The importance of correct running form is often overlooked. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, having a proper running technique not only helps you to run more efficiently, but also reduces the risk of injuries.
Your running ‘form’ is simply how you run. It is made up of factors such as body position, posture, foot strike, stride and running breathing technique. So, if you’re wondering how to improve your running form, check out our tips, exercises and drills that will help you run better and safer!
In this article, we will cover:
- Tips for Optimal Running Form
- Tips to Avoid Injury
- How Can you Improve Running Form Outside of your Run?
- Drills to Improve Running Form
- Why is Correct Running Form Important?
- Is There a Difference Between Outdoor Running Form vs Treadmill Running Form?
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Tips For Optimal Running Form
#1 Avoid Overstriding
Your ‘stride’ or ‘stride length’ is the amount of ground you cover in one step when running. Your overall running speed is determined by the length of your stride, as well as your running cadence. For reference, cadence is simply the number of steps you take per minute.
One of the most common features of bad running form is overstriding. Overstriding occurs when you strike the ground with your foot in front of your knee, and many runners think that a long stride will increase their speed. But in fact, overstriding acts like a braking mechanism and actually slows you down!
To improve your running form, avoid overstriding as it can also lead to fatigue and reduce endurance, this is because it requires more energy to maintain over a long distance.
To avoid overstriding, you need to increase your running cadence by taking shorter strides, but more often. Studies have shown that taking shorter strides decreases the risk of injury compared to runners that over-stride. This is because you spend less time in the air and so, land softer with each step. This means that there is reduced impact on your ankles, knees and hips.
The best way to improve running form is to make sure that your foot strikes just below your body, rather than in front; if you want to speed up, simply increase your stride rate, rather than the length of your stride.
A word referenced often throughout this article is cadence, this is also known as your stride rate and there is a way of finding out your own. You can do this by running for 30 seconds, and counting the number of times your left foot hits the ground. Double this to get the total for 60 seconds, then double it again to get the total for both feet. This is your cadence!
The average cadence is 150 to 170 steps per minute. Professional long-distance runners have a cadence of around 180 steps per minute. If you have a cadence under 160 steps per minute, this usually means that you are overstriding. A ‘bouncy’ or ‘choppy’ running form is also usually a sign of overstriding.
A good way to practice increasing your cadence and improving your running form is on a treadmill. You can set your speed and remain at a steady pace, plus the lack of distractions and obstacles mean that you can really focus on maintaining correct running form. Check out the section at the end of this article for how to keep good treadmill running form!
#2 Maintain Correct Running Posture
Achieving the perfect running posture is something that even the most experienced runners still struggle with. It is a simple thing that can have a huge impact on your speed as well as reducing injuries.
So, how can you achieve the correct posture when running?
The aim is to run with a tall, upright posture. Though you should have a slight forward lean, however ensure to avoid leaning too far forward or slouching.
To get this ‘tall’ running posture technique, think about pulling your glutes in, rotating your hips back, lengthening your spine, lifting your chest up and pulling your shoulders back and down.
Another useful running posture tip is to visualise a string attached to your head that is gently lifting you up and forwards at the same time. This well known tip helps you to lengthen through the crown of your head.
Also, keep your ears over the shoulders to ensure that you aren’t sticking your chin out too much and to stay correctly aligned. This also avoids putting strain on your upper body muscles.
Always check your body position and ultimately, try to get into the habit of maintaining perfect running posture in every mile. To find out about the benefits of good posture, read our article!
#3 Relax Your Shoulders
Achieving the correct posture for running also involves relaxing the shoulders. It can be easy to hunch up the shoulders, but make a conscious effort to relax them and keep them square, rolled back and level.
A good way to do this is by squeezing your shoulder blades together on your back, which makes your shoulders drop away from your ears. This also opens up your chest allowing you to breathe easier.
Another good running posture tip is to shake your shoulders loose before you start running. This helps to get rid of any tension you might be holding in your upper body. Competing in races and training can put stress on your body which can be held in the shoulders; due to this, stress encourages a hormonal and neurological response.
