Proper Running Form – 8 Tips to make It Effortless

Let’s talk about proper running form.

You might assume that when it comes to proper running form its a different strokes for different folks kind of situation. Every body is different right?

Not quite.

There are some fundamental pillars of good running form, and on the flip side, of bad running form.

In fact, most runners could do with either fine-tuning or completely restructuring their running form.

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

And as a result of having poor running form, runners are likely to have an inefficient running technique, or worse, get injured.

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

So keep reading if you want to improve your running economy and stay injury free.

In this essential read for runners, we are going to take a deep dive into;

  • What proper running form is,
  • how to know if you have proper running form,
  • and how to achieve proper running form in 8 simple steps.

Ready?

Lets work down from our head to our toes.

PROPER RUNNING FORM - 8 TIPS TO MAKE IT EFFORTLESS

We’ve also summarized these points in this quick Running Form Web Story!

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.

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 backwards.

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

PROPER RUNNING FORM - 8 TIPS TO MAKE IT EFFORTLESS

How do you know if you have proper running form?

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. Hire a running coach.

2. Film yourself run.

A good running coach will be able to analyse your form for you and help you to make corrections.

And if that’s not an option for you, simply set up your phone (or rope a friend in), and film yourself running past.

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

On to the tips!

PROPER RUNNING FORM - 8 TIPS TO MAKE IT EFFORTLESS

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 crain 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, 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.

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 iRunFarthis shift if your centre 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 down hill.

Keeping your gaze ahead helps your chin stay in a neutral position.

You’ll breathe easier and avoid unnecessary neck pain and strain.

PROPER RUNNING FORM - 8 TIPS TO MAKE IT EFFORTLESS

Tip #2: Shoulders down and back

Whenever we exercise, it’s very easy to tighten our shoulders and hunch them up.

It’s a common reaction to stress as well as just being a familiar position. After all, for a lot of people, hunching over at a desk for most of the day is the standard.

Hunching your shoulders puts extra pressure on the respiratory system, and makes getting in enough oxygen a lot harder.

Tightening your shoulders forward also contribute to improper hip extension. When your upper body is collapsed, your centre of gravity is shifted forwards, 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 and back, and loose of any tension.

This means that we can open out 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.

PROPER RUNNING FORM - 8 TIPS TO MAKE IT EFFORTLESS

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 centre of gravity left to right, and in turn, your torso will compensate by rotating in order to maintain balance.

Instead, make sure that your arms are swinging in a forward to backwards motion, with your elbows tucked into your sides.

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

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

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

PROPER RUNNING FORM - 8 TIPS TO MAKE IT EFFORTLESS

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 reaction to stress, 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 proper running form.

This is an incredibly powerful area of your body, and it’s 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.

PROPER RUNNING FORM - 8 TIPS TO MAKE IT EFFORTLESS

Tip #5: Hinge at the hips

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

The secret is to hinge forward with your hips.

You don’t need to tilt forward too much, but keeping your torso slightly bent forward will give you a bit of momentum that will propel you forward.

It’s an efficient use of energy that won’t result in sore necks, shoulders, and lower backs! It also means that your hips and glutes will be doing a lot of the work, saving your legs from getting too tired.

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.”

PROPER RUNNING FORM - 8 TIPS TO MAKE IT EFFORTLESS

Tip #6: 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.

Tip #7: 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 make sure that your knee stays in line with your foot as it strikes.

So knees directly over feet as you strike, not way forwards or behind.

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

PROPER RUNNING FORM - 8 TIPS TO MAKE IT EFFORTLESS

Tip #8: 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.

There is no one size fits all number when it comes to 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.

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.

So shortening your stride can reduce your injury risk, and means you’re not over-activating your leg muscles.

PROPER RUNNING FORM - 8 TIPS TO MAKE IT EFFORTLESS

Proper Running Form = Sustainable Running

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 go faster and have more energy on your runs.

Remember, your form is something that you should be consistently checking in on as a runner.

Check out these articles on other building blocks of highly effective runners:

Cross Training For Runners

The Best Post Run Routine

HowTo Warm Up Before Running

Maria Andrews

Maria Andrews

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 🙂

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