There’s more to mastering correct running form than meets the eye. That’s why every perfectionist who’s taken up running knows a certain kind of internal dialogue: “Should I be tilting more? Am I breathing deeply enough? How much arm movement is excessive?”
Whether you’re an occasional jogger or a race enthusiast, it’s worth seeking answers to those kinds of inquiries. Not only can acquiring proper running form decrease your risk of injury (even if you’re wearing the finest cushioned running shoes accessible), but it might also lead to a personal best. “The ultimate objective, particularly in long-distance running, is to run efficiently,” says Christopher Hoffman, a certified running instructor. “You aim to conserve as little energy as possible, and any kind of unnecessary arm and body movements or breathing can exhaust your body.”
Additionally, running with proper form will alleviate any discomfort you may associate with the cardiovascular exercise. “If you’re…running with poor form, it won’t feel pleasant,” says Erin Beck, a NASM-certified personal trainer and director of training and experience for STRIDE Fitness. “You’ll be straining, you might feel a twinge in the back of your neck, and you definitely won’t feel motivated to keep running. However, when you achieve proper running form, your body will feel better, and running won’t be such a nuisance.”
The 5 Aspects of Correct Running Form
No need to spy on your local joggers to figure out precisely how you should be moving. Here, professionals share five key aspects of proper running form.
When it comes to your overall alignment, it’s beneficial to think about “running tall,” says Vikash Sharma, D.P.T., a physical therapist at Perfect Stride Physical Therapy. “This will help prevent you from slumping forward and experiencing a breakdown in running and breathing mechanics,” he says. “You want to think about keeping your ears above your shoulders.” Direct your gaze around 15 to 20 feet straight ahead. Try to avoid a forward-head alignment (aka jutting your chin forward). It can strain your neck, back, and shoulder muscles, says Sharma.
That being said, maintaining the right running alignment involves a slight forward inclination. “Ideally, you should feel a tad like you’re leaning forward as you run (and your legs are moving to catch you),” says Beck. “So lean in, just a little.” Think of flexing at your ankles rather than your hips, leaning forward approximately 10 degrees.
All the further justification to regard ankle potency and flexibility gravely.
The average runner won’t need to worry about actually measuring out their step length, but for proper running form, it is important to find a step that’s neither too long nor too short. Your step length positions your foot underneath your body when it makes contact with the ground, notes Beck — not in front of your body, as some people might assume is necessary for fast running.
A lot of individuals tend to overstride, says Sharma. If your step is bouncy, that’s a giveaway. “When you’re overstriding, that leads to a more vertical displacement (aka bouncing) and that’s going to promote more contact time with your foot on the ground, which is going to cause your muscles to have to work harder,” he says. Instead of leaping forward, consider directing force into the ground and behind you once your foot lands.
Having a step that is too short is a much less common mistake, but if you suspect your step is too short, one way to find out is to record yourself running and count your steps per minute. “Generally speaking, for long-distance runners, faster and more efficient runners are averaging around 180 or more steps per minute,” says Hoffmann. “Slower runners average around 160 steps per minute.” So if you’re taking far more than that, you might want to increase your step length.
It’s not always easy to self-correct your running form, particularly when it comes to step length. Getting a gait analysis at a running clinic can provide an external perspective on which aspects of your running form you could improve. “I think the biggest thing to get accustomed to over time — even for myself — is working on that step length,” says Hoffman. “Changing your step initially may feel unnatural because it’s not how you’ve been running all your life.”
Research isn’t conclusive on exactly how your foot should strike the ground for proper running technique. While some schools of thought prefer striking the ground with the midfoot or front of the foot instead of the heel, the authors of a 2021 systematic review of existing studies published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine argued that it hasn’t been proven to provide advantages when it comes to running efficiently or avoiding injuries. Even elite athletes aren’t necessarily adjusting their footstrike pattern to favor the front or middle of the foot. A study on marathon runners at the 2017 IAAF World Championships found that most runners favored a rearfoot (aka heel) strike pattern, including the top four finishing men.
All that is to say, you do you. “There are a lot of people out there discussing foot strike pattern — forefoot, midfoot, heel strike,” says Sharma. “However, when I’m working with someone, I’m more concerned about whether there are any issues with the current pattern.
Is the jogging efficient? Are you sustaining injuries? If that’s the case, that’s when you may want to contemplate implementing a modification.
The way you move your arms will have an impact on your overall running form. It’s crucial for your arm movements to mirror your leg movements and vice versa. Therefore, it is surprisingly important to pay attention to your arm swing while running.
“Strive to maintain a 90-degree bend in your elbows, swinging them alongside your ribcage,” suggests Beck. “When you’re aiming to run faster, focus on actively pulling your elbows backward with each stride.” This is because when one arm swings backward forcefully, the opposite leg will swing forward with equal force. And remember that classic cue from your high school track coach: In order to avoid excess tension, hold your hands loosely and imagine holding a potato chip between your thumb and forefinger that you don’t want to crush, as advised by Sharma.
Resist the temptation to overdo your arm swing. “When you’re running, picture a wall a few inches in front of you and strive to keep your arm swing behind that imaginary wall,” says Sharma. “When you swing your arms too aggressively forward, it encourages overstriding, which is something you want to avoid.” Make sure to keep your shoulders down and swing your arms forward and backward, without crossing your body. Your wrists and hands should lightly brush against your hips as you run.
According to Beck, your body uses oxygen as fuel during running. She suggests taking longer, slower, and deeper breaths in order to replenish your oxygen levels without causing panic in your body.
There is no exact formula for the proper breathing technique while running. “Every individual is unique when it comes to breathing,” says Hoffman. “For some people, it may involve a two-second inhalation followed by a two-second exhalation, while others may have a different pattern. The key is to relax and breathe efficiently.” You may need to take deeper breaths than you’re accustomed to. If you find yourself hyperventilating, it’s a sign that you’re not getting enough air and you should slow down your breathing.
“Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth” is a commonly recommended guideline, but it doesn’t apply to everyone. For more specific techniques, you can learn about effective breathing strategies for running.
Maintaining proper running form may feel overwhelming at times, but trust that it will be worth it in the long run. By having an upright posture, the right stride length, a strong arm swing, and conscious breathing, you’ll reap the advantages of having good running form for many miles to come.
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