This response interestingly promotes the attempt to form the fetal position, instincts to stress encourages this making the muscles tense in response and therefore, lead to tensed shoulders and even pain. To recognise this, shoulders will likely raise towards your ears and fists may clench.
So, pay attention to this response, it may be your body indicating to slow down or take a break. This way, you can recognise this reaction and work on relaxing your shoulders to achieve the best running form.
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#4 Keep Your Gaze Ahead
It may seem obvious, but keeping your gaze ahead is perhaps amongst the most underestimated, yet important running technique tips.
Aim to keep your gaze about 15-20ft in front of you and don’t look down at your feet! Many runners let their gaze drop when they are tired towards the end of a run, but this will actually induce a slower pace.
Keeping your gaze slightly in front of you also helps you keep your head upright, avoiding strain on the neck. This is a really easy and quick way to achieve the correct form for running.
Looking ahead when running promotes a running breathing technique, when your gaze is in front of you, your chest is naturally more open. This allows you to open up your airways and breathe in more oxygen.
If you have a habit of looking down on a run, it restricts airflow and so limits oxygen intake. This is why keeping a forward-facing gaze is a key part of running with good form!
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#5 Find Your Strike
As well as your stride, your strike is an important part of a proper running technique. Your foot strike refers to how your foot makes contact with the ground.
There is much debate over which type of strike is the best running form for your feet. There are 3 different types of foot strikes: heel strike, midfoot strike and forefoot strike. In general, the type of strike you choose is down to preference, as each one has its pros and cons when it comes to improving running form.
The forefoot strike places most of the impact on your toes and ball of the foot. Whilst this is a good technique for running uphill or sprinting, it can also cause shin splints due to the strain it puts on your calves and Achilles.
The midfoot strike is when the impact is mostly on the centre of your foot. This means that the shock of the impact is evenly distributed which can help propel the body forwards. This is a common long-distance running technique, as it is easy to maintain over a long period of time.
The heel strike is the most common foot strike. This is when the heel takes most of the weight and your stride is in front of you rather than directly underneath; however, the heel strike can cause overstriding, which actually decreases pace.
There is no ‘correct’ running form when it comes to your foot strike - every runner is different. The important thing is to find what works best for you.
Whilst it is good to be aware of your feet when it comes to running form, you shouldn’t make any changes too quickly. Altering your foot strike too quickly can actually lead to injury as your body needs time to adapt to new sensations, especially if you are a regular runner. Remember to introduce any changes to your running form slowly and listen to your body!
#6 Don’t Over-Swing Your Arms
Your arms are arguably just as important as your legs and feet when it comes to maintaining good running form.
Ensure that your elbows are tucked in and bent at about a 90-degree angle. A good running technique tip for your arms is to touch your waistband with your hands on each stride. This makes sure that your arms are at the right angle and are driving back behind you, rather than just forward.
A good tip is to think of the phrase ‘pockets to sockets’ to help you remember to keep yourself in the correct running posture!
Another common sign of bad running form is swinging your arms across your chest. This not only makes you more likely to hunch up your shoulders, but also closes off your chest which can restrict your breathing.
Your hands should always stay at waist level, in fact many beginners make the mistake of allowing their hands to swing all the way up to their chest. Over-swinging the arms like this promotes overstriding which should be avoided. It also exerts energy unnecessarily, causing fatigue earlier on in your run.
One exception to this rule is if you’re sprinting. In this case, you should drive your hands further up towards your chest as this increases speed and helps propel you forwards.
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#7 Develop Your Running Breathing Technique
As with any cardio exercise, breathing correctly is an essential component of perfect running form.
There are many different running breathing techniques, but the general rule of thumb is to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. If you’re new to running, this is a simple and easy rule to follow that will quickly improve your beginners running form.
To use the technical term, you should be doing diaphragmatic breathing when running, this simply means taking deep breaths into your belly, rather than shallow breaths through the chest.
Diaphragmatic breathing is essential for improving running form as it increases your oxygen intake by allowing your lungs to expand fully.
Increasing oxygen intake has a whole host of benefits for runners. It not only gives you more energy to run faster for longer, but it also helps reduce stitches and tension in the body.
