May 07, 2021 9 min read

Want to run like the pros do on your cardio day or as you warm up?  Then follow these proper form tips and you’ll avoid common beginner mistakes.

With the right form, your runs will get faster, be more efficient, and you’ll avoid injuries.  To run like the pros do, then follow these top running tips.

Start With a Gait Analysis

Before you even start jogging, you should consider doing a gait analysis.  A gait analysis is a test that analyzes your running form and identifies how you can improve it.  It assesses the biomechanics of your body so that you can stay injury-free while running.

Most of the time, a running coach or physical therapist will perform the analysis.  There are a couple of ways they can then analyze your running form including:

  • Direct observation
  • Video technology
  • Kinetics systems

Once they identify the issues with your form, you can apply the corrections to your running. 

man jogging over rocky trail on mountain

Monitor Your Stride Length

Your stride length is the distance between the toes on one foot to the toes on your other foot as you run forward.  The proper length of your stride depends on your height, the distance you run, and some other body mechanics. 

You can try a stride calculator such as this one to calculate how long your stride should be.

Regardless of your personal factors, the right stride should minimize the impact on your feet and entire body as you run. It shouldn’t be too long so that your body has to catch up with your foot as you step forward and it shouldn’t be too short so that you’re bouncy.

Some tips to get the perfect stride length include:

  • Striking your foot right below versus in front of your body
  • Hinge just slightly forward from your ankles - not your hips or waist - so your body is on a minor angle
  • Creating one long line from your heels to the crown of your head

Having the optimal stride length is one of the central tenants of good running form.  If you lack a good stride, then other form factors will likely suffer.

Watch Where Your Foot Strikes

Foot strike refers to the location on your foot that first hits the ground as you stride forward.  The topic of which foot strike location is best tends to cause a lot of controversy amongst runners.

However, the truth is that foot strike location is going to be different for every person because where you strike your foot depends on factors unique to you as an individual such as your height and weight.

There are 3 common footstrike locations including:

  • Forefoot
  • Midfoot
  • Rearfoot

While it doesn't necessarily matter which foot strike location you have, it does matter that you are striking your foot in that position in a way that prevents injuries. First off, a forefoot strike means that you strike near your toes and the balls of your feet. 

People with this striking location often lean forward in their upper body as they run.  As a result, they commonly experience calf and Achilles tendon pain.  If you are a forefoot striker, then try your best to be aware of your upper body and that you’re not bending forward at your hips.

Second, striking at your midfoot means that the impact pressure evenly distributes across the entire bottom of your foot.  With this strike, you’ll reduce a lot of potential joint pain that forefoot and rearfoot runners experience.  However, people who strike at the midfoot often experience general foot pain. 

If you’re a midfoot striker, then try to come down as lightly as possible on your feet by not picking up your thighs too high. Third, rearfoot strikers strike the ground with their heels.  This is the most common type of foot strike amongst runners. 

Heel strikes commonly cause strain on the backs of your legs including your Achilles, calves, and hamstrings. Reduce pain in these areas by keeping your body in one long line. Each of the different types of foot striking is beneficial for different types of running. Rear and midfoot striking is best for marathon and distance runners whereas forefoot striking is better for sprinters. 

The Right Upper Body Running Posture

While your lower body does just about all of the work for running, your upper body plays a crucial role in assisting you.  You want to maintain the right upper body posture for two reasons:

  1. Poor upper body posture will draw energy away from your legs
  2. Bad posture will cause injury

Moreover, you want to have the right upper body posture so that it doesn't cause your lower body to suffer and draw away its energy.

How to Swing Your Arms and Hands

Your arms are there to help you run more efficiently.  That’s it.  They’re not there to power you forward but rather assist you in running more smoothly. However, many people overutilize their arms and hands.  They either have too much arm swing or clench their fists too tight.

This draws away energy that would otherwise be used for your legs and other body parts that require the most amount of energy in running. Therefore, the key to your arms and hands with running then is just not to overuse them. 

Rather, just keep them relaxed so that they’re not drawing unnecessary energy away from the other parts of your body that help to directly power your run. Utilize your arms and hands properly while running by:

  • Keeping your arms at a 90-degree angle
  • Relaxing your fists
  • Generating swing from your shoulders, not your elbows
  • Swinging your arms opposite your legs
  • Not dropping your arms below hip height

If you use these form strategies, your arms and hands won’t take away unnecessary and therefore make your runs more efficient.

Relax Your Shoulders

Runners have a common tendency of tensioning up their shoulders as they run.  The longer you go, the more stress your body endures and as a result, your shoulders begin to tense up.The key with your shoulders is just to relax them.

Even as you’re reading this right now, check that your shoulders are loose and not up towards your ears. As you run long distances, regularly check to see if your shoulders are too high or not.

Maybe every half of a mile or so, try to become conscious of whether your shoulders are relaxed or not and then make the proper adjustments. Proper shoulder form looks like this:

  • They are relaxed and not overly-tense
  • They aren’t hunching over
  • They have just enough tension so that they’re not swinging around

Try to find just the right tension middle ground to where your shoulders aren’t rising towards your ears yet don’t flop all over the place.

