What Is Proper Running Form? A Detailed Look At How To Run ‘Right’
Put one step in front of the other. Aim to land mid-sole and push off the ground. Make sure not to overstrike and drive that leg back. Make sure to swing those arms, from the shoulders, not the elbow. Stand tall and breathe deep with your stomach. Make sure to stay relaxed. This is a description of proper running form.
We all start off running by simply getting out there and start running. But the more we begin to enjoy it and want to excel at it, we need to start paying attention to our form. Proper form helps to prevent injuries as well as helps to make our running more efficient. This means making running feel effortless and thus making us faster and strong runners–and without getting tired as fast.
The thing about running form is it can’t be learned overnight. Runners, even elite and well-seasoned ones, need to consciously focus on their form every single run.
What makes things more complicated is the fact that runners also have their own signature when it comes to strides. Not every runner runs the same. What works for some runners doesn’t work for all. For example, there are professional runners who are heel strikers and still have seen great success in the sport.
So what is the proper running form for us everyday runners? What does it look like, and how do we run the “right” way?’
Running Form Basics
The phrase “run tall” is among the most commonly used when speaking about running form.
In his book Your Best Stride: How to Optimize Your Natural Running Form to Run Easier, Farther, and Faster—With Fewer Injuries, former Running Times’ editor-in-chief, runner and coach Jonathan Beverly, talks about how running tall can fix most form issues.
How does one run tall? “To get tall, you need to pull your butt in, rotate your hips back, straighten your spine, and lift your chest up. Moving up, your shoulders are back and above your spine. Your head is over your shoulder and high on your straight neck,” Beverly writes.
The runner should have good posture but also feel relaxed and not stiff. “[The] chest [should be] pushed out proud,” running coach Jen Vieth (RRCA certified, ACE – GFI, NASM – PT) tells RunnerClick. “Make sure you don’t hunch forward; shoulders back.”
The eyes shouldn’t be looking down at the ground. “Your vision should be about 10-20 feet ahead of you,” she adds.
Continuing to describe ideal running form, Vieth adds that elbows should be bent at 90 degrees, “like a right angle in geometry class,” and fingertips soft “like you are holding an eggshell.” Do not clench the fist. This causes tightness and straining the arms, shoulders, and neck.”
Many runners don’t pay attention to their arms, but it plays a major role. It helps power the legs, and when the arms swing back, it shifts the body’s balance forward to help run tall “so that your feet can land closer beneath your body and push backward,” Beverly writes. “Keeping your arms back can do more for your foot strike thank thinking about where your feet are landing.”
It’s All In The Hips
According to Beverly, good running form starts in the hips. This is where the stride begins.
“Core and hips are where every runner should be starting if they are really concerned with optimizing their form, maximizing their speed, and minimizing injury potential,” Beverly writes.
Beverly stresses the importance of the hips and how all runners should practice exercises to stretch the hip flexors. Weak and tight hips are linked to all types of injuries such as runner’s knee, IT band syndrome, shin splints, and even plantar fasciitis.
When running, lead with the hips. Stand tall and imagine there is a rope around the waist and the runner is being pulled forward. Be mindful of form, starting from the head down to the feet in a mental checklist throughout the run.
Vieth also adds that the pelvis should be tucked. “Think of the pelvis as a bowl of marbles,” she says. “Don’t tip the marbles.”
In his book, Beverly describes the pelvis as being a bowl full of water with the same mentality. Don’t let the water spill.
Legs And Feet
Running coach, marathoner, and author of Run For Good: How To Create A Lifelong Running Habit Christine Many Luff advises runners should take short and quick steps. Don’t drag the feet, but keep your stride low to the ground. “Try to avoid bouncing and bringing your knees up high,” she writes. Listen to this tip to run more efficient and conserve more energy.
Vieth stresses the importance of mid-foot strike, meaning the runner should land on the mid-foot first, and not to heel strike like done in walking. Studies like the one from the University of Vermont in 1996 found that those who land on their mid or forefoot run faster than heel strikers.
However, there is no evidence that landing on the heel is bad. A 2014 study presented that the American College of Sports Medicine found that heel-strikers and forefront strikes had the same amount of injuries.
Start by first being fitted for proper running shoes to fit the needs of the feet. When running, focus on landing on the ball of the of the foot. If the runner lands on their toes or the heels, try to find shoes to address the problem. Some runners just run this way so if there is no injury occurring regularly, embrace your footstrike. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
Beverly in his book writes that sports podiatrist and runner Paul Langer, DPM and podiatrist Rob Conebello, DPM both believe that runners should run in the way that feels most comfortable and natural to them. It is only if the runner is experiencing issues such as frequent injuries that they should focus on major form changes. For the rest of us, be mindful and pay attention to cues when running and embrace your signature stride.
In short, there is no real “right” way to run. Run in a way that feels good and relaxed. However, there the running form basics mentioned above are all the “ideal” way to run. While each runner has their own unique stride or running quirks, the foundation should be the same. Work on the foundation to become a better runner.
For those new to running, discomfort during the activity is one of the main reasons why many give it up quickly. Try to work on form during each run. It is not something that happens after one mindful run, but it is something that can be learned over time.