You can practice this running breathing technique at home, so you can get used to how it feels. Lie down on your back on the floor and place one hand on your chest, and the other on your belly; breathe deeply into the belly and simply feel your stomach rise and fall as you inhale and exhale. This is the feeling you should aim for when running!
It is also beneficial to your running form to find a rhythm to your breathing, easy low intensity runs should be in a 3:3 rhythm. In other words, you should take 3 steps while breathing in and 3 steps while breathing out.
For medium intensity runs, try a 2:2 rhythm, and 1:1 for maximum and high intensity runs such as sprints. However, everyone is different and you should find the rhythm that works best for you!
#8 Relax Your Hands
One of the most easily accessible tips for a good beginner running form is to simply relax your hands.
A common trait of bad running form is clenching your hands into fists whilst running. This creates unnecessary tension in your hands that can move up into your arms and upper body which wastes energy, decreasing your running speed and efficiency.
For good running form, make sure to relax your hands. Many runners have a good tip for this, which is to imagine that they’re holding an egg in their hand that you don’t want to break. This helps you to not clench your fists.
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Tips to Avoid Injury
Improving your running form using the running posture tips above, will naturally reduce your risk of injury as they help to put less impact on your joints, improve oxygen circulation and reduce muscle fatigue.
However, there are some other things you can do as part of your running regime that will help you to avoid injuries.
#1 Warm Up Before Your Run
As with any form of exercise, the importance of warming up should not be underestimated! Doing gentle dynamic stretches and drills before your run helps dilate your blood vessels, raise your heart rate and get your muscles ready for movement.
This helps reduce injury as it means that there is less stress on your body when you start the run itself.
#2 Cool Down After Your Run
It’s important to remember that cooling down is just as important as warming up. Instead of suddenly stopping, cool down by walking for 5 to 10 minutes. This helps get your heart rate back to normal and your muscles to slowly recover, helping prevent injury.
A cool down also prevents issues such as blood pooling which can happen if exercise halts suddenly; this is because the cool down helps to keep the blood circulating and pumping, and slowly lowers the heart rate.
Not only cooling down, but taking rest days is incredibly important. Read all about the importance of rest days and how many you should take here.
#3 Wear Appropriate Running Shoes
It is well-worth investing in a good pair of running shoes suited to your feet and running form. Shoes with good cushioning absorb a lot of the shock from each step, meaning less impact on your muscles.
Nobody wants to jeopardize the correct running form needed to avoid injury, so getting your hands on the correct accessories and equipment is always useful.
#4 Rest When You Need It
Whilst consistency is needed if you want to improve your running form, rest and recovery is equally important. Don’t run if you have an injury or sore muscles, as this will simply lead to further muscle aggravation.
Further, it is likely you will pay the consequences of running on empty by not performing with the correct running form.
#5 Avoid Shin Splints
Shin splints are an injury to the front of the shin and are one of the most common running problems for both beginners and pros. Proper running form to prevent shin splints includes avoiding overstriding and trying not to land with a heavy heel strike.
You can also help to prevent shin splints by using the best running technique for you. Moreover, if you’re wondering how to improve running form outside of running, we have a whole section on that too!
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How Can you Improve Running Form Outside Of Your Run?
As well as following our running technique tips, there are things you can do outside of running itself to help you achieve optimal running form. Below we have listed a number of effective ways to indirectly improve your running technique.
#1 Strengthen Your Glutes
Your glutes are essential muscles to train if you want to improve your running form. They are one of the primary muscles for generating speed as strong glutes equate to more power to propel yourself forwards.
Runners often neglect the glutes by not training them enough outside of running. Exercises such as glute bridges, squats and clam shells are all simple yet effective exercises that will strengthen, tone, and make your glutes perfect for optimal running form.
The glute bridge is one of the best exercises for getting stronger glutes. To do this, lie face up on the floor, with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Put your arms at your side and your fingertips touching your heels, engage your core and glutes to lift your hips up to the ceiling. Hold at the top for a few seconds, before lowering down.
Repeat this for 30 seconds and do 2 to 3 reps; you can also lift one leg up to increase the intensity!
Read about the benefits of strength training here to get you motivated!
