Here’s What Bad Running Form Looks Like: 9 Signs To Look For

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Bad running form. We all know what it looks like when someone else has it. Sometimes you look at another runner and you just know. But, it is often hard to tell if you yourself run well, or not so well.

And if your running form is bad and you know it, don’t worry! It is never too late to fix it, and don’t feel alone. No one is immune to bad running form.

In fact, most of us runners are self-taught.

Unlike going to a yoga class, or following a youtube pilates workout, we’ve got no one to correct us or tell us what proper form really looks like.

Although good running form may look slightly different for everyone and their unique biomechanics – even the pros have their own running style – there are definitely some fundamental running form mistakes to steer clear of.

In this article, we will outline:

  • How to tell if your running form is bad,
  • 7 symptoms of bad running form,
  • and 9 common running form mistakes and how to correct them.

Ready to pick apart your running form and become a better runner?

Let’s get stuck in!

bad running form

What is proper running form?

The ideal running posture is a stacking of body systems in a straight line.

This means that your lower leg, thigh, pelvis, trunk, neck, and head are all stacked in a straight line, one on top of another.

It is also important for each of these ‘body systems’ to be neutrally tilted. So, for example, if you had bad running form, your hips might be tilted sideways, or your head could be tilted backwards.

In other words, proper running form is when your body is aligned.

Why is good running form important?

Having proper running form is super important if you want to avoid injury.

Not only that, but having good running form makes you a more efficient runner. You can direct all your power to driving forwards.

bad running form

How to tell if my running form is bad

Work with a coach. This is a luxury, but if you have the opportunity to do so, working with an experienced running coach is a great way to have your running weaknesses spotted, pointed out, and corrected.

If getting a running coach isn’t for you, film yourself!

Lose the shame and set up your phone as you run past it.

From the video, you’ll be able to analyse your running form, see where your weaknesses lie. Slow that video right down and you’ll be able to magnify those bad running form weaknesses and then work on correcting them.

Related: Chi Running Guide: 5 Tai-Chi Elements To Incorporate In Your Running Form

7 symptoms of bad running form

Here’s what to look out for. The following list of symptoms could all be indicators of poor running form and should prompt you to take stock of the way you run.

  • Neck pain while running.
  • Overly fatigued quads or hips.
  • Elbows shooting side to side, not back and forth.
  • Reoccurring specific muscle soreness.
  • Knee or hip pain shortly after running.
  • Shoulder pain while running.

If you experience any of these symptoms while running, it is worth taking the time to evaluate your running form.

bad running form

9 Examples of Bad Running Form

There are many things to look out for when it comes to bad running form.

Let’s work down the list from head to toe.

Mistake #1: Craning your neck forward.

If your head hunches down when you run, you could be in the market for some neck strains and pain very soon.

Having your head not stacked above your neck, above your shoulders, adds about 5kg of strain to your neck muscles and joints, according to the sports injury physio.

Try to correct this by ensuring that your head is stacked. A good way to work on this is to think of your spine being lengthened as if there were a balloon pulling you up from the back of your head.

This can take some practice, but it will be worth it in the long run.

bad running form

Mistake #2: Looking upwards.

Much like Mistake #1, looking upwards while running is a bad idea for your neck health, and it also causes unnecessary strain.

But it goes beyond that. Looking upwards as you run will shift your centre of mass backwards, and, according to ultrarunner and coach, Joe Uhan at iRunFar, this shift if your centre of mass actually increases your likelihood of overstriding (Mistake #5- to be discussed soon!).

Mistake #3: Hunching your shoulders forward.

Hunching your shoulders while running is linked to general bad posture in everyday life, and you’ll likely make this mistake if you are a forward neck craner.

Hunching your shoulders as you run tends to increase the pressure of your chest and respiratory system, making it harder to breathe profoundly and utilise oxygen during your run.

Poor shoulder posture can also contribute to improper hip extension. When your upper body is collapsed, and your centre of gravity is shifted forwards, you won’t be able to achieve a neutral spine.

