Proper Running Form: 9 Tips To Perfect Your Running Form

Improve your running economy and decrease your injury risk with our top tips.

All runners have their particularities, and no two people will run exactly the same with the same posture, foot strike, cadence, etc. Perhaps the “ideal” or proper running form will indeed improve one athlete’s performance and hinder another’s.

However, there are some fundamental pillars of good running form, including keeping your shoulders back and relaxed, landing under your center of mass, and keeping your elbows at a 90-degree angle, as there are clear aspects of bad running form to watch out for.

Many hunch their shoulders over, over-stride, or over-rotate their hips.

As a result of having poor running form, runners are likely to have an inefficient running technique or, worse, experience overuse injuries.

But don’t worry! Having proper running form is something anyone can work to achieve, and it’s never too late!

In this essential read for runners, we are going to take a deep dive into proper running form and how you can improve your running and lower your risk of overuse running injuries.

Ready? Let’s work from our heads to our toes.

A person running on a track.

What is proper running form?

Although it does look slightly different for everyone, proper running form is, according to science, stacking your body systems in a straight line.1Collins, C. K., Johnson, V. S., Godwin, E. M., & Pappas, E. (2016). The reliability and validity of the Saliba Postural Classification System. Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy24(3), 174–181. https://doi.org/10.1080/10669817.2016.1138599

What does this mean?

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 backward.

In other words, proper running form is when your body is aligned and you have a slight lean forward, (not bending at the waist, but your entire body leaning forward as if it were a wooden plank).


How do I Know if I Am Running Correctly?

Like most things, it’s easier to know if someone else has proper running form than it is to notice it in your own running.

But don’t fret; we have tools at our disposal to help us become a more self-aware runner!

You have two options;

  1. You could hire a running coach who could expertly observe your biomechanics and running posture and give you one-on-one guidance to fix common mistakes and obtain the proper running form.
  2. Film yourself running. Set up a camera first to the side of you and then behind you as you run on a treadmill at a steady pace. Then, you can analyze your running form to see which aspects you could work on, whether your arm swing or a slight forward lean.

If you don’t have access to a treadmill, you can have a friend fil you as you run by.

And with the following list in mind, you’ll be able to pick up on areas that need readjusting.

On to the tips!


What are the Key Elements of Proper Running Form?

Tip #1: Eyes up and chin down

The first thing to do when running is to get your head right!

Many runners tend to raise their chin when they’re tired or crane their necks up and out.

Leading with the neck is not only an inefficient use of energy, but it can restrict breathing, and put a strain on the neck muscles and joints.

In fact, not aligning your head with your neck and shoulders, adds about 5kg of strain to your neck muscles and joints, according to the sports injury physio.2Neck Pain While Running – Quick Fix Guide. (2016, July 20). Sports Injury Physio. https://www.sports-injury-physio.com/post/neck-pain-while-running

‌But it goes beyond that. 

Looking upwards as you run will shift your center of mass backward. This shift of your center of mass actually increases your likelihood of overstriding (Tip #8- to be discussed soon!).

This means adjusting your gaze so that you aren’t looking down at your feet or up at the sky.

You should be looking directly ahead or at the ground about 10 – 20 feet in front of you, especially when running up or downhill.

Keeping your gaze ahead helps your chin stay in a neutral position. You’ll breathe easier and avoid unnecessary neck pain and strain.


Tip #2: Shoulders down and back

It’s very easy to tighten our shoulders and hunch them up whenever we exercise.

It’s a common stress reaction and just being in a familiar position. After all, hunching over at a desk for most of the day is the standard for many people.

Hunching your shoulders puts extra pressure on the respiratory system, making getting enough oxygen much harder.

Tightening your shoulders forward also contributes to improper hip extension. When your upper body collapses, your centre of gravity shifts forward, so 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.

When we run, we want our shoulders to be down, back, and loose of any tension.

This means we can open our chest, allowing for big, full, deep breaths.

Throughout your run, check in and see how your shoulders feel. Give them a periodic shrug and make sure they are nice and loose.


Tip #3: Swing your arms forward to back

Many runners swing their arms from side to side, elbows pointed left and right, rotating their arms around their body.

Doing this constantly shifts your center of gravity from left to right, and in turn, your torso will compensate by rotating to maintain balance. You don’t want your arms to cross in front of your body as you run.

Instead, ensure that your arms are swinging forward-to-backward, with your elbows tucked into your sides.