#2 Strengthen Your Core
Core strength is beneficial for a whole host of sports and running is no exception.
Contrary to what some people believe, the core does not simply consist of your abs; it’s everything from your shoulders down to your hips including the chest, back, abs and obliques. It is the foundation of general all-body strength!
A strong core helps improve running technique by keeping your body stable when you move, as it supports the pelvis, hips and lower back.
Having a strong core is also particularly important for good distance running form, as when you reach towards the end of a race, your form can suffer and therefore hinder the remainder of your run. Having a strong core can counteract this, as it helps you develop a good long-distance running technique and reduces the risk of injuries.
Exercises such as planks, bicycle crunches, leg raises and standard crunches are all great ways to strengthen your core in order to achieve the best running technique.
The high plank is a particularly beneficial exercise for improving running form. Simply go on all fours with your hands under your shoulders. Engage your core, draw your belly in and step each foot back into a high plank position - hold for 30 seconds or 1 minute. Incorporating this exercise into your routine is a simple, yet effective way to build overall core strength.
Exercises using a swiss ball such as crunches, are also a great way to develop correct posture for running. One study showed that swiss ball training has a positive impact on core stability and running economy, so it is well worth including this as part of your training routine.
#3 Strengthen Your Calves
The calves are an essential muscle when it comes to strength training for running, they are vital to focus on if you want to have a good running technique.
The calves not only help to propel you forward when you run, but also absorb impact. Having strong calves helps you run faster for longer, especially when running up hill.
One-legged heel raises are one of the best ways to strengthen the calves. Stand on one foot, using support to balance if needed, use the calf muscle to lift the heel up as high as possible, rocking forwards onto the toes; then, place the heel down again. Repeat this 10 times, before moving on to the other leg.
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#4 Improve Mobility of Joints
As well as strengthening your muscles, your joints also need attention if you want to improve your running form.
Mobility is simply the ability to actively move a joint through a normal range of motion with efficiency and strength. The best way to improve joint mobility is through dynamic exercises that target joints such as the hip flexors and ankles.
The wall ankle stretch is a great way to improve running form through your feet. To do this, stand facing a wall with your toes against the wall. Shift your weight forwards onto the front of the foot to feel a stretch in the back of your ankle. Pulse a few times and change legs.
Drills to Improve Running Form
Running drills are dynamic exercises that are specifically designed to help you improve your running technique. By ingraining certain movement patterns into your muscle memory, they help you to develop the correct form for running, so that it almost becomes second nature!
Running drills are great for working on your coordination, strength, balance and agility.
You can perform running drills anywhere; inside or outside. You just need around 20-50m of clear space.
Here are some of our favourite drills that you can implement into your running routine; we recommend doing them as part of your warm-up before a run. They are suitable for both developing your beginners running form, and for more advanced runners wanting to achieve good distance running form.
Look straight ahead and stand tall; drive your knee up through an exaggerated knee movement, keeping your ankle and knee at 90 degrees; on the opposite standing leg, push up onto your toes as your other leg lifts up. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
As you get stronger at this movement, you can add more speed.
Letting your knees drop is a common feature of bad running form, especially when you get tired towards the end of a run. Practicing high knees helps improve your knee lift so that you can keep running even under fatigue and promote good running technique. This makes it an ideal drill for those looking to get perfect long distance running technique.
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Stand facing forward and run straight ahead by pulling your heels up directly underneath you so that your feet kick your glutes. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
This is a great exercise for developing proper running form as it not only helps with coordination, but also strengthens the glutes, quads and hamstrings. Butt kicks also help to increase the aforementioned cadence.
Carioca (or Grapevine)
Carioca is a great drill to improve running form, as it increases hip mobility as well as developing your knee lift.
Move laterally to the left by crossing your right leg in front of your left leg. Then cross your right leg behind your left leg. Rotate from your hips and swing your arms across your body, and gradually increase the speed. Then do the same with the opposite leg to move laterally to the right; repeat 2 or 3 times each direction.
This can be one of the harder drills to master, but it will do wonders for your coordination which is a key component of running with good form.
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The A-skip targets the glutes and hamstrings, which are key muscles involved in having proper running form.
