Everybody can run, but proper running form requires a little bit of practice – it isn’t something that comes overnight. Learning early the basics of good running form is essential to ease the impact that running has on your body.
Each time you land, your body absorbs the impact of your weight – or about three times your body weight, to be precise. With poor technique, the impact can be even greater, which can make running quite stressful on your joints and ligaments. Learning proper running form when you start running on helps prevent overuse injuries, as well as improve your running efficiency, which makes running feel easier and helps you run for longer.
Why proper running form matters
A proper running form will help you run more efficiently. With a good running technique, you’ll conserve energy, run faster and longer distances with less effort, and prevent injury.
A good running body posture starts with standing straight and pulling your shoulders gently back – think “tall and proud”. Instead of looking down at your feet, keep your eye gaze forward and look ahead.
Want to learn more about running technique? Watch the second video of our How to Start Running video series.
The foundation of proper running form
Running right isn’t all that technical and you don’t need to worry about details, as long as you have the main things down. To develop proper running form, the two most important parts are your posture and your foot strike.
Start by allowing your shoulders to relax and your arms, bent at the elbows, to swing by your sides. Avoid clenching your fists and keep your fingers soft.
Consider your foot strike
The other important thing to consider in running is your foot strike – how your foot lands on the ground. There are different schools of thought when it comes to foot strike. Some vote for heel strike, some for midfoot, and others go for forefoot. Regardless of which strike you choose, your foot should hit the ground right underneath the body, at the center of your body’s mass, with your weight balanced on your hips, knees, and ankles. This decreases your risk of injury and also makes your running more efficient.
A very common problem among runners is landing the foot in front of the center of mass – sort of hitting the brakes as you place your heel in front of your body. This not only makes you prone to injury, but also slows you down every time you land, making you then use more energy just to keep moving forward.
The importance of cadence
An additional thing to pay attention to is your running cadence – the number of steps you take per minute. Your cadence is the rhythm of your running and you should aim at maintaining a steady cadence, like a metronome. When you run up or down the hill, or when you start getting fatigued, switch your stride length, not your cadence.
Your running watch counts every step you take, so you can check your cadence rate at the end of the run – 180 steps per minute is the gold standard, but what matters more than any single figure is that you keep the cadence steady.
One more thing to remember: As you get tired, it isn’t just your stride that tends to change, but your posture, too. Your shoulders begin to round forward and your hips drop. Your chin lowers and you spend more time looking down than forward and around. That’s when you remind yourself of “tall and proud!”
5 Running Technique Exercises To Improve Your Running Form
If you try to change your running technique too quickly you’ll likely end up doing more harm than good. Go through this list of five tips for better running technique, watch the demonstrations and introduce changes slowly.
1. Increase running cadence
Many runners run with a cadence that’s too slow. Their feet hit the ground in front of their body of mass and their step is not rolling economically. This is called overstriding.
When you overstride, you’re effectively braking against your forward momentum which makes running a lot heavier. To avoid overstriding, aim to hit the ground with the middle of your sole and avoid excessive heel striking. When you’re running at a lighter pace, avoid landing toes first.
There is no such thing as optimal, universal running cadence. That is, a cadence that works for a sub-3-hour marathoner might not work for you (and even if it does, that won’t automatically make you a sub-3-hour marathoner, for that matter).
2. Relax to maintain an effortless running form
Running is easy when it’s relaxed.
When you look at elite runners, their running form often looks effortless. Their pace looks much more laid-back than what it really is.
Running is easy when it’s relaxed.
Focus on keeping yourself straight and relaxed: let you cheeks wiggle and enjoy the ride. Avoid running at maximum pace even during the toughest intervals as you’ll tense up and your running technique will suffer.
It’s better to give only 95% even during the toughest exercises than to squeeze out everything you got.
3. Proper running form extends all the way to the upper body
Arms are more important in running than many people think.
Your arms are meant to balance the body while the legs are moving. Elbows make up for a great deal of kinetic energy and therefore they should swing forward and back, avoiding unnecessary lateral movement. A suitable elbow angle is about 90 degrees. Keep your hands in unclenched fists and let them swing easily besides your race bib.
At a tougher pace, using your arms becomes increasingly important. Your shoulders should be as relaxed as possible and you should also remember to invest in upper-body flexibility and mobility as well as muscle strengthening when you do supportive exercises.
A stiff upper body also affects the lower body and causes unnecessary rotation to the legs as well. You can practice arm movement for example in front of the mirror with the help of the exercise above.
4. Running technique exercises to hold proper running form
It’s challenging to change your running technique without any special exercises. In running technique exercises – running drills – your technique is divided into parts and attention is given to the right kind of movements, muscle activation, muscular fitness, and mobility in order to enable a better running technique. Doing drills will also make it easier to hold proper running form for longer.
Stay focused when you do these drills and do them when you feel fresh.
Even though many people set longer runs as their goal, you shouldn’t concentrate on training to become slow. If you want to improve your running technique, it’s better to do short and precise exercises correctly, rather than training slowly for a really long time.
You can try various exercises, like high-knee runs, high-knee walks, jumps and leaps, and versatile mobility and stretching exercises. You can do the exercises as a full workout after a proper warm-up, but you can also combine them for 5–15 minutes with light jogs or do them before the brisker exercises
5. Get your running form right
Avoid an excessively upright form while running. An important part of proper running form is maintaining good posture and leaning slightly forward.
With this kind of running form, you make sure that your feet don’t land too far ahead of your center of mass. A statue-like upright form might look stately it but makes forward rolling running more difficult. And when you get tired, you’re more likely to start leaning backwards.
An important part of proper running form is maintaining good posture and leaning slightly forward.
Controlling your core and making sure you’ve got the required muscle fitness and endurance are key elements of maintaining proper running form. When you improve your muscle fitness, you’ll be able to keep up a good form during longer runs.
You can also try to activate your muscles before a jog with some strength exercises so you’ll feel strong when you start running.
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.