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Proper Running Form: Actionable Tips for Improving Running Technique

Running, whether to train for a charity 5K, challenge yourself to a half-marathon, or just boost your overall fitness level, is a great sport for people of all shapes and sizes. 

However, if you’re new to running, it’s important to understand how to run correctly in order to prevent injury and allow your body to create the muscle memory necessary to improve your pace and time. Follow these tips below to help improve your running technique using the correct running form.

Learning how to run properly can prevent many different issues, from the acute, like a twisted ankle or broken bone, to ongoing joint issues. Injuries you can suffer from when you’re not using proper running techniques fall into two categories: acute and chronic.

An acute injury includes a laceration, broken bone, or sprain. These typically occur because of a fall, so it’s important to pay attention to the surface you’re running on, especially for those starting out with trail running.

Proper first aid is important if you experience an injury from a fall. Stop the bleeding and apply ice to any swelling, However, if you hear a sudden pop or feel a tear, have immediate swelling and persistent pain, or are unable to use the injured part of the body, seek medical attention immediately.

Using good running form can help you avoid developing chronic or overuse injuries. Make sure that you have the correct shoes to support your feet, especially if you have a foot anomaly, like flat feet. Properly supported feet make it easier to keep your body in line with proper posture and good running form.

Chronic injuries develop as a result of repeated pressure to joints on the body. Overtraining — taking on too many miles per week or running every day — can also contribute to chronic injuries, especially if you aren’t using the right form. If you have persistent soreness, then reduce your training and determine the cause of the injury, such as poor form or weak hip muscles, and fix it.

There’s a phrase called “running economy,” which is defined as the aerobic demands of running, or the relationship between oxygen consumption and running speed. To keep your energy up while running, you need both carbohydrates and fat, and processing these while running takes a good amount of oxygen. Good running economy includes using proper running form to improve your oxygen consumption.

Certain arm swings or body positioning, like running with your hands on your hips or in your pockets, may result in poor running economy, as it isn’t very efficient. In fact, fixing your running form may be a better way to improve your pace and performance than simply adding more miles.

Most runners naturally fall into a running form that complements their skeleton, their body type, and their flexibility and range of motion. Over time, a runner’s initial form may not be suited to their improved running skills.

Over time, poor running form can also contribute to greater muscle imbalances. This may increase your risk of falling, as you may not be able to navigate rougher terrain.

Improving your technique can help improve your pace, too, and keep your body from becoming too complacent. Most runners naturally fall into a running form that complements their skeleton, their body type, and their flexibility and range of motion. Over time, a runner’s initial form may not be suited to their improved running skills.

There isn’t one perfect running form, but a good running technique includes the same elements. Landing over your center of gravity is important, and using a light, rapid cadence of steps helps make this easier. Using minimal lateral rotation (your swing leg moving around your stance leg) is also key. Less lateral rotation makes it easier to run with smaller strides and a faster cadence. A relaxed body position prevents bunching and cramping. Simply keep your shoulders dropped and relaxed, and allow your glutes to do most of the work of propulsion.

Some new runners tend towards slower, longer strides compared to shorter, faster ones. The differences in the stride rates can make the difference in running speed, as well as your ability to consistently land over your center of gravity. Strides that are too long can increase your chances of falling off-balance.

Make sure to keep your spine straight while running. Leaning forward at the waist makes your quads work harder to keep you upright. Your quads are already working hard, so placing extra demand on them for balance can increase the risk of injury and make you feel tired faster.

Landing over your center of gravity is important, and using a light, rapid cadence of steps helps make this easier. Using minimal lateral rotation is also key.

Keep your arms close to your body with your elbows bent. Minimize the amount of arm swing that you incorporate into your running. Keeping your arms at your sides or holding them out to the side can make you tense up. In addition, holding your head too far forward makes your back muscles work. The less energy that your other muscles are using, the more energy your body has available for those hard-working legs and glutes.

Speaking of glutes, using these to push and propel can’t be underestimated. Doing strength training that focuses on the glutes naturally helps strengthen the hips as well, which is important to prevent injuries. Plus, although it looks like runners are simply using their legs to propel, this isn’t quite the case. Strong glutes help push the stride behind the body, allowing the leg to straighten more.

Those who have been running for a while understand that the sport is just as much mental as physical. Running teaches you to accept being uncomfortable, and using conscious thought to overcome your brain’s desire to quit is critical to breaking through plateaus of pace or distance.

When you’re focusing on improving your running form, using the practice of mindfulness can help you remember the right position for your body and keep you aware of new running techniques you’re working on. If you have a few different things to focus on, then choose to think “shoulders low” for a minute, then switch to “use your glutes” or “arms in,” for example. If you have a programmable stopwatch as an app on your phone or fitness tracker, then you can incorporate minute-intervals of different areas of focus into your training runs.

You may need to fix specific issues that are affecting your running. Certain strength training exercises, including working your hip flexors and hip abductors, can help with your form. Stronger hip muscles help give you a better range of motion and thus the ability to maintain your pace. In addition to working your hips, increasing your core strength can also help you have better posture while running.

Some runners may find that incorporating Tabata or HIIT sprint drills into their routine helps with their overall pace. You may wish to have one day where you’re running at a faster than race pace or doing short hill sprints to increase your ability to metabolize oxygen more.

Even if you only have a short amount of time each day to dedicate to running, omitting strength training and working on your form in favor of adding on the miles simply means that you’re spending your time reinforcing poor form. This means you have a higher chance of injury from muscle imbalances.

Finally, make sure that you stretch well before running and spend enough time warming up. Once you’ve finished, incorporate plenty of long stretches into your cool-down routine to help keep your muscles loose. It’s especially important to do this if you have a mostly sedentary job or lifestyle.

Proper running form can help you improve your race pace and your overall endurance, allowing you to try longer distance races. If you run simply for fitness and fun, a good running form can help reduce injury, either an acute one from a fall because you’re off-balance or through consistent overuse. If you plan to take running seriously as a sport, you may also wish to consult with a professional running coach who can observe your form and give you individual tips to teach you how to properly run. 

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/8765-preventing-running-injuries

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15233599

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