Looking to improve your running technique and improve running form? Then you’ve come to the right place.
Here’s the truth: A few things are more natural to us than running.
according to evolutionary thinking (and running gurus like Chris MacDougal), one the things the human body is specifically designed for is running—and doing it for long distances.
That’s how our ancestors survived in the back old days.
Run for you life.
That’s not the whole story.
Some research even suggest that running is made us human in the first place.
(for a treasure trove of information and research references, check the Endurance Running Hypothesis Wikipedia Page).
Of course, I’m going somewhere with this.
Here’s the other, not so pleasant, truth: proper running technique doesn’t always come naturally for most of us.
In fact, one the most common mistakes runners make is training with bad form.
What makes this worse, according to my own experience, is that a lot of runners avoid talking about the subject.
I understand, everyone has a different opinion, but that’s not reason to scoff at the importance of proper running form altogether.
For these reasons, and some more, I decided to write an in-depth post about principles and practices of good proper running form.
By the end of this article, you’ll learn more about:
- What is Running Form?
- The Importance of Proper Running Form
- Why running posture is key and how to improve it
- Is Lean Gravity Running worth trying?
- What to do with your Hands while running
- The importance of staying relaxed while running
- How cadence impacts your running technique
- How to improve your foot strike
- Drills to improve your running technique
- And so much more.
I know it’s a lot to cover, but the topic of running technique deserves all the attention that it can get.
let’s get started.
What is Running Form?
Also known as running mechanics, running technique, or style, running form refers to how you run.
The main factors include your running posture, foot strike, arm position, cadence, etc.
Each of these affects your running comfort, efficiency, and results.
The answer to what is proper running form is something we’re re going to discuss today, let’s first address why you should care.
The Importance of Good Running Technique
Proper running form is key for efficient and injury-free training.
Good running technique helps run farther, faster, and with fewer injuries.
Let your running form go south, and you could end up increasing your injury risk and compromising your performance.
This should convince you to learn how to run properly.
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 stride 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?
This might sound like a lot to digest but it’s not rocket science.
In fact, there are a few basic principles of proper running form.
Once you learn about these basic elements and start practicing them during your runs, you’ll improve.
That’s a good thing if you ask me.
Would you like to learn more about these universal proper running technique rules? Then keep on reading.
Note: It Takes Time To Build Good Running Form
Learning any new skill—whether it’s a new language, how to use new software, or in your case, how to develop good running form—requires time and experimentation.
It doesn’t happen overnight.
But it’ll definitely help you ward off injuries and run more efficiently.
How To Improve Running Form for Beginners
Here are the exact guidelines you need to improve your running technique.
Your Running Posture
I never liked the word “posture.” The term has always conjured up images of people sitting in rigid positions, balancing books on their heads.
It’s one of those skills that require a lot of patience and effort to master—qualities I sorely lack.
Nonetheless, the importance of good posture is almost impossible to dismiss.
Proper posture — both on and off the running track — is essential to overall health and it’s the cornerstone of efficient and injury-free running.
Proper posture aligns everything in your body, helping your muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments function properly and optimally.
By opting for good posture, you’ll help reduce the load on your skeletal muscles as well as enable your body to move more efficiently and freely.
It’s quite literally the foundation of every step you take.
Bad Posture on The Run
Some of you may never have experienced this, but few things can ruin a run—especially a long run—like bad posture.
It can cause neck, shoulder, and back pain, wastes energy, interferes with your running gait, and contributes to overuse injury.
What’s the link between bad posture and these issues?
It’s not that complicated.
Just like good posture ensures proper body alignment, poor posture achieves the opposite.
It places excessive stress on your muscles and joints, overusing them and making them tense.
That saddles you with a slew of performance and health issues—and you don’t want that.
I know this because I’m speaking from personal experience.
I had all sorts of problems that were probably a result of bad posture.
For a long time, my lower and middle back felt sore and tired, even following a short run.
I also had a burning pain between my shoulder blades and in my lower back after sitting for no more than an hour.
Making matters even worse, my poor posture made me look a few inches shorter and many pounds heavier.
Once I started improving my posture, most of these issues simply went away.
I still get a bit of back pain now and then, but it’s not as intense, nor does it occur as frequently as it used to, even though I’m working longer hours and running more miles than ever before.
