While it might seem like running is as easy as throwing a proper pair of shoes on and heading out the door, to get the most out of your effort, you might want to re-examine your running form.
Running form can impact what is known as your running economy, or the amount of energy you burn to keep up with a given pace. Poor form can cause you to expend more energy with unnecessary actions like swinging your arms too wide or taking too many strides; this, in turn, will slow down your speed and diminish your overall endurance.
Incorrect running form can also make you more susceptible to injury. Improper body mechanics while running put excess stress on your joints and hurt your pronation.
Common Running Form Mistakes
Not relaxing your upper body – a tight upper body riddled with tension from your lower back through your jaw will not be able to effectively withstand the force your lower body creates when running.
Vertical stance – forget the “stand up straight” dictation from childhood that had you throwing your shoulders back and sticking your chest out. When it comes to running, you want to let your chest lead you as you shift your bodyweight into each step while keeping your spine straight.
Working against your body – remember, every runner’s body is a little bit different and what works for one runner may not be exactly what works for you. When in doubt, stick to basic form recommendations (like those below) and then follow what feels natural to you (and what helps improve your speed and performance).
Practicing poor posture everywhere else – if you are slumping, slouching, and hunching over at work and at home when you’re not running, it will be harder for your body to match good form when you do hit the pavement.
How Do You Know If Your Running Form Is Good or Bad?
If you haven’t yet experienced an injury as a result of poor running form, here are a couple of good ways to evaluate how you run:
Record a video – that’s right, set your smartphone up facing a treadmill, hit record, and then run on the treadmill for a minute. This is one of the easiest ways to examine your running form yourself. Pay close attention to how and where your foot hits the ground, your kickback, your upper body posture, and the way your arms swing.
Analyze race photos – if you have access to photos of yourself in a recent race, pull at least three to look at; one from the beginning, middle, and end of the race. Can you visibly tell how your stride and running form change as the race went on and fatigue set in?
Tips to Improve Running Form
Avoid the chicken dance
Are your arms swinging close to your body like a chicken’s wings when you run? While this tightness might feel right, that position is actually shortening your swing, reducing your overall stability, and decreasing your stride length. Instead, keep arms at a 90-degree angle at your sides (don’t let them cross in front of you), relax your shoulders, and concentrate on pushing your elbow back with the downswing.
Practice good posture all the time
The more aligned, extended, and relaxed your spine and hips are throughout the day, the more likely they’ll be able to support your ideal running form. Go beyond simply “sitting up straight” and take actions like lifting weights to strengthen your core and upper back, wearing a flexible posture brace, or practicing spine-aligning yoga or tai chi.
Modify your strike
The ongoing debate of heel strike vs. forefoot strike continues to blaze on. It’s worth considering, however, how your strike is affecting your running speed and efficiency. Have you attempted transitioning from a heel strike to a forefoot strike and felt the difference in your own power and speed? It might be worth a try. Zeroing in on your strike will also help you recognize when you are overstriding and landing your foot ahead of your front knee instead of directly under it.
Know how to navigate hills
Running uphill will naturally cue your body to take shorter, quicker strides while bringing your knees up further to handle the incline. Each step should propel you to the next so land on your mid and forefoot and let your legs act like springs to power you upwards and forwards. For trail runners especially where form is constantly being reshaped as you navigate dips, hills, and debris, maintaining good form is essential.
When in doubt, turn to the experts. You can learn all about improving your running form with the help of a knowledgeable running coach or sports therapist.