As runners, we’re always talking about miles and minutes, but something that rarely comes up is running form. Specifically, what differentiates good running form from bad running form. It’s tricky because running is like any form of exercise—it’s something you can even do without doing it right. In other words, whether you’ve been a runner for years, or you recently got into running, you could still have bad running form.
Here, we’ll touch on several common running form mistakes, and give you tips on how to fix them.
First, check in with your body
Before you start assessing your running form, it’s important to take inventory of your body. Does your lower back hurt? Do you feel the tension in your upper body? Are you dealing with any aches and pains? Soreness or tightness? Taking note of any pain or discomfort you feel on a day-to-day basis can clue you into both issues with your body that can contribute to improper running form and issues that have stemmed from your improper running form.
For instance, if you feel a lot of pain or stiffness in your upper back, it’s likely that your posture while running is out of alignment (also known as poor posture). Once you’re aware of this, you can take a look at your daily habits and see if the posture is a result of something else you’re doing wrong. For many of us, poor posture stems from sitting at a computer, staring at our phones, hunching over when we sit, or general slouching.
To fix this, you would want to make changes to both your running form and lifestyle. Cutting back on screen time, getting an ergonomic chair, or seeing a chiropractor are just a few examples. In terms of your running form, make sure to stretch before and after runs, engage your core while running, and keep your shoulders down and away from your ears. Also, remember to keep your upper body relaxed, but not hunched over. Be careful not to overcompensate by sticking your chest out and hyperextending your shoulders—this will just cause other problems.
Next, become more mindful on your runs
It’s tempting to zone out during your runs, but being aware of your body while running is important. It allows you to make corrections in real-time and help you improve your running form. Being mindful means you can notice mistakes and correct them, assuming you know how to. Here are three of the most common running form mistakes to be on the lookout for:
Hunching over or slouching
This can cause you to lean forward too much or push your head forward. When you’re running, try to imagine that there’s a string attached to the top of your head pulling you upwards towards the sky. Ideally, you want your body to be in a straight line from head to feet, without tensing or tightening any part of your body.
Do you know how power walkers pump their arms? It’s not all that different from how you want your arms to move when you run. You don’t want them flailing around and using up your energy neither you want them swinging across your body. Instead, focus on bending your elbows between 70 and 110 degrees (shoot for 90), and keeping your arms by your sides.
Running on your toes or heel striking
Proper running form means that you land midfoot when you run—this is called a midfoot strike. Many runners struggle with this and end up running on their toes or landing on their heels, both of which make running harder and increase the risk of injury. We recommend checking out this video about foot striking and also learning about pronation.
Finally, film yourself and/or seek out an expert
The best way to assess your running form by yourself is to film yourself running and then review the recording in slow motion. Seeing still shots of yourself makes it easier to recognize mistakes and modify your form. Maybe your head is jutting forward, your arms are swinging too much, or your shoulders are raised too high. If you aren’t a seasoned runner, though, we recommend finding a running expert to assess your form in person. This could be a running coach, physical therapist, or personal trainer. They can provide a professional, outside opinion, and help you make adjustments as needed.