Enter Strength and Mobility Training
In an attempt to fix my habitual slouching, I tried out a mix of techniques for posture correction.
As far as I can tell, what helped me the most was the strength and mobility exercises known for dealing with the underlying issues behind bad posture.
Good posture begins with the correct body angle.
Here’s is how to improve it:
- 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.
You can also imagine there is a plum line running from above your head down through your trunk is a perfect vertical line.
Check your running posture every 10 to 15 minutes to make sure everything is all right and on the right path.
Lean Gravity Assisted Running
Another thing you can do to build proper running form is to practice gravity assisted running—as long as you’re doing it the right way, of course.
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.
Just whatever you do, avoid leaning too far forward or too far back.
You should also avoid bending backward or forward from the waist as this puts a lot of pressure on the hips.
A good example of perfect forward lean is the Nordic ski jumpers.
Your Head While Running
To ensure proper head position so you can run properly, 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 an adequate flow of energy throughout your body.
Your Shoulders While Running
Your shoulders drive proper arm motion.
Keep your shoulders relaxed and under your ears.
Hunching the shoulders creates tensions and restricts breathing—all of which can lead to inefficient form.
Your Arms While Running
Arm position is as important to running performance as your leg motion.
Sure, running is mainly a lower-body sport, but that doesn’t mean you should toss the importance of your arms to the side.
They’re not just there along for the ride.
Efficient arm position can boost speed, improve balance, increase your overall coordination and rhythm.
Here’s how to improve arm position while running:
- 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.
- Move your arms in conjunction with your legs.
- Swing your arms forward and back, not across your body. This also allows your shoulders and neck to relax.
Your Hands While Running
Your hands regulate tension in your upper body.
Tightness can create tension up in the back and shoulders.
Here’s what to do with your hands when pounding the pavement:
- 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.
- 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.
Your Knees While Running
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.
Stay Relaxed Running
Keeping tension in your body is the last thing you want.
It wastes energy and wherever you’re clinging to it, you’re misusing energy that could be (and should) spent elsewhere.
That’s not the whole story.
Feeling tense sucks, while on the other hand, it feels good to feel relaxed—that’s something you can’t argue with.
To stay relaxed while running, do the following:
- 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. Let it slacken and your eyes to droop and soften. Your facial muscles have a great impact on 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. Tension here can set the stage for tension and improper form.
- Breathe deep. Instead of relying on your chest, engage your diaphragm—your belly—to draw in deeper and more powerful inhales and exhales.
Know your Cadence For Proper Running Mechanics
Also known as leg turnover, cadence is the technical term that refers to the number of times your feet hit the ground while running.
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 to run properly.
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.
Next, if your running cadence is 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 varies 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.
Foot Strike & Good Running Technique
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.
But when it comes to foot strike, the topic is still a 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.
This should help you run properly.
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 your foot to land as long as it feels right and you are not experiencing any post-run aches and pains in your lower limbs.
So you going to 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.
Additional Resource – Your guide to treadmill running form
Run Your Own Way
With all that being said, proper running form is very personal.
As previously mentioned, what is crucial is to cultivate proper running technique 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 naturally as possible.
In other words, let your running technique conform to your physiology.
Your running form must fit your personal needs.
Not the other way around.
To get instant feedback so you can run properly, 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 to 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.
Just embrace the learning process, keep track of 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
Additional Resource – Why is my running not improving
6 Drills to Improve Your Running Form
The drills below are designed to help you develop and master vital components of running technique.
In fact, taking the time to perform the drills is going to drastically improve your running form and economy.
In other words, these drills can boost up your athleticism power, improve running cadence, reinforce proper form, and improve your overall running technique and approach.
Also, I recommend these drills for nearly all runners.
Everyone can benefit from them—the complete beginners and the elite.
You can do these drills in the comfort of your home to help you improve your form.
Looking for more? Here’s the speed drills routine you need to try.
When To Do them
In my experience, the best time to do the drills is just right after warming up but before the bulk of the workout session.
Thus, perform these drills as a part of your dynamic warm-up, following 5 to 10 minutes of easy jogging to get your heart rate up and blood flowing to the muscles.
For more on dynamic warm-up for runners, check my post here.
