8 Tips for Proper Running Form

Improving your running form can help you run faster, more efficiently and comfortably, and with less stress on your body and reduced injury risk. Good form reduces your risk of fatigue and ensures that you are getting the most out of your run. Follow these tips to work on perfecting your running form.

1

Look Ahead

Man running in the city
Jordan Siemens/Iconica/Getty Images

Your eyes should be focused on the ground about 10 to 20 feet ahead of you. Don't stare at your feet. Not only is this proper running form, but it's also a safer way to run because you can see what's coming and avoid falling.

Is your head jutting forward as you run? This puts a lot of stress on the neck and shoulder muscles, which can lead to tension. To make sure you're not leaning forward with your head when you're running, hold it so that your ears are right over the middle of your shoulders.

Imagine yourself as a puppet on a string as you run, with your entire body held long and straight.

2

Keep Hands at Your Waist

Try to keep your hands at waist level, right about where they might lightly brush your hip. Your arms should be bent at a 90-degree angle. Some beginners have a tendency to hold their hands way up by their chest, especially as they get tired. You may actually get even more tired by holding your arms that way and you'll start to feel tightness and tension in your shoulders and neck. (However, if you are sprinting, your arms will naturally drive your hands further back and up.)

3

Relax Your Hands

As you run, keep your arms and hands as relaxed as possible. Avoid tightening your hands into fists. If you're clenching your hands, the tension will move from there up your arms to your shoulders and neck.

A relaxed fist is ideal: Pretend you're holding an egg in each hand that you don't want to break.

4

Check Your Posture

Keep your posture straight and erect. Your head should be up, your back straight, and shoulders level. Keep your shoulders under your ears and maintain a neutral pelvis. Make sure you're not leaning forward or back at your waist, which some runners do as they get fatigued.

Check your posture once in a while. When you're tired at the end of your run, it's common to slump over a little, which can lead to neck, shoulder, and lower-back pain. When you feel yourself slouching, poke your chest out.

Maintaining good form at the end of your run is important for fighting off fatigue and finishing strong.

5

Relax Your Shoulders

Your shoulders should be relaxed and square or facing forward, not hunched over. Rounding the shoulders too far forward tends to tighten the chest and restrict breathing. You'll breathe a lot easier if your shoulders are relaxed.

Don't Shrug

Check that your shoulders are not shrugged up close to your ears. If they are, squeeze your shoulder blades together on your back, as if they're elevator doors that you need to close. Keep them in that position and allow your shoulders to drop.

Periodically check the position of your shoulders to make sure they stay relaxed. If you discover you're shrugging again, repeat the shoulder-blade squeeze maneuver.

6

Keep Your Arms at Your Side

Avoid side-to-side arm swinging. If your arms cross over your chest, you're more likely to slouch, which means you're not breathing efficiently. Inefficient or shallow breathing can also lead to side stitches, or cramps in your abdominal area.

When runners get tired or tense, their hands start to move up towards their shoulders, shortening the distance between upper arm and forearm. If you notice this happening, allow your arms to drop by your sides and shake them out. Reposition them at a 90-degree angle with your shoulders back and relaxed.

7

Rotate Your Arms From the Shoulder

Your arms should swing back and forth from your shoulder joint, not your elbow joint. Think of your arm as a pendulum, swinging back and forth at your shoulder. Drive your elbow backward and then let it swing back toward you.

Your hand should be almost grazing your hip as your arm comes back in front of you.

Your arms should swing by your sides. If they're crossing over your chest, they'll start moving up toward your shoulders and you'll find yourself hunching over. Hunching can make it hard to breathe. Keep your arms at your sides, parallel to each other.

Imagine a vertical line splitting your body in half—your hands should not go past that line.

8

Don't Bounce

If you bounce when you run, known as vertical oscillation, your head and body are moving up and down too much, which wastes a lot of energy. The higher you lift yourself off the ground, the greater the shock you have to absorb when landing and the faster your legs will fatigue.

Try These Tips

To minimize bounce and save energy, run lightly, and land softly on your feet. Try to keep your stride low to the ground and focus on quick stride turnover. Take short, light steps, as if you're stepping on hot coals.

Some experts say a cadence of 90, with your left foot contacting the ground 90 times per minute, is the turnover rate seen in the most efficient runners. Shortening your stride will raise your cadence.

Practice any changes in your cadence and foot strike for short periods only. They will feel unnatural at first and you don't want to overdo it. As they become more natural you will be able to do them for longer periods of your running workout.

Optimize Your Form to Prevent Injury

If you are still struggling with problems related to poor running form, you might want to do a gait analysis. This is often done by a physical therapist who may analyze your Z angle, or the angle formed by the connection of your hip and ankle as you run.

How to Find Your Z Angle

Use a still photo of yourself running, taken from the side when your back foot is still on the ground. The best way to get this sort of photo is to take a still photo or screenshot from a video.

  1. Draw a line through the hip joint parallel to the top of your pelvis.
  2. Draw another line down your stance leg, from your hip to your ankle.
  3. Draw a final line from your ankle joint through your toes.

If you are running with proper form, your final diagram should be Z-shaped.

What to Do About Poor Form

If your analysis reveals problems with your form, you should take steps to correct your technique in order to avoid strain or injury.

If the angle is larger at your ankle than at your hip, it might be indicative of weakness or tightness in your calf muscles. Specific exercises that target this area, such as a towel calf stretch or anterior tibialis strengthening, may help.

If the angle is larger at your hip than at your ankle, it can be a sign of poor hip extension. Exercises such as hip flexor stretches or hip strengthening may help to correct your running form.

Ask Your Doctor or PT

If you are still experiencing pain that might be related to your running form, it's time to get advice from your doctor or physical therapist. They can make an assessment of your pain, check for possible injury, and recommend any changes or exercises that might help.

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