A common question I get from beginner runners who are looking to improve their form and technique is how to run properly.
Many beginner runners don’t think about their posture when they start running. After all, running is so freeing – the temptation is just to set off without a care in the world.
And this is completely fine to begin with, but over time as you clock up the miles you may want to give more thought to your running technique and form. Because if done incorrectly, it can slowly cause imbalances in your muscles and put you at higher risk of injury.
According to a 2017 study, running technique is a key component of running economy and performance. Many components from form to footstrike and breathing come together to create optimal running form and posture.
Good posture involves you training your body to walk and run, and indeed sit and lie, in a certain way. Positions where the least strain is placed on joints, supporting muscles and ligaments during movement are best.
In this blog, I’d like to explain how to run properly and some of the key components of proper running form and how they can benefit you and your running in the long term.
If you’re looking for more simple tips, check out my blog on how to improve running form.
How to run properly: Run tall
Good posture whilst running is key to ensure you don’t create imbalances in your muscles, which often lead to injuries.
Stand up tall and imagine you have a rod from the top of your head going all the way down to your feet.
The rod starts at your ears then passes through your shoulders, hips, knees and ankles all in a straight line.
For many of us, sitting behind a desk all day creates bad posture habits. The tendency is to hunch over, lower your shoulders and head.
Good posture when running is about the following elements:
- Keep your chin lifted.
- Stand up straight with your shoulders back and neutral spine.
- Keep your hips high, distributing your weight evenly on both hips.
- Squeeze your belly button and imagine it’s trying to reach your spine.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Try not to look at the ground when running – keep your gaze upright and forward.
When I work with beginner runners, I ask them to imagine they have a helium balloon attached to their head with a piece of string.
They lift their chin and move their shoulders back. It’s amazing what these small changes can do to someone’s running form.
You’ll find that once you start to raise your hips, the other parts of your body, including your chest and shoulders, will also straighten up.
How to run properly: Swing your arms
Although running predominantly uses your legs to power you through, your arms also play an important role.
How you hold and swing your arms makes a big difference to your stride and performance. Good arm swing can help you run faster, more efficiently and even lower your risk of injury as well as help stabilise your body.
There is an easy way to see just how important your arm swing is and how it can affect your overall rhythm.
Run with your arms relaxed down by your sides. You’ll notice that this creates additional work for your back, hips and legs and also makes running feel really uncomfortable!
Arm swing helps propel you forward (especially during faster runs) and lift your body off the ground with each stride.
The key is to keep your arms by your sides and try and not let them cross your body. If you let your arms cross your body too much, it will cause rotation in your spine and thorax and will create inefficient running form.
Drive your elbows back, keep them close to the sides of your body and keep them relaxed to avoid stiffness in your shoulders. Also remember to keep your elbows at a 90 degree angle – try not to straighten them out too much.
Don’t have them too bent either as this will affect your form and how you propel your body forward.
It may feel strange at first, but slowly but surely it will soon become second nature. If you struggle at first to get the correct technique, why not practice some arm swing drills?
There are drills that you can do either sat down or standing up to see what it feels like, then slowly add these to your runs. To learn more, check out my post on proper arm swing for runners.
How to run properly: Look at your footstrike
- Heel footstrike
- Forefoot footstrike
- Mid-foot footstrike
There isn’t a clear favourite in the running community, mainly because all three footstrike types can be used in different ways and on different terrains.
Many runners will also use all three footstrikes in one form or another throughout their running life. This is partly due to the reasons stated above, and the fact that we all have different biomechanics (your body’s natural mechanisms).
Heel footstrike is probably the most common amongst runners, whereas mid-foot footstrike is most the most preferred as it distributes your weight more evenly throughout the foot and ankle.
How to run properly: Improve your cadence
Running cadence is probably one of the simplest things to master when it comes to proper running form.
