean.”

Here is the exact breakdown of this awesome strategy.

First of all, lengthen your body from head to ankles, forming a straight line that runs down your body from top to bottom.

To help you practice this, imagine there is a string attached to the top of your head and it’s pulling it upward toward the sky. Or try imagining that you are balancing a beanbag on your head as you run.

Next, assume a slight lean forward from, and this is important, the ankles upward. Never lean from the waist because that will put extra strain on your back and may compromise your running form. By doing this, you will be feeling a slight “pull” from gravity.

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Image Credit – Ravigopal Kesari via Flickr

Stay Relaxed

Keeping tension in your body is the last thing you want to do as a runner. Tension wastes energy and anywhere you are clinging to it, you are misusing vital energy that could be (and should) used up elsewhere. Not only that, it feels good to be relaxed, and that’s something you can’t argue with.

That’s why you need to relax your body at all times.

To stay relaxed throughout a run, know your tension spots, and do your best co consciously release tension whenever and wherever it’s creeping up. Some of the most common tension spots are the hands, shoulder and jaw.

Here are a few hints to help you develop a relaxed running posture:

Head. Keep your head high and centered between your shoulders, eyes on the route roughly 10 to 15 feet ahead of you, letting your gaze guide you forward. Do not look down at your feet. And do not look up.

Face. If you can relax your face, you will definitely be able to relax the rest of your body with relative ease. DO NOT clench your teeth; instead practice opening your mouth and taking deep breaths.

Arms. Aim for a smooth back and forth arms swing with the elbows bent at a 90-degree angle, and kept slightly pointed away from your torso with the knuckles close to your sternum.

Fists. Avoid clenching your fists because doing so invites tension. To help keep your hands loose, imagine holding a butterfly in each hand without crushing or letting it fly away.

Shoulders. Release your shoulders and shake out your arms whenever you feel tension creeping up. Keep your shoulders loose, not too tight and not too high. To relax your shoulders, raise them every 10 to 15 minutes, and then drop them back to their comfy, relaxed position.

Back. Keep your back straight the entire time. Do not slouch forward, nor let your butt stick out. Engaging your core and sticking to a regular upper body strength program can come in handy.

Relax on command

You can also learn how to relax on command in the comfort of your room, then let that get carried over to your running.

Therefore, I recommend that you start a daily practice of meditation (20 minutes a day is enough in my experience), practice yoga, or learn how to put your mind into relaxation mode before lacing up your shoes.

You can also us a mantra by repeating the words “relax,” “calm”, or “unwind” as you run. These mantras can serve as anchors bringing you back to the moment.

Of course, these little practices will take some time to become integrated habits, but over the long haul, they are worth the effort.

Know your Cadence

Basically, cadence is the number of steps you take per minute with both feet. The right cadence can help you lessen overstriding, reduce impact forces on the lower body while helping you keep forward momentum throughout a run.

As a result, it’s of paramount importance to try to improve it.

According to most experts, the sweet spot when it comes to optimal running cadence is about 180 steps per minute. This is something I learned from the legendary running coach Jack Daniels (you should check some of his stuff here, he is an incredible inspiration).

Here is what to do next:

First of all, determine your cadence before trying to improve it. To find your cadence, count the number of strides on one foot for 30 seconds, then multiply it by four.

After determining your training cadence, if it’s under 180, then work on increasing it by approximately five percent every three to four weeks until you reach your goal cadence.

Keep in mind that your cadence will vary according to your running intensity. For instance, your speedwork or racing cadence will be much faster than your typical training cadence. Consequently, you should aim to settle on your number for both types of runs.

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Image Credit – Bahrain PF via Flickr

Foot Strike

Most of the above principles of good running form are universally agreed upon by nearly all experts, whether they are biomechanics pundits, elite athletes, or coaches. Nevertheless, the topic of footstrike is still an important sticking point in today’s running world.

Foot strike is about how and where your foot should hit the ground during a running stride. By and large, there are only three types of a foot strike: forefoot strike (FFS), mid-foot strike (MFS), and rearfoot strike (RFS). And the bad news is there is no clear-cut evidence that says that one strike pattern is better than the other.

However, and while there no enough evidence to support one method over the other, I would suggest a mid-foot strike, especially if you are a beginner. I believe that landing this way puts the least amount of stress on the knees and ankle while helping you generate a stronger push off.

Here is how: while running, do your best to land on your midfoot (or on the area between your heel and midfoot, then quickly roll forward onto the toes, popping off the ground and engaging your glutes on each step. Just make sure to land as softly as possible—just like a ninja.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but please take this tip with a grain of salt. Truth be told, it doesn’t’ matter where you foot land as long as it feels right and you are not experiencing any post-run aches and pains in your lower limbs.

So you gonna have to try it and see for yourself. Everybody is different and runs differently, but at least, remember that you have a choice, and if something isn’t working, you can always change it.

Conclusion

To re-cap: run tall with a slight forward lean, keep your body relaxed the entire time, improve your cadence, and find the footstrike that suits you the best (mine is the forefoot strike). And that’s it.

As a recreational runner—even if you take your running a bit more serious than the average joe—I don’t think you will need sophisticated from analysis to get the hangs of proper form.

Just keep your focus on the basics I shared with you today and you will undoubtedly reap the rewards of proper form: efficient running and fewer injuries. And that will make your daily runs a lot more fun for sure.

And please be gradual about changing your form. In my experience, the fastest way to get injured is to try to change everything overnight—so just give it time and change one thing at a time while listening to your body’s feedback and staying within your fitness level the entire time.

In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.

Go out there and RUN!

Featured Image Credit – Tomazs Pietek via Flickr

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David Dack

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