Try to do these drills at least three times per week on a regular basis, focusing on proper form throughout each and every exercise.
How to Start
Please start slow so you can develop a feel for proper technique.
And once you get experienced, gradually increase your speed and intensity, so you are going through each exercise as fast as possible.
But please, never lose form.
Make proper form a priority and you’ll always be on the winning side.
(That’s why I’m sharing with you the YouTube tutorials and the form tips. So please, put them into action.)
This drill is key for improving hip flexor and quadricep flexibility as well as engaging the hamstrings, making them stronger in the process.
It can also help you improve your leg turnover cadence, key for speed.
While assuming an athletic stance, run in place while keeping the thighs more or less locked in a neutral position.
To get the most out of this, try kicking yourself in your butt muscles with your heel on each stride, making sure to pull your heels up directly beneath you.
Do this while keeping your toe, heel and knee up throughout the exercise.
Also, make sure to use a similar arm motion during this exercise as you use while running.
2. High Knees
If you are an overstrider, then this drill is going to help you reinforce a midfoot landing strike.
It also can help you increase your hamstring flexibility and leg turnover cadence.
What’s more? High knees promote a more efficient running form by focusing on a higher knee lift and improving hamstring and glutes power.
Assume an athletic stance with a slight forward lean from the ankles.
Next, start taking short steps with a quick cadence, alternating between pushing off the floor with one leg and thrusting the other knee upward and forward until you lifted thigh breaks a plane to the ground.
Please, use the same arm motion you use while running throughout this drill.
Keep up the exercise as fast as you can with good form.
A-Skip is the traditional skip that’s going to help you boost lower-leg power and strength while firing up the hip flexors, improving running form coordination, encouraging knee lift and developing an efficient foot strike.
Not only that, this drill can also help you increase your leg turnover cadence and put a stop to overstriding and/or heel striking.
Assume an athletic position.
Next, skip with high knees by driving your left knee up (until your hip joint is bent past 90 degrees) as you push off with your right one.
Then continue in an alternating fashion.
Also, make sure to keep the arms and legs moving together in time to get into a rhythmic motion.
This is an extension of the A-Skip, and it can help you improve hamstring flexibility and total body coordination.
While assuming an athletic stance, skip forward by raising your right knee to waist height while keeping your left leg straight as possible as you come off your toe.
Keep moving forward in this manner—alternating legs—and hitting the ground with your mid-foot or forefoot while using your hamstrings to pull your leg back for ground contact, creating a powerful snapback.
5. Arm Pull-Backs
This drill focuses on the proper motion of the upper body during the gait cycle by helping you improve your arm swing (mainly focusing on the posterior portion) as well as developing high running cadence rhythm.
Note: The Youtube video shows a modified version of the drill.
Assume an athletic position with the back straight, core engaged with a level head and shoulders.
Next, while holding your arms at 90 degrees angle and opting for a slight forward lean, jog forward while moving your arms backward (concentrating on read portion of the arm swing).
To pull your upper arms backward, focus on contracting and engaging the muscles around your shoulder blades.
And please keep your arms swinging in a plane that’s parallel to your torso. Do not rotate your body to help with the movement.
Another powerful drill for increasing your stride cadence and reinforcing correct foot strike mechanics.
While opting for a short and quick stride, move forward with a minimal knee lift, raising one foot only as high as the opposite ankle.
Imagine that you are running on hot coals.
Please use short and quick steps, pushing with your gluteal muscles on each strike, and using the balls of your feet to pull your body to the next step.
6 Exercises To Improve Your Running Posture
What I learned from my research is that, more often than not, bad posture is the byproduct of muscular deficiencies in certain parts of the body, usually due to a mix of both weak and tight muscles.
This where the exercises described below come into play.
What do these exercises accomplish?
They help you improve body awareness, strength, mobility, and flexibility.
That, in turn, will help you run in a more efficient way.
What’s not to like?
To build and maintain good posture, focus on building strength in the following muscles:
- Core muscles
- Rhomboids and middle trapezoids
- Deep neck flexors
- Glute muscles
Make sure to improve flexibility and mobility in the following muscle groups:
- Hip flexors
The best part about this whole routine is that it only takes a few minutes a day to do at your office, home, or as a part of your regular workout.
