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How to make your running form better?

Elvis Elvis

A common assumption of many beginning runners is that proper running form is only important for competitive athletes. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, learning proper form is one of the most important steps every new or returning runner should take.

Learning to use proper running form will improve your performance while helping to avoid injury. Do this early on in your training so you don’t develop bad habits that lead to frustration or injury and need correcting later.

There is no single solution for efficient running. We are all put together differently and everyone’s form will look a bit different as a result. There are, however, common elements and general principles of body mechanics that can be applied to all runners.

These tips will improve your running form from head to toe. Remember to always listen to your body and never force a specific running style that doesn’t feel right or causes discomfort.

How to make your running form better?

Perfect Form – Tips to Help Improve Running Form

Running Form – Lower Body Mechanics

  • Land Lightly… and CorrectlyOne of the most important elements of good running form is the landing. More specifically, the position of your foot when it hits the ground. A proper landing will not only make you more efficient, it will drastically reduce aches, pains and your chances for injury.
    Do You Over Pronate?

    A slight inward rolling of the foot is desirable, but too much pronation puts you at risk for injury. Buying the right type of running shoe can help limit excessive pronation.

    If you pronate severly I strongly suggest visiting a physical therapist who can help recommend exercises and other methods to limit your pronation and improve running form.

    One of the most common errors all runners make, new and seasoned, is reaching the lead foot out in front of the body and landing heel first. This type of landing is not only inefficient it can lead to an entire grab bag of different injuries (see next bullet point for more detail).

    Instead, make sure that your foot is positioned beneath your center of gravity (your hips) at impact and strive to land on the balls of your feet, not your toes and not your heel. The ideal landing spot is slightly on the outer edge of the ball of your foot, directly behind your pinky toe. Landing in this fashion allows your body to absorb the shock of impact and your foot to pronate properly. Pronation is the natural inward rolling of the foot and is desirable because it helps to absorb some of the shock at impact.

    When you land on the outer edge of the ball of your foot it will naturally roll inward (pronate) and you will then naturally be in a position to push off firmly on the ball of your foot, somewhere behind your big toe.

  • Don’t Over StrideThis can be difficult for all runners, not just beginners, because it most often occurs as you get tired. When the main driving muscles of the legs tire you start to slow down. A natural response is to subconsciously increase stride length in order to go faster. I want you to do just the opposite.When your stride is too long extra tension is put on your leg muscles (most often the hamstring and calf) causing them to tire more quickly. What they really need is some relaxation. So, instead of lengthening your stride, shorten it. It doesn’t need to be much but shortening your stride by even an inch or two will allow those muscles to relax speeding up the recovery from fatigue and allowing your legs to move at a faster pace. You’ll fight off injury this way as well because your legs will stay stronger longer

    Another consequence of over striding is a landing that happens out in front of the body. When impact occurs out in front of your body the result is a hard, high-impact heel landing with a straight leg at impact. This type of landing, caused by over striding, literally acts as a brake slowing you down as you drive your heel into the ground with each stride. But it doesn’t stop there.

    A heel landing also prevents your body from properly absorbing shock at impact and instead transfers the impact through your feet, up your legs and into your hips and back. This excessive force on the joints can cause all kinds of aches, pains and injuries such as shin splints, a common runner’s injury that can be caused by over striding.

  • Stay Low to the GroundAnother common flaw in running form is a stride that has a lot of bounce. In other words, there is too much up an down motion. When you can hear your feet slapping the pavement with every step you take you’re running with too much bounce. And all that bounce creates excessive force that your body must absorb at impact increasing your chances of injury.Often times this excessive up and down movement is caused by the misconception that a high knee lift is necessary. If you’re sprinting a 40-yard dash high knee lift is important. But when running longer distances your knee should actually drive forward, not straight up. A forward driving knee lift will help keep you low to the ground conserving your energy and making you more efficient.

    Reduce the bounce in your stride by landing with your foot in the correct position (beneath your body) and then striving for a quick, light touch leading into your next stride. Always move forward with light, quick foot touches. Visualize yourself gliding along, staying low to the ground. To help with this you can imagine having a book on top of your head and then try not to let the book fall or you can imagine that you are sneaking up on someone while running so your steps need to be light and quick!

