Running might be one of the most beginner-friendly sports out there.
It requires no special instruction.
And the fact is, we are born to run. Our bodies are designed to perform the motion of running (just look at your limbs, buddy, that ain’t an accident).
After all, running is all about putting one foot in front of the other (in a speedy kind of a way).
With that said, not everyone knows how to run properly. In fact, proper form eludes most—especially the beginners who’s got no clue on how to proceed.
The Importance of Proper Form
Proper form can help you prevent injury, increase performance while making sure you are having fun and making the most out of your workouts.
If your running form is off, then expect all sorts of aches, pains, injuries and low performance—all of which can make the prospect of achieving your running best a distant reality. And you don’t want that. Do you?
But fret no more, I got you covered, buddy.
Enter Running Form Mistakes
Today I’m going to share with you three of the most common form mistakes I see runners make along with a few practical tips on how to fix them for good.
I have already written extensively about proper running form. You can check my full guide here.
In the meantime, keep on reading and discover whether you are guilty of breaking some of these running form laws.
The Three Running Form Mistakes Runners Make & How to avoid them
Without Further ado, here are three of the most common running form mistakes and how to fix them for good.
Mistake #.1 Slow Cadence
In running jargon, Cadence, also known as stride turnover, is the measure used to count how many steps you take during a minute of running, and it has a significance importance in achieving top running speed.
In other words, cadence is how often your feet hit the ground while running.
The exact number varies from one runner to the next due to many factors, including lower limbs length, fitness level, running speed, physiology, etc.
Under optimal conditions, and as a general guideline, your cadence should around 180-foot strikes per minute. The faster it gets, the more efficient you are. This reduces the stress on the muscles while also minimizing impact force on your bones and joints.
And the major pitfall I see many runners make is that they try to speed up their cadence by increasing their stride length. This is not ideal because it forces the runner to reduce their stride frequency.
The average runner usually has a cadence in the range of 160 to 170 steps per minute. In most cases, this means the runner is overstriding—this might lead to heel striking and inefficient form.
As I have already stated, according to the current running literature the most efficient cadence is roughly 180 steps per minute.
Therefore, if you are not there yet, you have to work on increasing it.
And here is how:
First, determine your current cadence.
Run at your natural pace for 30 seconds. Then, count how many steps you take then multiply it by 2 to come up with the number of steps per minute.
See. Easy peasy.
For instance, if you count 80 steps in 30 seconds of running—this means you are presently taking roughly 160 feet strikes per minute.
From there, you need to gradually make the jump to 180 by increasing your steps per minute by 5 to 10, from one week to the next, with the primary focus on increasing your turnover—and not increasing the length of your strides (remember, that’s a big mistake).
Furthermore, you can also set a metronome at 180 beats per minute (bpm), then do your best to run to the beat.
This will serve as the perfect practice ground.
Running Form Mistake #2: Unrelaxed Upper Body
In my experience, it doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or a seasoned athlete, running strong and relaxed is no easy feat. It’s something you are going to have to take your time with, but, over the long haul, it’s worth the effort.
And as you might already know, tension wastes energy and can make your workouts less fun while hindering performance.
And when it comes to tension, the more you hold on to it, the worse it gets.
That’s why you have to avoid it like the plague.
Yes, I know, this is easier said than done. And when you are trying to instill good running form practice, it’s no easy task to just stay relaxed while running.
Not swayed by this whole relaxation deal?
Well, then just look at world class marathon runners, sprinters, and everyone in between.
If you watch the footage in slow motion, you’ll see how relaxed their faces are, with the shoulders loose and hanging away from the ears, elbows bent at a comfortable 90 degrees angle.
In my experience, staying relaxed throughout a run is of utmost importance—especially in key areas such as the back, the shoulder, arms, and neck.
Here a few pointers to help you stay relaxed throughout your runs:
Keep a keen eye on any sign of strain or tension, then consciously release it. They do say that tension is an unconscious process, while relaxation is a conscious one.
Practice quick loosening exercises for these vital areas every mile marker, or whenever you feel the tension creeping up.
For instance, to release tension in the shoulders, raise them to your ears at every one to two miles in an exaggerated manner for 5 to 10 seconds, and then drop them back down into their ideal, nice and relaxed, position.
Do the same with your arms by raising them then putting them back at their ideal, relaxed position, whenever you feel the tension building up.
To keep your arms and hands relaxed, keep your hands in a loose fist. Imagine that you’re holding a butterfly or an egg and don’t want to crush/break it.
Keep your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle. Also, be sure to keep the same angle in the backswing.
Doing otherwise will only waste your energy.
Mistake #3: Heel Striking
Oh boy, the heel strike!
This might be the biggest source of debate in the running world, with conflicting studies neither affirming nor disproving the effectiveness of a heel strike in a running gait.
In fact, I was reluctant to call this a mistake because I happen to believe that there is no such thing as the perfect foot strike that works for everyone.
Nonetheless, I believe, especially if you are a beginner runner, that you should be aware of this one.
Who knows, maybe heel striking is the source of some of the aches and pains you’ve been dealing with since you took up running.
So what is heel striking?
Basically, Heel striking is when the feet are landing heel first in front of the hips, way ahead of your body’s center of gravity—and this is inefficient and wastes energy.
In most cases, the most common cause of heel striking is overstriding, which is a common injury causing running form mistake.
According to theory, heel striking has often been associated with having a slow cadence (see mistake #.1).
Not only that, heel striking is also bad for performance and can hinder running training efficiently because when your heels hit the ground first, you are braking with each step, which wastes a lot of precious energy.
This type of a foot strike is not only inefficient, but it can also put too much stress on the muscles and joints, leading to all sorts of pains and overuse injuries.
As a general guideline, running should be relatively quite. If your feet strike the ground audibly with each step, then you might be a heel striker.
To do that, you’d want to land mid-foot,
Here is how to do that…
Imagine yourself running over hot coals, by focusing on landing on the mid-sole, or on the ball of the foot, with the feet directly underneath your body’s center of gravity.
This will help keep your steps quick and light.
No Forward Lunging Allowed
Also, make sure not to lounge too much forward with your leading foot—especially if you are doing any sort of downhill running.
You can also practice mid-foot landing by doing a set of specific running drills, such as running backward, skipping, butt kicks, high knees as well as agility ladder drills, such as the side shuffle and so on.
Furthermore, you can also practice these drills before you head out the door as a part of your dynamic warm-up (I already outlined an awesome dynamic warm-up routine here).
For more on that, check my guide here.
Featured Image Credit – Takaaki Kamikawa via Flickr