For a quick fix of your posture, go through this entire circuit three times per day, depending on how much time you have.
You’ll feel pretty accomplished afterward.
1. Scapular Retraction
Good posture begins with a neutral pelvis—not tilted forward or backward. Scapular retraction activates the middle portion of the trapezius and rhomboid muscles, which are the muscles that help pull the shoulder blades together and open up the shoulders.
Start by lying on your stomach, both arms held out to the side at shoulder level.
For more of a challenge, hold a light dumbbell in each hand.
While keeping your elbows straight and your shoulder blades retracted, slowly raise your hands up toward the ceiling.
Hold them at the highest point for a moment, then slowly return to start and repeat.
Do not shrug your shoulders.
2. Wall Angels
Strength is just one piece of the puzzle.
As I stated earlier, you also need proper mobility and flexibility in your upper body to build and maintain good posture.
Wall angels activate a wide range of muscles in the upper body, especially in the shoulder and shoulder blades.
This stabilizes the muscles around the shoulder joint (rotator cuff) and reduces neck tension.
Plant yourself with your back against a wall and your feet about six inches from the base.
Make sure your head, upper back, and buttocks stay in contact with the wall throughout the exercise.
Place both arms against the wall with elbows bent at a 90-degree angle, so they form the letter “W.”
Press the entire length of your spine against the wall, slightly tucking in your pelvis and engaging your abs.
Slowly slide your arms up the wall four to ten inches, hold for three seconds, then slowly slide them down to the starting position.
Your forearms and wrists should stay in contact with the wall at all times.
You know you’re doing it right once you start to feel your abs and the middle of your back contract to stabilize your spine.
Hold the pose for as long as possible without losing form.
3. Neck Flexors
To maintain proper posture, you also need strong neck muscles—that’s where this exercise can help.
Neck flexors strengthen the deep cervical flexors that support the neck and head.
Lie on your back with knees bent, arms relaxed along your sides, head resting on the floor, neck, and spine in neutral alignment.
Gently tuck your chin toward your chest until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your neck.
Hold for five seconds, then slowly lower back to starting position.
Keep your head straight without tilting to either side and keep the muscles in the front of your neck relaxed throughout.
4. Overhead Squat
Overhead squats target major muscle groups throughout the body.
They also force your muscles to work through a greater range of motion to control your body position.
This extra depth results in improved flexibility and mobility throughout your lower body, including the ankles, knees, glutes, and hips.
Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly out and your arms overhead, just behind your ears in a “Y” position.
Slowly bend your knees and stick your buttocks toward the back, then squat as low as you can while keeping your lower back flat throughout.
Slowly press back up by straightening your knees and driving your hips forward.
5. The Plank
One of the things your core muscles do is to maintain a straight back and stabilize the hips and trunk — that’s why strong core muscles are key for proper posture.
In fact, in 8 out of 10 cases of poor posture, weak core and back muscles are to blame.
Enter the plank.
When performed correctly, this awesome exercise lights up a multitude of muscles all at once, mainly strengthening the shoulders, legs, and the entire core.
Get on your hands and knees.
Step your feet back until you’re in a push-up position, then bend your elbows to a 90-degree angle and position your forearms on the floor.
Your body should form a straight line from your heels to your head.
Hold the position for a full minute.
Keep your knees straight, your hips low to the ground, and your head relaxed throughout the exercise.
Additional resource – Your guide to IT band Syndrome
6. Seated Low Row
This is another fantastic exercise for strengthening the upper and middle back.
As the name implies, low seated rows imitate a rowing motion.
It targets the muscles around the back including the forward flexors, biceps, rear delts, lats, and erector spinae.
Seated low rows can be performed using a special gym machine or with a pulley.
You can also do it at home using a resistance band or a weight.
Sit on a bench, gripping the handles of a rowing machine (or a resistance band tied to a stable object, or holding a light weight in each hand.)
While keeping the palms facing each other, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull the cables (or weights) towards you.
Keep your elbows close to your sides and your shoulders relaxed.
Hold the contraction for a breath or two as you squeeze the shoulder blades down and back, then extend your elbows to a nearly straight position to complete one rep.
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 foot strike 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. Then it’s just a matter of time before you master good running form.
In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.
Go out there and RUN!