It also encourages you to strike with your midfoot, which will improve your cadence and overall running form for the feet.
To do the A-skip drill, perform a skip forwards but with high knees (lift your knee to waist height). Keep your back leg straight and propel off of your toe; swing your arms as you would when running normally, keeping your elbows at 90 degrees. Repeat 2 or 3 times.
The B-skip replicates the A-skip, except that you extend your leading leg before it comes down, again repeating 2 or 3 times.
To check that you are doing it correctly, listen to the sound that your feet make when they contact the ground. You should hear a tap, followed by a ‘scuff’ sound.
This drill helps you to develop good form for running as it is a great dynamic stretch for the hamstrings; it will also improve your coordination!
Why is Correct Running Form Important?
You may think that if you can run from A to B, you must have a perfect running technique but in fact, even professional runners can suffer from bad running form and can improve their running technique.
Running with good form has a whole host of benefits. Perhaps most importantly, it helps to prevent injuries as you will be putting less impact and strain on your joints and muscles. Maintaining the correct posture when running (tall and relaxed) is also important for preventing injury and muscle strain.
As well as being safer, having proper form is essential for improving your running economy. This simply means that you can use less energy whilst also increasing your speed, thus making your running more efficient.
Things like having a good breathing technique are particularly beneficial for increasing oxygen intake whilst running, which also improves your running economy.
All of this ultimately means that you can run faster and for longer, helping you shave time off of your 5K time or carry on for that extra mile.
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What About Running Form for a Marathon?
If you’re wondering how to achieve good long-distance running form for races such as marathons, all of the same tips apply.
There is no specific running form for a marathon; it is more about the frequency and nature of your training.
Being able to maintain a good long-distance running technique is vital, not only for all the points previously made, but it also means that you are using oxygen efficiently and conserving energy. This helps you to fight off fatigue that most marathon runners feel towards the end of the race.
Is There a Difference Between Outdoor Running Form vs Treadmill Running Form?
The short answer is: no! All of the same advice applies whether you choose to run outdoors or on a treadmill.
In fact, running on a treadmill can be a great way to focus on improving your running form, as you can run at a steady pace without any obstacles. You also won’t be affected by external factors like the terrain or weather conditions.
Whilst there is no specific treadmill running form, there are a few additional tips that you may want to consider in order to achieve proper running form on a treadmill:
- Run in the middle of the treadmill: Try not to run right up the front of the console, as this can make you lose balance; aim to run around a foot from the front.
- Don’t hold on to the sides or the bar in front of you: Remember, you won’t have these when running outside! For that reason, it's a good way to get into the habit of going without assistance, unless necessary of course. Instead, swing your arms at your sides, keep your shoulders back and relax your hands.
- Run on a slight incline: Using the treadmill’s settings, change the incline to 1% or 2%. This stimulates the effect of wind from outdoor running so that you can get used to running with proper form against windy weather conditions.
- Don’t look down at the console: Just like when running outside, remember to maintain a good running posture technique and focus at all times. This means keeping your upper body relaxed and your gaze ahead!
- Never step on or off the treadmill whilst it is moving: This is not only dangerous as you could fall off the treadmill, but stopping suddenly can put an adverse strain on your joints and muscles.
Before You Go!
We hope that you now know how to improve your running form, so that you can run faster for longer and without injury and reach that perfect running technique.
From posture and breathing technique, to drills and exercises to complement your runs, there are many elements that come together to make the perfect running form. Next time you go for a run, why not try a few of our tips? You’ll be surprised at the results!
Just one more thing! Have you thought about diving into the fitness industry? If you have, you might want to check out the personal training courses that we have on offer here at OriGym. Alternatively, you can browse all of our courses by downloading our FREE prospectus!
- Schubert AG, Kempf J, Heiderscheit BC. Influence of Stride Frequency and Length on Running Mechanics: A Systematic Review. Sports Health. 2014;6(3):210-217.
- Stanton, Robert; Reaburn, Peter R.; Humphries, Brendan. The Effect of Short-Term Swiss Ball Training on Core Stability and Running Economy, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: August 2004 - Volume 18 - Issue 3 - p 522-528