Using proper running form can improve your speed, efficiency, comfort, and reduce your risk of injury. If you're a running newbie or a weekend warrior who has never trained in the nuances of running, you've come to the right place.  

On the surface, it would appear as though there’s little need for running form guidance. It's a natural body movement that most have been performing since childhood. But it doesn’t take an expert to realize the benefits that come with making a few minor tweaks. It prolongs your running life and results in an even sweeter performance.

Generally speaking, running is a mental sport. That is, it takes discipline, concentration and relentlessness to be successful, especially for long-distance running. But you cannot run with your mind alone. You will need a strong body and good mechanics to truly reach your running potential.

Whether you enjoy 10K road races or jogging through your neighborhood, lack of proper form can make running a painful and strenuous chore. Paying attention to technique, on the other hand, and employing running fundamentals by keying in on one thing at a time, and doing it well, changes unproductive habits and pays off.  

We've outlined key tips and critical changes that will assist you and make all the difference in perfecting your running form and experience.


What Is Proper Running Form? 

young woman running

Let's take a top-to-bottom approach in addressing this matter.


Upper Body


Head 

It may seem silly to consider your head when it's your legs that seem to do all the work but bear with us. Remember, everything in the body is connected, and works together for a common goal when running or even walking. Your head should maintain a neutral position. That means no chin to the sky, a flaw you've probably seen in untrained speedsters. Likewise, chin down puts too much stress on the neck and spine. Your goal is to keep your facial muscles relaxed, which includes your jaw and neck. Your chin should be parallel to the ground, eyes forward.


Eyes

Let's talks about your eyes a bit more. Really, your eyes can look anywhere, but a focused gaze helps maintain proper posture and spinal alignment. Try looking about 10 feet out, instead of looking at the ground in front of your feet. Head bobbing and head shaking is unnecessary and inefficient. These counterproductive movements waste energy.


Shoulders

Your shoulders should face forward and square with your ears and pelvis. This may sound too basic, but it's common for people to run with a hunched back or curled-over shoulders, even shrugged up towards the ears. This is the go-to position when fatigue sets in. Allow your body to relax and move naturally. Think about squeezing your shoulder blades together and poking your chest out to keep your body tall. Shoulder tension is inefficient and can impact your arm movements.


Chest

Exaggerated body rocking uses more energy than necessary. Don't block off your breathing with poor posture. What this means is that your chest should be up and open. As we fatigue, gravity starts to take over. A hunched-over, weighted down running style can decrease lung capacity and restrict airflow. Tell yourself to "run tall."


Arms

Your arm is the magic lever that controls your running machine. Proper technique can directly impact your speed and power. Think of your shoulder and arm like a pendulum. While your shoulder holds position, your arms rock back and forth. Sounds simple, but there's a bit more to it than that. With only that instruction, we've seen the classic "knife-arm body crossover" - the "flailing and flapper" technique, or even the "body hugger" running style, each of which we want to avoid at all costs.


Arm Technique For Proper Running Form

arm training by a runner

Allow your arms to fall naturally by your side. Now bend your lower arm until you've formed almost a ninety-degree angle with your upper arm. Try not to be too rigid, this is just an approximation. Now hold this position. The movement comes from your shoulder joint, not your elbow. Proper arm technique can control your speed and assists in propelling your body forward. Remember, during your run, your arms should not cross over the midline of your body.


Arm Swing

showing arm notion

Your arm motion calls you to drive your arm down and back. This is called "arm swing." Efficient arm drive sets your rhythm which dictates your speed. To sum it up, tight, rotated shoulders can sabotage all the gains and throw off your balance and drive. If you pump your arms faster, your legs will follow. As your arm swings, your hand has two striking windows. The first is just behind your pocket. The second is between the nipple line and your chin.


Hands

How do your hands affect running form? Again, this is an element where many runners experience wasted energy due to tension. Remember, balled fists rob energy from the rest of your body. Don't be a victim of this crime. Try positioning your hand as if you're holding a snack-sized bag of potato chips. It should feel relaxed with fingers slightly extended but not rigid. Allow your thumb to rest naturally on your forefinger. Your wrist should not break, but maintain alignment with your lower arm.



Lower body

Now, let's take a look at your lower body.


Core

For our purposes, your hips and abdominal region make up your midsection or core. Managing this area properly can greatly impact your running form. To keep it simple, avoid over-rotation. Allow your body to flow naturally. Strong abdominals are the real difference makers here. Think of pulling your belly button into your back. Don't hold your breath, but focus on maintaining a firm, upright position. Understand, strong abs increase the stability of your hips, pelvis, and even your knees during running. They can also minimize wasteful movement and impact your stride and endurance.


Legs and Knees

Knees are probably the most injured part of the body for runners. Joint stiffness, ligament strains, and knee pain can keep you off your feet. Tweaking your running form is a great start in reducing knee injury and leg pain. Most leg pain comes from weak muscles. When you impose less strain on your muscles and connective tissues, you decrease your chance of injury.


Feet

It seems crazy to mention your feet when discussing running form because the mechanics may seem obvious. Just keep in mind, your feet should be straight ahead. Avoid running on your toes or striking with your heel. Both will probably set you up for injury. Plus, it's important to protect your feet with proper shoe choice. Worn-out soles can thwart your landing, leading to a range of problems from shin splints to plantar fasciitis.


Why Is Proper Running Form Important?

We need not to convince you that proper running form boosts your speed, relaxes your body, and reduces the risk of injury because you already know that. But do you realize that most people rarely consider their technique? The bottom line is that proper mechanics prolong your ability to do what you enjoy and keep you safe while doing it. It makes running easier.


How To Train Your Body To Run With Proper Form

Let's talk about what you'll need to change to run with proper form. There are a few critical considerations.

silhouette of a woman training

 

Muscular Development

Don't underestimate the power of a strong body - literally. From top to bottom, leave no muscle untouched in the training cycle. This doesn't mean you need to become a prized bodybuilder to improve your technique, but you should incorporate regular strength training into your weekly regimen. Just think about the difference a firm abdomen can make in facilitating proper knee lift, for example.   

 

Gait Cycle Or Running Movement

Your gait is essentially the way your legs move. It's the separation you make when stepping forward. How far you step forward is your stride. The number of times and sequence in which your foot hits the ground is your cadence. Using proper running form directly impacts both stride and cadence. It really works!

 

Foot Strike

The way your foot hits the ground is significant. Your foot strike should be mid-foot and then roll through to the front of your toes. This is not the time for ballet toes or duck walking. Proper foot strike puts an end to many feet, ankle, and knee problems.

 

Conclusion

When considering running technique, it is important to remember that everything is connected; what you do with your arms will greatly affect what is going on elsewhere. Relaxation is key. Avoid tension in your entire body, even parts you may not typically associate with running, for immediate results.

We can really go much more in-depth with this topic, depending on your running experience and your choice of terrain. For instance, there will be other considerations and tweaks if you're running on a track versus doing an off-road trek. Regardless, from newbies to experts, small tweaks in your running form can result in a more economical technique and efficient use of energy.