4 simple tips to improve running form

  • Post last modified:January 24, 2021
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Looking for ways to improve running form? 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.

I neglected my running form for many years when I first started running, then wondered why I kept getting injured. The truth is, proper running form should not be ignored if you want to run strong and for longer.

Every runner has their own running style and cadence. Not all runners are created equal in this sense. So when reading the tips in this blog, please remember that they are not intended to replace how you currently run. 

In this blog post, I’d like to look at four simple tips to help you improve running form.

These tips can help you tweak your running form so you run more efficiently for longer. 

Related: 4 ways to improve your running cadence

improve running form

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. 

Related: Neck and shoulder pain while running: 6 quick fixes

Run tall

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. 

improve running 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, keep your arms at a 90 degree angle when you swing them forward and back. 

Related: Proper arm swing and 5 ways to improve it

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. 

Related: Proper running footstrike and ways to improve it

improve running form

Improve running form: Just relax!

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


Caroline Geoghegan

Caroline Geoghegan (aka Run With Caroline) helps people become faster and stronger runners. She started her blog in 2018 to share her passion for running. Caroline is a UK Athletics qualified Run Leader and Run Coach and NASM qualified Personal Trainer.

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