Looking to build proper 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.
Today you’re in luck. In this article, you’ll learn all you need to know about building and keeping proper running technique when logging the miles.
let’s get started.
What is Running Form?
Also known as running mechanics, running technique, or style, running form simply refers to how you run.
The main mechanics include running posture, foot strike, arm position, cadence, etc. Each of these mechanics affects your running comfort, efficiency, and results. See these as the individual functions of your body while running.
The Importance of Proper Running Form
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.
Many Questions. Few Answers…
Proper running mechanics brings up more than questions than answers. Here are a few:
- Should you land on the heel, the mid-foot, or forefoot?
- How to run with a slight forward lean?
- Is a long strider better than a short stride?
- Is heel strike the enemy?
- Should you breathe from the nose? The mouth? Or both?
- Should beginner runners concern themselves with proper form?
- Are proper form rules universal?
- What does current scientific research say about proper running form?
The list is long.
But here is a simple solution.
I believe in the existence of some basic elements of good basic form.
What follows are some of these universal laws for proper running technique. Hopefully, by the end of this post, you’ll have a rough a rough guideline on how to start building and fine-tuning your own running technique.
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.
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 proper running form guidelines I’m sharing with you here, you will be able to refine your training technique (I’m using the two terms interchangeably), and be able to run your best within a reasonable time-frame.
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.
How To Build (& Keep) Proper Running Form
Here are the exact guidelines you need.
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.
To ensure proper head position while running, do the following:
(1) Keep your head high and centered between the shoulders.
(2) Gaze directly roughly 10 to 15 feet ahead of you.
(3) Never look at your feet as doing leads to slouching, which is bad form at its worst.
(4) Don’t tilt your chin up or down—that usually occurs when we started to get tired.
Doing the above puts your neck in proper alignment with your spine, ensuring adequate flow of energy throughout your body.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Keep your shoulders back and loose. If you feel tightness in this area, then just drop your arms, open your hands, then shake them out for a moment.
Unclench your jaw. Instead, let it slacken and your eyes to droop and soften. Your facial muscles are not what you think about while running but they do control the degree of tension in your entire body.
Unclasp your fists. Imagine that you’re holding a delicate egg in each hand that you don’t want to crush. Although these muscle groups are not directly involved in the running motion, tension in these spots can set the stage for tension and improper form.
Breathe deep. Instead of solely relying on your chest, engage your diaphragm—your belly—to draw in deeper and more powerful inhales and exhales.
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 For Proper Running Form
Also known as leg turnover, cadence is the technical term that refers to how often your feet hit the ground while running. In essence, it’s the total number of steps you take while running per minute.
Cadence is a crucial part of proper running mechanics. Proper cadence helps reduce stress on feet, knees, and ankles, improving running efficiency—all of which can reduce injury risk and improve running performance.
So what is the ideal cadence?
According to experts, a cadence of 170 to 180 steps per minute is the optimal range for most people. 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.
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.
Run Your Own Way
With all that being said, running form is very personal.
As previously mentioned, what is crucial is to cultivate proper form habits. And over time, you’ll tone your technique and be able to find what works the best for your unique body type and mechanics.
What I recommend that you do is to develop your own running style while putting into consideration the above laws for proper movement.
That’s why, in the end, you need to run as run as naturally as possible.
In other words, let the technique conform to your physiology. Your running form must fit your individual characteristics. Not the other way around.
To get instant feedback on your running style, join a running group of more experienced runners.
These running clubs typically include runners from a variety of fitness backgrounds and levels, some of whom might be able to help you improve both your technique and training approach.
Just be open for some honest criticism. You might not like what you hear. But that’s a part of the learning process.
Every runner is unique and has a slightly different style of running. That’s fine. Just embrace the learning process, keep track on your performance and training enjoyment, and you’ll be on the right path.
And the more you run, the better you’ll get at judging good technique
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To re-cap: when it comes to building proper running form, 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 of proper running form 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!