Proper Posture: These 3 Tips Can Improve Your Running Form

Proper running posture

Maybe you’ve been running regularly for a while now, but it still doesn’t seem quite effortless or even enjoyable.

Can you relate?

“ It seems like running never gets easier. It’s a constant struggle.”

“Other runners look elegant, I just feel like I am straining my body when I run.”

Many beginner runners share these feelings. Every runner’s running style depends on their own strengths and weaknesses. The good news is that there are some simple tips you can try to feel lighter and more efficient while you run.

Read through the tips and decide which one you want to start with first – no need to try all of them at once. You will find a helpful graphic at the end of the post with a summary.

1. Finding a balance: Tense but relaxed

Running requires a good balance of relaxation and tension throughout the body. This helps direct you forward to avoid wasting energy on side movements. It also helps you bounce back more efficiently and not just stomp on the ground with your feet.

Improving posture is important in general, and it applies to your running form as well. If you work full time at a desk, your head starts to lean back with your chin poking out with your shoulders hunched and your back rounded, sort of like this:

Man hunching back

Starting to jog or run from this position is only going to exhaust you. What you are aiming for is a tall, slightly forward leaning position like this:

Arm swing runner

Here are some points to get you closer to a balanced running posture:

  • Stand tall: Imagine someone is pulling you up from the hair on top of your head.
  • Keep your midsection stable: Proper tension in the abs and the back helps the efficient transfer of force from the limbs to the ground. Try out these core exercises for runners.
  • Keep shoulder blades tight: Imagine you are squeezing a pencil between them. This will open up your shoulders and keep them from slouching.
  • Look ahead: Resist the urge to look at your feet or tilt your chin up.
  • Lean slightly forward: This will enable more hip extension and better propulsion. The lean should come from ankles/hips, not the back.

2. Setting the rhythm: Arm Swing

When it comes to changing your running form, you might think of your legs first. The role of the arms and upper body in running is often underestimated.

Did you know?

Proper arm swing creates the impulse for the legs to move forward more effortlessly and rhythmically.

Often you will see runners with their arms hanging by their sides, especially when they get tired:

Runner with extended arms

Keeping your arms straight or crossing them in front of you makes running harder. Don’t believe it? Try running with your arms straight.

Good arm swing requires keeping your arms active with bent elbows and a relaxed fist:

Runner with 90 degree elbow arm swing

Here’s what you can work on to improve your arm swing:

  • Start from the shoulders: Pulling your shoulder blades together, lets the arms swing freely and relaxed.
  • Bend elbows: Keep them at about 90 degrees.
  • Keep the elbows “tucked” in: Pull them backwards parallel to the body, so that your arms don’t dangle by your sides.
  • Don’t clench your fists: It creates unnecessary tension. Your arms should be relaxed throughout the movement.

3. Forward drive: 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 way out in front of your knee:

Runner overstriding

Striking the ground with your heel in front of your knee works like a “braking mechanism”. It slows you down instead of propelling you efficiently forward.

Running motion should start with the knee driving forward. It is more similar to the movement you make when you are stepping over something, rather than walking on a flat surface:

Runner showing stance

Here’s what you can do to avoid overstriding:

  • Lift and bend your knee: A bent knee will function more like a spring and less like a brake.
  • Use your back leg: A powerful and rapid lift off of the back leg propels you forward.
  • Lift the heel of your back leg: Lifting the heel after you push off prepares the leg for a better forward swing.

Summary

Before you start overthinking your running form, remember this:

Don’t strive for perfection

Changing your running style can be frustrating. The best way to approach it is to choose a point that interests you and focus on it. Don’t feel like you have to change something right away. Explore your running style and look for ways to make it feel “lighter” with the help of the suggested tips. Add some running drills to your training for better form – this will help change your running form unconsciously.

You can find all of the important points summarized in the graphic below:

Running form visualisation

  1. Lean slightly forward
  2. Look ahead
  3. Keep shoulder blades tight
  4. Bend elbows at 90 degrees
  5. Keep your midsection stable
  6. Lift and bend your knee
  7. Use your back leg

Experimenting with your running form is just one of the ways that can help you enjoy running more, even if you think you hate it, as long as your expectations are not too high.

Finally, strength exercises can improve your running form and performance, too, so don’t forget to include both in your training schedule.

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Sascha Wingenfeld Sascha, health trainer & active triathlete, has been coaching runners from beginners to professionals for over 10 years. "I love my job and I love running." View all posts by Sascha Wingenfeld »