Running form is incredibly important, but unfortunately it is often overlooked by many runners when they start their running journey.
The good news is there simple tips you can follow to improve running form.
Many runners neglect their running form when they first start running, then wonder why they keep getting injured.
The truth is, proper running form should not be ignored and if you want to run strong and injury-free for longer, you need to be focusing on your form.
It’s worth noting that every runner has their own running style, posture and cadence. There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to running form.
Every runner has their own biomechanics which means they run in different ways.
However by making small tweaks here and there, you will soon become a faster and more efficient runner.
In this guide we’ll explore:
- What is running form and why is it important?
- How do you fix poor running form?
- How long does it take to improve running form?
- Running form and technique: 4 simple tips on to improve running form on your next run
What is running form and why is it important?
Proper running form helps you run more efficiently and more economically with less effort and reduces the risk of injury.
Running form can also help you run faster and more comfortably, with less stress on your body.
This is important because with less stress placed on your body, you will be able to reduce the risk of fatigue and ensure you are getting the most out of your run.
Running form consists of the following components which all come together to create proper running form:
- Arm swing
The bottom line? Running form, when done correctly, helps you stay healthy and achieve your goals as a runner.
How do you fix poor running form?
You may be wondering: Can you improve running form? The answer is yes!
There are ways to make small tweaks and fixes to your running form and see gradual improvements over time.
In the end of this guide we’ll share 4 simple tips to improve running form, but you can also do the following to improve your chances of fixing your form:
- Do a gait analysis. A gait analysis is basically a review of how your foot behaves when you run. This is important to understand how your feet are behaving in terms of any imbalances that could be causing niggles and injuries. Many running shoe stores nowadays offer a free gait analysis.
- Focus on one area at a time. As discussed earlier, there are different components when it comes to running form (posture, cadence, foot strike etc). Don’t be tempted to focus on every area at once as you will quickly be overwhelmed. The key is to target one area at a time in each session.
- Do running form drills to improve running form. Running form drills and exercises such as high knees and forward lunges can go a long way to help you improve your form. These can be tailored depending on the component of running form that you’d like to improve. Check out my guide on running form drills for more information.
How long does it take to improve running form?
As mentioned earlier, fixing your running form doesn’t happen overnight, but making some incremental improvements, you will begin to small positive changes in your form.
As long as you make focusing on your form a priority, you will see changes in around one to two months.
Just remember to focus on one area at a time, and you will soon see the benefits in your running performance.
4 simple tips to improve running form on your next run
Now you know the importance of running form, here are 4 simple tips to improve your running form on your next run.
Relax your shoulders
Do you ever feel tension in your shoulders when you run? The tension in your shoulders and upper body can feel quite noticeable and uncomfortable during a long run.
Try and keep your shoulders as relaxed as possible. If you tend to clench your fists when you run, now is the time to relax your hands.
By clenching your fists, you’re creating tension in your arms and shoulders which over time can cause considerable pain.
During the winter running months, many runners pull their sleeves over their hands to keep their fingers warm.
Although this isn’t frowned upon in any way, by doing this you naturally clench your fists which can also cause tension in your arms and shoulders.
Invest in some warm gloves instead and keep your hands and fingers relaxed throughout your run.
To avoid tension in your shoulders, take a deep breath at the start of your run and relax your shoulders.
Your shoulders should drop slightly. Dropped shoulders open up your chest and help you breathe better during your runs.
Review your posture
This tip will go a long way in helping you to improve running form.
When you start to feel tired during your run, you may notice that your upper body slouches forward slightly.
Although you may feel like you’re in a relaxed position, this curved position actually makes running harder.
Your core is not engaged and your lungs will start to tighten, which will then affect your breathing.
Running posture is very similar to normal posture whilst walking or sitting. Keep your shoulders down, head high and core tightened.
Pull up from the top of your head. Imagine you have a helium balloon attached to the top of your head with a piece of string.
Keep your chest and chin upright and adopt a slight forward lean. Don’t look down at your feet!
By standing tall, you increase energy through better breathing and more efficient form.
Swing your arms
Your arms help to dictate your pace and, when swinging properly, can help to minimise common running injuries like IT band syndrome.
Proper arm swing and how you swing your arms will depend on your running pace. For example, long distance running form is different than sprinting running form.
While sprinters pump their arms fiercely through a full swing, distance runners conserve energy with small movements.
To help you swing your arms more efficiently, imagine you have a guitar pick between your thumb and pointer finger.
- Place your hands in a light fist with your palms facing towards your body. Your thumb tip should be pointed forward and your thumb knuckles towards the sky.
- Don’t let your arms cross your body. If you let your arms cross your body too much, this creates excessive internal rotation which can lead to pain and injury.
- Lastly, try and keep your arms at a 90 degree angle when you swing them forward and back.
Take it in your stride
Your running stride (also known as your running cadence) should focus on quickening your turn over so your feet land right under you.
Try not to lengthen your stride when you run as this can cause injury and results in a lot of wasted energy.
Equally, don’t bounce too much. Imagine you have an invisible ceiling about an inch above your head and you don’t want to hit it.
Your feet should ideally hit the ground using a mid-foot strike. This means the middle of your foot hits the ground first.
If you hit the ground with your toes first (often referred to as forefoot strike), this will cause tension in your achilles tendon and calf muscles.
Likewise, if your heel hits the ground first (referred to as heel strike), this will cause impact forces in your knee and hip which can lead to a multitude of running-related injuries.
According to a 2016 study, there are ways to retrain your foot strike pattern (e.g. go from a heel strike to a mid-foot strike), but it is not something that can happen overnight.
With all these tips to remember, it can be hard to actually relax on a run, right?
If you think about it too much, it’ll put you off your run. Running, after all, is supposed to be relaxing, like a form of moving meditation, or mindful running.
One of the best tips I can offer to help you improve running form is just to relax. Before you go on your run, tell yourself to just “relax and go”.
You’ll be surprised at how much tension gets stored up in your muscles if you don’t take time to just relax and be in the moment.
Tension equals wasted effort and energy, which does not equals efficient running form.
Just being relaxed on your run will go a long way to helping you to improve running form and efficiency.
Related: How to practice mindful running