This means that you won’t be able to extend your hips properly, and instead, you will have to bring your legs forward to support you.

Instead, your neck and shoulders should be relaxed and in an upright position.

bad running form

Mistake #4: Swinging your arms from side to side.

When your arms swing side to side instead of back to front, your torso will rotate to compensate and maintain balance. This is pretty inefficient, and energy that could be used to propel you forward as you run is instead lost in this side-to-side motion.

Proper arm technique whilst running looks like; a smooth rhythm, elbows driving backward, arms close to the body, and arms naturally swinging from back to front.

Mistake #5: Overstriding.

Perhaps it’s counterintuitively, but overstriding makes your running a lot less efficient. Overstriding increases the effort that it takes to lift off and to cushion your landing.

Not only that, but it increases your risk of injury by ramping up the load on your hips and knees.

A good way to tell if you’re overstriding is to measure your cadence.

Generally speaking, a ‘good’ cadence should be around 150 to 190 steps per minute. If yours turns out to be in the 150 or below range, then there is a good chance that you are an overstrider.

bad running form

Mistake #6: Not engaging your glutes properly.

This is actually a very common type of bad running form that is often overlooked.

When your glutes are not engaged, it means that your other muscles have to do more work to support your running.

Consequently, it makes this running issue hard to identify. Your glutes won’t experience the brunt of the injury. Instead, the issue could manifest itself in hip flexor tightness, IT band issues, or an array of other problems.

Getting your glutes to fire properly can be done by isolating the glute muscles by stretching or performing weight-bearing exercises, thus essentially ‘waking up’ the lazy glute muscles.

bad running form

Mistake #7: Letting your knees collapse inwards.

If your knees collapse inwards as you run, it can lead to a host of other not so good knock-on effects on your running form such as:

  • Pelvis – External rotation
  • Hips – Internal rotation
  • Tibia  – External rotation
  • Rear foot – Internal rotation
  • Forefoot – External rotation
  • Foot arch – Pronation

Essentially, your whole form will be out of whack. Many of your joints will have to rest on each other but in a twisted fashion.

This can lead to a bunch of injuries including plantar fasciitis, shin splints, aches and pains, knee injuries, and lower back pain – which may be sciatica.

You are going to want to run with your knees driving directly forwards, in a neutral alignment.

bad running form

Mistake #8: Running on your tip toes.

Landing right on your toes is effective for sprinting and for short speedy bursts, but landing too far forward on your toes isn’t recommended for longer distances as it increases your risk of injury.

Tiptoe running during long-distance running could lead to shin splints or other injuries.

Instead, comfortable midfoot striking is generally recommended for distance runners.

Mistake #9: Pounding your feet.

If your feet come crashing down as you run, you are increasing the impact on your joints, and it is an inefficient use of energy as well as a way to increase injury risk.

Work on treading lightly and minimising the sound that your feet make as they strike the ground.

bad running form

How do I correct my bad running form?

Correcting your bad running form may seem like an overwhelming task.

But here are a few things to keep in mind as you work on becoming a more efficient, less injury-prone runner:

  • Look ahead.
  • Keep your arms at roughly a 90 degree angle.
  • Relax your hands.
  • Keep your spine lengthened.
  • Relax your shoulders down and back.
  • Keep your arms at your sides.
  • Rotate your arms from your shoulders.
  • Don’t bounce up and down too much.
  • Run lightly.
  • Keep your cadence quick.
  • Stretch and weight train.

Proper running form- how to

So we’ve discussed bad running form, now let’s flip the dialogue and focus on good running form!

Check out this article on how to make proper running form look effortless.

Photo of author
Maria Andrews is a runner, adventure lover, and UESCA certified Ultramarathon Coach. When she's not running around the woods or plotting adventures, she's spending time with her nearest and dearest, cooking up a storm, or working on Marathon Handbook's sister website, :)

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