This way, your energy output is used to propel you forward, not to sway you from side to side.

Don’t worry about pumping your arms, instead, drive your elbows backwards and let your arms naturally swing forward.


Tip #4: Relax your hands

Keep your hands nice and loose.

It is common for runners to hold tension in their hands, balling them into tight fists. This is an automatic stress reaction, and we tend to grip as we become tired.

So go ahead and trick your brain into thinking you aren’t tired by keeping your hands tension-free.

A top tip is to imagine that you are holding a piece of paper in your hand- don’t scrunch it up!

Tip #5: Straighten your spine and tighten your core

Keeping your spine straight and your core tight is key to good posture and proper running form.

This is an incredibly powerful area of your body, and your core strength is where a lot of your running strength comes from.

tall spine will help you breathe easily and use energy more efficiently. It also enables you to keep your core tight and secure.

Keeping your abdominals in check will support your spine and better absorb the energy when your foot strikes the ground.


Tip #6: Slightly Lean Forward

While you want your back and core tall and straight with your neck and shoulders in line, you want to lean forward a little when you run.

The secret is to not bend at the waist, but lean your entire body forward in one solid piece.

You don’t need to tilt forward too much, but keeping your body slightly bent forward will give you some momentum to propel you forward.

It’s an efficient use of energy that won’t result in neck, shoulder, or lower back pain!

This recommendation is backed by The National Academy of Sports Medicine, saying that your lumbo-pelvic-hip complex should have a “slight lean during acceleration.”3Get Certified! Nutrition & Personal Training Certifications, NASM. (n.d.). Www.nasm.org. https://www.nasm.org/


Tip #7: Bend your knees slightly

You don’t actually need to bend your knee that much to lift your foot off the ground and strike.

In fact, bending it too much and lifting your knees up high in front of you is a very inefficient use of energy.

Instead, bend your knee while keeping it lower to the ground so that your hips don’t have to waste energy picking up your entire leg. It will also cushion your foot strike.

Tip #8: Keep your legs underneath you

When you bring your foot down to strike, try to keep your shin perpendicular to the ground.

For proper running form, you also want to ensure that your knee stays in line with your foot as it strikes.

So, knees directly over feet as you strike, not way forward or behind. Each foot lands directly underneath your center of mass.

Doing this will reduce your risk of injury, as the impact shock will be absorbed more efficiently.


Tip #9: Keep your strides short

But how do you keep your legs underneath you and in line with your feet as you strike?

The secret is in proper cadence. Cadence is the number of steps you take per minute of running. This is different from stride length, which is how long your actually steps are.

There is no one-size-fits-all number for running cadence but taking shorter, faster steps makes you a more efficient runner and reduces the impact on your joints.

Over-striding is a common issue among runners, and will eventually affect otherwise proper running form as you fatigue.

This is when you stretch your leg further out than is necessary and, in turn, land heavily on your heel.

While heel striking is not necessarily bad, over-striding needlessly amplifies the impact forces with each step.

Is there a perfect footstrike for proper running form?

The research is a mixed bag on this one.

Each runner will have a foot strike pattern that works best for them and their biomechanics, whether it be a forefoot strike, midfoot strike, or heel strike. The secret to proper running form is not overstriding, no matter which foot strike pattern is most comfortable and efficient for you.

Shortening your stride can reduce your risk of overuse injuries such as shin splints or runner’s knee, and means you’re not over-activating your leg muscles.

If you would like to practice your cadence, you can download a playlist of high-BPM songs to get those feet moving! Just run along with the beat of the music.


Why Is Proper Running Form Important?

If you’re a runner, you probably want to keep at it for as long as possible.

This means staying injury-free. And guess what? Having proper running form is one of the best ways to do that!

Not only that, but having proper running form means you’ll run faster and have more energy on your runs.

Remember, whether you are a beginner runner or have years and years of run experience, maintaining proper running form is something that you should be consistently checking in on.

We hope our running tips on how to run properly have helped you out. We also have a YouTube video detailing these points in great detail if you are interested in checking it out!


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, yogajala.com :)

4 thoughts on “Proper Running Form: 9 Tips To Perfect Your Running Form”

  1. Imho, one of the best instructions I’ve ever read. I’m saying from my experiences and own research with my 41 marathons in 12 years including 10 Boston marathons. We all tries to save knees and hips joints which is bottom line. Along with these great instructions finding your own body efficiency is key, but it’s easy to say. Thank you for great article.


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