How to Build Proper Running Form

couple running and have good running form

Looking to improve your running technique and build proper 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
  • 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.

Sounds great?

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.

runner with good Running Form

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.

Proper Running Form – How To Run Properly

Here are the exact guidelines you need to improve your running technique.

Your Running Posture

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

Proper posture helps reduce strain on your upper body, preventing muscle fatigue, back pain, and soreness.

It also helps keep your spine in proper alignment, increases training efficiency, and improves your foot strike foot strike.

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.

What’s more?

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.

couple running and have good running form

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 Form

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 Form

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.

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.

That’s fine.

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

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Conclusion

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!

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