Running form is a term utilized so frequently that it often loses some of it’s meaning. We usually hear proper running form mentioned so casually that its importance and value quickly diminishes.
However, just because this term is casually thrown around doesn’t mean that it isn’t a worthwhile concept.
What is proper running form?
Running form refers to your posture, breathing, stride, and function on the run. Having good running form means that your entire body is working together to create an efficient technique and help you utilize as little extra energy as possible during a run.
Many beginner runners start running on a whim, heading out the door for a loop around the neighborhood, hoping to find that the act of running feels good.
However, in doing so, most runners fail to take the time to establish correct running form when they are getting started, setting them up to create unhealthy habits without even realizing it.
Related: 5 Common Running Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)
Taking inventory of your running form every once and a while, whether you’re a beginner or have been running for years, is a great habit to start. Improper running form is much more easily corrected when it involves just a few simple tweaks rather than a complete overhaul.
The Fundamentals of Good Running Form
Although most runners understand that running with correct form can have a positive impact on their performance, many of us are unsure how to recognize the qualities of proper running form.
When running form is really poor, say if a runner is slouching profusely, we are able to recognize it; however, minor differences are often much harder to spot.
So what are the components of proper running form?
Your running posture plays a fundamental role in overall running form – and for good reason. Running posture involves so much more than standing up straight on the run. It includes your head position, arms, core, hips and legs.
To establish correct running posture, you’ll need to engage your core and hips to stand up straight. Relax your shoulders and keep your head steady, looking straight ahead. Check your hip alignment to be sure that they are not sagging or protruding.
Engage your glutes by firing them up before a run to help keep them active and promote stable hips as you log many miles. Relax your shoulders and jaw to avoid adding any unnecessary tension, and be sure that your arms rest naturally at your sides.
Related: 10 Glute Activation and Strengthening Exercises for Runners
Correct running form involves standing up straight with healthy posture, however, once you start running, you’ll want to lean forward slightly. Be careful to keep your back flat and avoid slouching or hunching in any way.
Imagine that there is a string connecting your head to your hips, right in the middle of your back. This string prevents your torso from twisting side to side on the run and prevents your shoulders from hunching as you get tired.
Your stride length during a run greatly affects your cadence and turnover. However, many runners mistakenly assume that a longer stride length equates to a faster pace.
Proper running form involves running with a healthy stride length for your body type and height. Taller runners usually have a longer stride length than those with shorter legs. However, in general, shortening your stride length will help increase your cadence and potentially prevent heel striking and various injuries that come with it.
Stride length should always feel natural and not forced. Avoid overextending in attempts to run faster, and instead, focus on taking smaller, more frequent steps.
Cadence and Turnover
Running cadence and turnover relate directly to stride length. With a longer stride length, you will take less frequent steps and come in contact with the ground less often. On the flip side, runners with shorter stride lengths take much more frequent steps, thus increasing their cadence and turnover.
When in doubt, you should always aim to take shorter, more frequent steps. A higher cadence promotes a healthier, mid-foot strike, which helps reduce the risk of many common running injuries.
Try to land on the ball of your foot with each step rather than the heel or toe. To do so, aim for a running cadence of around 180 bpm.
Related: Everything You Need to Know to Increase Your Running Cadence
Another fundamental component of proper running form is arm swing. Your arm swing plays a crucial role in overall posture, and also helps add energy and power to your run.
Arm strength and use is often overlooked among runners, with so much focus on increasing leg strength. However, proper use of your arms has the potential to add a great deal to your running efficiency.
Proper running form involves arm posture that is relaxed, yet powerful. Keep your arms down at your sides in a relaxed position to avoid inadvertently sticking your elbows out and creating chicken wings. Your hands should be relaxed so as not to create any tension.
A simple way to avoid running with your hands in fists is to imagine that you are holding two potato chips in each hand, and don’t want them to crack or break while you’re running. Keep your hands lose and relaxed as you pump your arms and add power to each step.
How to Establish Natural Running Form for Beginners
No matter how knowledgeable you may be about running form, learning to actually put this information to use on the run can be a bit more challenging.
Beginner runners have the best opportunity to establish natural, proper running form because they have not had yet a chance to create any bad habits. Establishing proper running form is much easier from the very beginning, whereas correcting bad habits can sometimes take much longer.
To establish a natural running form right from the beginning, you’ll need to make a conscious effort to align your body, activate muscles, and relieve any tension prior to beginning your run.
Take the time to complete a body check before you begin running, as well as at various points throughout your run. Run through various posture points and make a mental note of how you are feeling in each area.
Check your head position and make a conscious effort to look ahead, ensuring that you are not looking down at your feet with each step.
Make note of your arm position and check to see if your hands are relaxed while your arms pump with each step. Try your best to take short, quick steps, landing midfoot with each stride.
One of the best ways to create a healthy cadence is to begin running with a metronome set at 180 bpm. Try to take a step each time the metronome sounds, continuing use until it becomes a habit.
Establishing proper running form may feel tedious in the beginning, but after a few weeks it will start to feel more natural. Before you know it, running with correct posture and technique will become second nature.
Maintaining proper running form on each and every run will help you reduce the amount of unnecessary energy you waste, setting yourself up to maximize success and accomplish your goals.
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