Running seems like an easy exercise to get into, simply lace up your favourite trainers and away you go. However, running with the incorrect form and posture can soon do more harm than good and leave you feeling overly sore, uncomfortable and potentially cause long-term injuries that put a rapid end to your running hobby.
Fortunately, learning the correct form for running doesn’t require starting completely from scratch. Most beginner runners just need some gentle reminders during their run to ensure they get in the good habit of a proper running form. It isn’t just the lower body that requires good form either, running is a full-body exercise from your head to your toes.
Running with proper form won’t just help you avoid long-term injury, but it makes running feel easier without having to deliberately push and strain yourself, can reduce feelings of fatigue and will help you enjoy running more.
Many established runners suggest that beginners should imagine they are a puppet, with a string connected to your head and pulling up, keeping your body straight and tall. Keep this in mind as you run and correct your posture as you go. If you are unsure how this posture should feel, stand in front of a mirror and straighten your body, lift your head up so you are focusing forward and ensure your ears lie inline with the middle of your shoulders. If your ears aren’t aligned to your shoulders, you are holding your head forward or tipping it back and this is considered poor form.
With your posture in mind, while running your head should be straight with your ears positioned above your shoulders. If your head starts to tilt forward as you run, make sure to straighten yourself back up and keep your gaze in front of you to avoid putting unnecessary strain on your neck and shoulders. While you can be looking anywhere while you run, keeping your sight focused on the ground approximately 10 to 20 feet in front of you makes it easier to keep your head positioned correctly and avoid any obstacles and trip-hazards.
Your shoulders should be loose as you run and not hunched up or tense which puts undue stress on the muscles in your neck and shoulders. It’s common for your shoulders to become more tense and hunched as you begin to fatigue so ensure you shake out the tension regularly and aim to keep your shoulders level. To help reduce hunching, pull your shoulders back and imagine trying to hold a pencil between your shoulder blades, this will help to open up your form and reduce fatigue.
Your legs may seem to be doing all the work when you run however your arms are also an important part of the running package and help to propel your body forward. Your arms should swing straight but loosely back and forth with your elbow bent to around a 90-degree angle. Avoid swinging your arms across your body as this can make you fatigued quicker and avoid clenching your fists. Your hands should form loose fists with your fingers lightly touching the inside of your palm. To help keep tension in your hands loose, imagine running while carrying an egg or crisp that you want to avoid crushing.
Try to avoid holding your arms up high as this can also cause fatigue faster, your hands should brush past at hip level as you run and should swing back and forth at the shoulder joint, rather than the elbow.
By keeping yourself in the ‘puppet form’ with your head tall and straight, your torso will automatically follow suit with your back naturally straight and keeping you upright. Experienced runners know this form as ‘running tall’ and this can help with lung capacity and to lengthen your running stride. As you fatigue, your body might naturally become more hunched so make sure to stretch yourself out, shake out the tension and take a deep breath which can help you naturally form a straight posture.
If you feel yourself slouching and are finding it hard to break the habit, try to push your hips forward as you run which will naturally help straighten your back and encourage you to keep your head up and straight.
Your hips are an important part of a correct running form and as long as you are keeping your back straight and your head up, should fall naturally into the ideal position. When tilting forward or back, your hips fall out of alignment which creates tension on your lower back and can cause increased soreness and injury. A slight lean into your run should come from the hips, avoiding slouching your body over and making sure you utilise the full power of your glutes.
The main event, your legs can take a battering when you are running with the incorrect form and while everyone has their own style of stride and gait, a proper form will prevent injury and overstriding. Overstriding is when your foot strikes the ground far out in front of your knee and creates an almighty shock throughout your leg. If you overstride and strike the ground with the heel of your foot, you lose your natural propulsion and can end up slowing yourself down or making yourself work harder to retain a steady pace.
Running short distances usually involves high knee lifts while longer distance runners should avoid exaggerated knee lifts which can quickly eat up energy. Ideally, your knee should align with the middle of your foot, keeping a perpendicular angle to the ground as the foot lands. Striking the ground with the heel creates a wider angle while landing too far forward on the forefoot creates too small an angle. Your knee should be more like a spring than a board as it strikes the ground, helping to absorb the force. Although try to keep your run light and soft without too much lift which can cause greater shock as you land.
In each stride, you should be using your feet to push and propel you forward, rather than simply lifting your feet off the ground. Ideally, you should be landing on the ball of your foot which can help provide greater propulsion and prevent injury. As your leg falls back, lift your heel and roll onto your toes to spring forward using the power in your calf muscles. This slight lift helps your leg swing forward naturally, rather than straining.
If you find you cannot get yourself into the habit of running on your toes or are striking the ground heel-first, invest in some quality running shoes that can help absorb some of the impact and relieve the tension on your knees. Where you strike the ground is still widely debated in the running crowd but ensuring you are comfortable with plenty of cushioning is extremely important to avoid injury.
Changing Your Posture with The Gradient
In an ideal world, we’d all be running on lovely flat, shock absorbing surfaces but the reality of outdoor running, means that sooner or later you might come across an uphill or downhill straight on your run. While the above posture advise still applies, you might find yourself fighting against the natural position of your body and should make allowances to ensure you are still running with a good form. Keep your hips forward to prevent hunching and running ‘head-first’ and shorten your strides so you can run more on your toes. As you go uphill, you might find you need to lift your knees higher, which is also good for preventing tripping, and pump your arms harder.
For downhill running, ensure you keep a straight posture but allow gravity to do a lot of the work. If you are constantly slowing yourself down, you are putting a lot of pressure and introducing tension to your knees and joints. Remember; nose over toes and don’t drop that pencil you are holding in your shoulder blades!
If you don’t want to deal with inclines on your run, you are best starting in a gym with suitable gym equipment or purchasing your own treadmill to use at home. Many have the option to add gentle slopes as you run, helping you to get practice before talking your new running skills into the real world.
Running is fun, whether you do it alone to a soundtrack using dedicated fitness gym equipment, or run with a group of friends, it is good for our health and helps to increase lung functionality and even boost your immune system. Don’t run in any old shoes though, go to an established runners’ brand or sports shop and spend some time talking to an experienced runner about the sort of support you should expect from a quality running shoe. Investing now can prevent injury in the long run so try not to go cheap. Most importantly, you can’t correct your form until you start running, so get out there and enjoy yourself!