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Here’s What Beginners Need To Know About Running Form

Good running form can reduce your risk of injuries and make running more fun. Here’s how.

Photo: Getty Images

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Poor running form can not only compromise your running economy and potential performance, but it can increase your risk of certain running injuries.

But what is the ideal running form? How do you improve your running form?

Keep reading for some tips on what “good running form“ looks like and how to perfect your running form, whether you are just getting started on your running journey or if you have gone through countless pairs of running shoes over your lifetime as a runner thus far.

What Does Good Running Form Look Like?

Although most runners can identify poor running form, it can be hard for beginners to actually know what constitutes good running form. Here are the key elements that go into proper running form:

Upright Posture 

Correct running form starts with having good posture. This involves keeping your torso upright and your spine in a natural position. Think about the queue “run tall” to avoid hunching over or leaning backwards. 

If you have a slouched posture when you run, you will compromise the ability of your lungs and diaphragm to fully take in air efficiently, and you will place your hips and pelvis in a position that makes it harder to have the optimal running stride.

A slight forward lean is helpful, particularly when you are running uphill, but this lean should come from the hips and you should not be rounding your spine. Imagine that there is a string attached to the top of your head pulling you up towards the sky.

Keep your core tight and your shoulders back and relaxed to help promote this proper upright running posture.

RELATED: 4 Ways to Improve Your Running Form Without Thinking About It

Gaze Forward

Keep your head in a neutral position with your gaze forward. Although you need to watch where you are going, particularly if you are trail running, avoid looking down at your feet, as this will cause you to hunch over and lose that good upright running posture. 

Aim to look about 10 to 30 feet in front of you, depending on the terrain and your running speed.

Relaxed But Purposeful Arm Swing 

Many runners don’t focus enough attention on the arm swing component of their running form.

Although your legs are doing most of the work, the running arm swing plays a critical role in helping balance your body and drive your legs forward. The faster and more purposeful you pump your arms, the faster your legs will move.

A key component of the correct arm swing with your running form is to keep your arms running along the sides of your torso rather than crossing over the midline of your body with a lot of side-to-side motion.

Focus on driving forward and back with your arms, not allowing your hands to cross over the midline of your body when the arm swings forward. 

The key to running faster and more efficiently is maximizing your forward momentum and forward progression, so any lateral swinging of your arms is essentially wasted energy and is not contributing to helping you run forward.

Remember to keep your shoulders relaxed and down away from your ears, your chest up and open, and your hands relaxed in a loose fist, as if cupping delicate butterflies.

RELATED: One Easy Tip To Improve Running Form

Balanced Legs and Feet

Correct running form for the legs and feet should look balanced and reciprocal such that the stride length on each side is equal and you have a good rhythm between both feet if you shut your eyes (meaning that the time that it takes for your right leg to complete a stride is the same as for the left leg).

Keep your pelvis level, trying to avoid your hip dropping down significantly when you land on that side of your body. This may require strengthening your gluteus medius muscle.

Your legs should be parallel, such that your knees are stacked under your hips and not caving inward, and you want to try to land when your shin is perpendicular to the ground rather than outstretched in front of you. This will support midfoot striking rather than heel striking, which is a common problem caused by overstriding.

Not only does heel striking increase the risk of injuries, but it also compromises your running economy and the efficiency of your stride because you are placing a braking force on your forward momentum.

Try to land lightly on your feet, aiming for your midfoot. A quick cadence, or step rate, of approximately 170-190 steps per minute is ideal. 

Studies have shown that increasing your running cadence to this rate can reduce the risk of injury because a faster cadence reduces joint impact forces.

One common running form mistake is shuffling your feet instead of picking them up high enough. This can happen if you have weakness in your glutes, hip flexors, or calves, or lack power in your running stride. 

When you shuffle as you run, you are creating more friction and missing out on the benefits of the “flight” phase of running, which will compromise your running economy and running speed. Plus, shuffling when you run will wear out your running shoes faster!

The good news is that it is absolutely possible to improve your running form.

Next week, in the second installment of this “running form for beginners“ mini-series, we will provide actionable tips for how to improve your running form.

In the meantime, this week, see if you can have someone take a video recording of you running, and then start to identify areas where you need to improve your running form.

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