Proper Running Form: 4 Tips to Improve Your Running Technique
Despite the fact that running is one of humanity’s primary movements, an afternoon jog is not as easy as many runners make it look. Those new to running, women who experience breast pain while running, and casual athletes all struggle to find grace and enjoyment in the daily slog. Sorry; correction: the daily jog…
In fact, we understand if your jog does feel like a slog. Here’s how to smooth out those kinks in your running technique.
- Lean slightly forward
- Look ahead
- Keep shoulder blades neutral
- Bend elbows around 90 degrees
- Stabilize the core
- Lift and flex the knee
- Push off the back leg
Remember: Your Form is Unique
Nobody is the same. Every runner’s form depends on their unique body structure, strengths, and weaknesses. Simple practices and workouts can help you feel lighter and more efficient while running. These exercises are especially handy if you’re starting to run or signing up for a challenge in the adidas Running app.
Tips for Proper Running Form
1. Understand Physical Tensegrity Models
When we move, some parts of our body tense and some relax. It can be helpful to imagine the body like a sailboat: it moves when some ropes are drawn taut, some are left loose, and the wind fills the sail. This resembles how our muscles, ligaments, tendons, and breath propel us.
Running requires concurrent relaxation and tension throughout the body. Smooth running form occurs when we relax muscles that help promote breathing (like the neck) while tensing muscles that help with stability (like the glutes). Relaxing some muscles helps the body retain energy for more intense movements (like an unexpected hill climb). Physical tensegrity ensures that the ankles bounce off the ground efficiently (versus stomping like Frankenstein).(1)
2. Establish Your Running Posture
Just as you can improve your posture in seated and standing positions, so can you improve your posture while running.
Many people who work full-time on a computer experience a forward-head posture with a rounded upper back (called kyphosis):
One cannot get far, fast, with this posture while running. Better is a tall, slightly forward-leaning position like this:
Here’s how to find good running form:
- Stand tall: Imagine you are dangling on a line strung from the crown of your head (like an ornament on a Christmas tree). Casually lengthen your neck and joints.
- Activate core stabilizers: Gentle tension in the abs and the back increases the efficient transfer of force from the limbs to the ground. Try out these core exercises for runners.
- Keep shoulders neutral: Imagine your shoulders are a bird’s wings, gently folded into a resting position on your ribcage. They don’t need to be squeezed together, but they also are not flared out at the tips (called winging).
- Look ahead: Resist the urge to look at your feet or tilt your chin up. Your body follows your gaze!
- Tilt: Lean slightly forward into your run. This creates more power when pushing off the ground and a stronger sense of balance. Tilt with the ankles and hips, not the back.
3. Find a Rhythmic Arm Swing
When it comes to changing your running form, you might think of your legs first. The importance of the arms and upper body in running is often underestimated when people think about running techniques.
Did you know?
Proper arm swing creates the impulse for the legs to move forward more effortlessly and rhythmically.
Some people run with their arms hanging by their sides, especially when they get tired:
Keeping your arms straight or crossing them in front of you makes running harder. The body naturally moves in a right/left pattern (this is part of running symmetry). When the right foot goes forward, the left arm and shoulder also swing forward. This keeps us from falling! By bending the elbow and keeping the arm at the side, we power that movement and do not block our own momentum.
An efficient arm swing calls for elbow flexion and a relaxed fist (remember: relax the muscles that are not required for movement!). Here’s an example:
Here’s how to improve arm swing:
- Start from the shoulders: Keeping shoulders neutrally relaxed on the ribcage, the arms are freer to swing.
- Bend elbows: Keep them at about 90 degrees.
- Keep the elbows “tucked” in: Pull them backward parallel to the body, so that your arms don’t dangle by your sides. The elbows should not flare out to the sides or cross over the front of the body.
- Relax fists: Squeezed fists often create tight shoulders and throats. If you feel the arms and shoulders getting tense, try dangling your arms long by your side for a few strides, shrugging, and wiggling the shoulders a few times. Another option is to hold something soft and light in your hands, like stress balls.
4. Heel Strike: Get Off the Brakes
Running and walking patterns are not the same. When you walk, you lead the step with your lower leg and foot, making ground contact with the heel first and keeping your knee more or less extended. If you do that in running you are most likely to end up overstriding.
Overstriding means striking the ground with your foot far in front of your knee and with the knee extended:
Striking the ground with your heel in front of your knee works like a braking mechanism. It slows you down and can aggravate the knee joint.
The running motion should start with the knee driving forward. It is similar to the motion of stepping over something, rather than walking on a flat surface:
Here’s what you can do to avoid overstriding:
- Lift and flex the knees: A bent knee will function more like a spring and less like a brake.
- Use your back leg: Propulsion comes from a powerful and rapid push off of the back leg.
- Lift the heel of your back leg: Lifting the heel after you push off prepares the leg for a better forward swing.
Finding Your Running Form
The most important thing to remember is that your body is unique. Ultimately, whatever makes you feel comfortable and in control is the correct running form for you!
Adjusting your natural gait takes time. Any changes to your normal pattern of movement could cause short-term side effects (like back pain while running). The good news: the body prefers to be efficient. Eventually, with little changes here and there, you will find that a proper running form feels more natural and comfortable.
Here are gentle and enjoyable ways to explore your running style:
- Try these five warm-up drills. And, use a different running posture technique each time. So one week, try these drills with your arms bent. Next week, try lifting your knees higher. Keep track of what works!
- Incorporate these three effective and proven ways to improve your running technique gradually, over time. Try one new technique for six to twelve weeks. Once it’s become a habit, move on to the next.
- Running form is created through multiple avenues, not just the run itself. Strengthening your upper body naturally helps with posture. Strengthening your core naturally helps with balance and stabilization. Try these upper body exercises and this strength workout on your running off days!
- Breathe into it! It’s easy to forget the importance of breathing when you’re so focused on technical running posture. A sailboat can’t sail without wind! Use this advice about breathing while running. Stay calm and carry on! You’ll get there.
Running is a natural part of human movement. No matter how clunky it feels at first, with time you will definitely find a posture and form that is natural to you. Be patient, curious, and non-judgmental about the process. With that attitude, you may not need to find your running form; it will probably find YOU!