  • Improve Turnover of Feet and LegsYou can become a faster, more efficient runner simply by improving how quickly your feet turnover. Imagine your legs and feet like a motor, running in a circular motion beneath your upper body. Speed up the rate at which the motor moves and you’ll run faster. Improving turnover is an excellent way to improve speed and efficiency without exerting much additional effort. How, you ask? Let me show you.The best way that I have found to improve the turnover of the feet and legs is to use turnover drills. A simple drill that has worked well for me over the years is one that was published by running coach Jeff Galloway, all credit for this excercise goes to him. Here’s the drill:

    Select a level and traffic-free stretch of road, trail or track. Start with a slow 1-mile warm-up, and then, without picking up your speed, count the number of times either your left foot or your right comes down in 30 seconds. Jog or walk for a minute or so and then run back, counting again for 30 seconds, with the goal of increasing the count by one or two. Repeat this four to six times, with the same projected increase each time but without a significant increase in effort.

    If you do this drill once a week, you’ll intuitively learn to stay low to the ground with an increasingly lighter touch of the foot. If you do this drill at least once a week, a year from now you’ll be running faster and with no increase in effort. The increased turnover and improved efficiency also makes running feel easier. You’ll see more progress if you do it twice a week. But you’ll lose two weeks of progress if you miss a week.

  • It’s All in the Hips The hips, along with your toso, play an important role in an efficient running form. A common flaw among beginning runners is pushing the hips and butt back into a semi-seated position which causes the pelvis to lean forward. This flaw in form puts a great deal of stress on the back and throws the lower-body out of alignment. To fix this flaw focus on pushing your hips forward and keeping your butt tight. As another way to get the hips into proper position I have heard running coaches teach runners to visulize the pelvis as a bowl filled with water, then try not to spill any water by tilting the bowl.

Running Form – Upper Body Mechanics

  • Run Tall with a Slight LeanI have found the key to effective running form to be balance. An upright and relaxed posture with a very slight forward lean promotes good balance and an effecient running form. Keep your head up and your shoulders low, loose and relaxed. Try to stretch yourself to your full height with a comfortably straight back. In other words, don’t slouch. Instead, “run tall”.A slight forward lean from the ankles (never lean from the waist) helps you lean into your movement and is necessary to keep your body balanced while running. Be sure not to lean too far forward as this will cause you to become unbalanced and move with a stumbling, high impact stride. Leaning backward often results in over-striding which causes a heavy heel landing stressing your knees, hips and back and leading to injury.
  • Swing Arms Forward and Back Sure, this may seem as obvious as telling you to tie your shoes, but a common flaw in form is swinging the arms across the body. When you swing your arms across your body you produce a similar torque in your legs which sets you up for injury. To get the correct arm swing imagine elbowing someone standing directly behind you. Your elbows should be at about a 90-degree angle and your arm swing compact, generally staying within eight inches of your body. Avoid driving your arms forward as this encourages over-striding. Instead, drive your elbows backward to help with a quick, light stride.
  • Relax Your Shoulders A relaxed upper-body is critical to an efficient running stride and shoulders are often the carriers of a great deal of the tension in the upper-body. High and tight might be a good military haircut but its not good for your running form. Keep your shoulders low and loose and don’t let them creep up near your ears. Having high and tight shoulders uses up valuable energy while also limiting arm movement. Keep them relaxed. Again, if tension sneaks up drop your arms to your side and shake it out.
  • No Need for Fists Running may primarily be a lower body exercise but your hands and arms play an important role in an efficient stride. Your hands control the tension in your arms so its important to keep them relaxed, preferably in an unclenched fist with your finger tips lightly touching the palm of your hand. Try imagining that you are holding something fragile in your hand that you don’t want to break. If you feel tension creeping into your hands or arms simply drop them down to your side for a minute and shake the tension out.

Of course, the more tired you get the easier it is for your running form to break down. So always remember, good running form makes you more efficient. It’s your best weapon against fatigue!

When your body starts to drag, focus on form. Keep your body as relaxed as possible. Tense muscles will slow you down and force you to work harder. Concentrate on keeping your shoulders, jaw, torso and legs nice and loose. No one is born with good running form, it’s somthing that must be learned. Work on improving your form with every run and you’ll suffer fewer injuries and become more effiecient making your training much more effective!