Put simply, cadence – also known as stride rate – is the number of steps a runner takes per minute (SPM). It plays an important role when it comes to proper running form, and has even been shown to reduce the risk of injury in runners.
The correct cadence varies amongst runners and depends on factors like height and weight of the runner. Studies have shown, however, that a cadence of 170 SPM or higher is ideal for performance and injury prevention.
How to run properly: Strengthen your core
Your core is extremely important when running.
A good core means you are able to hold a strong and stable position for longer, thus allowing you hold proper form and posture.
Your back and stomach muscles are key components for good core strength.
Unfortunately, running alone won’t improve your core strength, you need to dabble in strength exercises as well as running to really see results.
There are lots of strength exercises you can do to improve your core strength.
Here are just a few that I recommend. You can also find some of my other recommendations in my post on essential core exercises for runners.
Hollow body hold
Lie flat on the floor. Your lower back should be touching the floor without any space in between.
Bring your knees to your chest and lift your head and shoulders off the floor.
Reach your arms forward so they are straight in line with your toes. Don’t let your lower back arch off the ground.
Hold this position for 30 seconds.
Once you are comfortable with that position, work towards extending both arms back over your head and both legs at an upward angle in front of you.
Keep your tummy and legs tight in a curved formation. Again, don’t let your lower back come off the floor.
Hold for 30 seconds, or as long as you want as you become stronger.
Probably one of the most popular core strength exercises, depending on who you ask!
The plank is a great all round exercise that can improve your core strength hugely over time if practiced regularly.
Even better, it requires no equipment and there are lots of variations on the standard plank if you like to mix things up a bit.
Place your forearms on the ground with your elbows aligned below the shoulders, and arms parallel to the body at about shoulder-width distance.
Clasp your hands together.
Ground your toes into the floor and squeeze your glutes to stabilise your body. Be careful not to lock or hyperextend your knees.
Neutralise your neck and spine by looking at a spot on the floor just beyond your hands. Your head should be in line with your back.
Hold the position for 30 seconds. As you get more comfortable with the move, gradually increase the time in which you hold the plank.
Many people forget to breathe when they do a plank, so make sure you are taking slow and steady breaths.
And try not to lift your bum too high in the air.
Your bum should be in line with your shoulder girdle. If a forearm plank is too challenging for you, you can try a knee plank.
By resting your knees on the floor, you create less stress in the lower back.
Superman pulls target your lower back and are great if you suffer from lower back pain.
Lie face down on the floor and reach your arms forward and straighten your legs (like a superman in flight pose).
Engage your lower back and shoulders and raise your chest and arms off the floor. Your legs should be off the floor at this point too.
From here, engage your latissimus dorsi muscle (either side of your upper back) and draw your elbows in towards your chest like you’re doing a pull up.
Extend your arms in front of you again.
Repeat 12 times and do 3 sets with 30 seconds of rest in between.
How to run properly: Breathe deeply
It is a lot easier to breathe deeply when you have good running form and posture.
How to breathe when running can be difficult when you first start thinking properly about it.
You may have already heard of ‘belly breathing’ . This is a breathing technique that involves taking deep breaths and using the diaphragm a lot more to draw more air into your lungs.
Many runners take short breaths and therefore underuse their diaphragm.
When you take short breaths, you rely too much on your chest muscles and therefore take in less oxygen.
You also underuse your intercostal muscles (the muscles in between your ribs) so they become smaller and quick to fatigue.
It’s important to strengthen these so they can fully support the breathing process.
To train yourself to breathe from your belly, practice belly breathing lying down, sitting down and standing up.
Lie down on your back and keep your upper chest and shoulders still.
Focus on raising your belly as you inhale, lower your belly as you exhale. Inhale and exhale through BOTH your nose and mouth.
General health advice out there is that you should breathe from your diaphragm at all times, whether you’re running, walking or sleeping.
If you practice yoga, you’re probably used to breathing deeply anyway.
Breathing deeply is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety symptoms, so what better way to start!