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A Guide to Proper Running Form and How to Improve Yours

I’m willing to bet that most recreational runners have never had formal training for their running form. You probably just went out one day and ran. But did you know that mastering proper running form is key to maximizing performance, preventing injuries, and enjoying a lifetime of pain-free running? In this guide, we’ll explore the basics of proper running form, offering tips to help you become a more efficient and injury-resistant runner.

Why Proper Running Form Matters

Optimizing running form will reduce stress on the body and help you run with less effort for longer. When you run with proper form, you:

  1. Minimize Impact: Efficient running form helps distribute forces more evenly throughout the body, reducing the risk of overuse injuries such as shin splints, stress fractures, and tendonitis.
  2. Improve Efficiency: Aligning the body’s joints and muscles will allow for smoother, more efficient movement and prevent wasted energy.
  3. Enhance Performance: You’ll be able to generate more power and propulsion with each stride, leading to faster times and improved race performance.
  4. Reduce Fatigue: Proper form helps minimize wasted energy and unnecessary movement, allowing you to run longer and maintain pace with less fatigue.

Key Components of Proper Running Form

  1. Posture: Maintain an upright posture with your head, shoulders, and hips aligned. Avoid slouching or leaning forward at the waist, as this can increase strain on the lower back.
  2. Foot Strike: Aim for a midfoot or forefoot strike. Avoid overstriding (landing with your foot too far in front of your body), as this can put an increased strain on the knees, hips, and back.
  3. Cadence: This is the number of steps you take per minute. Typically a good recommendation is 170-180 steps per minute. A higher cadence helps reduce overstriding and promotes a smoother, more fluid running motion. (Note: a lot of smart watches will have this info for you)
  4. Arm Swing: Keep your arms relaxed and bent at a 90-degree angle, with your elbows close to your sides. A good arm swing contributes to our balance. Try running without swinging your arms and see how awkward it feels.
  5. Breathing: Breathe deeply and rhythmically, in sync with your running cadence.
  6. Core Engagement: A good cue to think about is “pull your rib cage down”. A strong core helps maintain proper posture and reduces the risk of lower back pain and fatigue.

Tips for Improving Running Form

  1. Gradual Progression: Focus on making small, incremental changes to your running form over time, rather than trying to completely change your form all at once. Pick one thing to work on at a time. Consistency is key to developing new movement patterns.
  2. Video Analysis: Consider filming yourself running or seeking out someone that knows what faults to look for. (Running gait analysis is something we always do with our runners to identify the root cause of running injuries)
  3. Strength and Mobility Training: In most cases, the fix for certain running faults is to strengthen certain muscles or improve range of motion.
  4. Mindful Awareness: Pay attention to how your body feels and how your form changes with fatigue. Mind-body awareness can help you make real-time adjustments to your technique and avoid compensation patterns.
  5. Listen to Your Body: Above all, listen to your body and respect its limits. If something doesn’t feel right, take a step back, assess your form, and make adjustments as needed. Pushing through pain or discomfort can lead to injury and setbacks.

In conclusion, proper running form is essential for maximizing performance, preventing injuries, and enjoying a lifetime of running. By focusing on key elements such as posture, foot strike, cadence, and core engagement, you can optimize your form and become a more efficient and resilient runner. Remember, running is a journey – embrace the process of refining your form and enjoy the rewards of pain-free, enjoyable miles on the road or trail!


Dr. Brett Dick

PT, DPT, Owner of Limitless Performance Physical Therapy

We Help Active People ​Improve Pain And Performance ​In Their Favorite Sports And Activities.
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