Stack Your Head Right Over Your Neck

Once your head and neck start to lose form, your entire upper body posture starts to crumble.  So, you must pay extra attention to where your head and neck are located. Follow these head and neck tips:

  • Keep your gaze focused about 20 meters in front of you - don’t look down!
  • The crown of your head should be centered above your neck
  • Keep your neck in a straight line

First off, do not look down as your run.  You should be looking straight ahead.  Once your gaze turns towards the ground, your head will start to hunch followed by your neck and shoulders.

Second, the crown of your head should be stacked right in the center of your neck.  Imagine that there’s a rod from the crown of your head through your neck that forces your head and neck to stay in line.  If you’ve ever seen a turkey walk with their head held in front of their neck before, then that’s what you don’t want to look like.

Third, avoid a curl in your neck.  Commonly referred to as texting neck, a curl in your neck occurs when your gaze is constantly pointed down, as you do when you text, rather than right in front of you.  When you’re running, avoid the texting neck at all costs.

Keep Your Core Strong

Your core is not only at the center of your body, but it’s also central to having good running form.  Without a strong core, both your upper and lower body running form suffer. The way to keep your core in good running shape is simply to have good core strength.

Because your core is where your center of gravity is located, you want it to be strong enough so that it holds everything in the right position. To keep your core in tip-top shape, try these core exercises to build strength:

  • Planks
  • Russian twists
  • Crunches

If you want to have a proper running technique, your core needs to be strong and kept slightly engaged as you run.

3D Camera Used to Record and Analyse Running on Treadmill

Proper Lower Body Running Form

Your lower body obviously does the majority of the work when you run.  Everything should be working from your calves to your quads to your glutes.  When your entire lower body is activated, you’ll certainly run faster. 

Strengthen Your Glutes

Runners commonly neglect their glutes.  The truth is that your glutes, along with your quads and hip flexors, are really the most essential muscle for running.  Having weak glutes can cause a lot of running injuries. Your glutes do two key things for you while running:

  1. Power you forward
  2. Stabilize your body

The next time you run, become aware of where your power is coming from.  If it isn’t in part coming from your glutes, then you have a problem.  Try and fire your glutes up as you run to propel yourself forward.  When you use your glutes for power, you will not only run faster but you’ll also prevent:

  • More injuries
  • Lower back pain
  • Overusing other body parts

Without fired-up glutes, your knees and back tend to be overused and thus lead to injuries.  Therefore, focus on building stronger glutes and then utilizing them more during your runs.  Some great exercises for stronger glutes include:

  • Lunges 
  • Squats
  • Glute bridges

Also, your glutes will help stabilize your body as you run.  When your glutes are stable, they prevent your pelvis and hips from swinging too much.  This extra stabilization further helps to prevent injuries.

Keep Your Hips and Pelvis In a Neutral Position

The proper hip form is one of the most important elements of a good running technique.  Like your glutes, your hip flexors along with your pelvis are essential to proper posture yet are very commonly overlooked.

The way to have correct hip flexor and pelvis posture is to keep them neutral.  By that, I mean to make sure that your hips are stacked right underneath your torso.  Do not rock back and forth or bend at your hips.  Keep everything stacked right on top of one another.

Your hips work very much in coordination with your glutes to help bring power to your stride.  So, one of the best ways to have good hip form while running is to have strong glutes.

Don’t Lift Your Thighs Too High

The goal with running is to move forward, not up or down.  So, when you’re lifting your thighs, you should avoid lifting them too high off the ground.  When you lift your thighs too high, a few things happen:

  1. You waste a lot of energy
  2. You increase pressure on your knees and feet
  3. You become too reliant on your quads for power

Over-reliance on your quads can be particularly bad for form.  Putting too much work into the run with your quads is likely to cause injury and take away some of the work that is best suited for your glutes and hamstrings.

Rather than picking your thighs up super high as your run, try to emphasize a pull from your hamstrings and glutes to propel you forward.  As you run, shift the work from your quads to the backs of your legs and glutes.  This will prevent your thighs from going too high and wasting energy.

How to Breathe Correctly

Breathing properly is another aspect of good running form.  It’s important to breathe properly while you run so that your body stays optimally filled with oxygen.

When you exercise, your body requires more oxygen to sustain your muscles.  If you breathe in a way that limits the amount of oxygen you take in, then your lungs will require more energy to function properly and will draw away energy that could be otherwise used to help you run better.

To breathe correctly while running, follow these tips:

  • Breathe mostly through your mouth, not your nose
  • Try to breathe in a rhythmic pattern
  • Breathe deeply from your belly rather than taking shallow breaths from your chest

When you apply these tips to your breathing, your muscles will get more oxygen and you'll resultantly run faster.

Man tying jogging shoes

Consider Getting Proper Running Shoes

In addition to following these tips, you can get closer to the proper running form by purchasing the right pair of running shoes.  Investing in a good pair of running shoes is one of the best things you can do to help ensure good form. 

Because running is an overall low-cost workout, you should consider at least investing in the right shoes.  Especially if you are into sprinting or are marathon training, having the right shoes is of the utmost importance. Benefits of having a good pair of running shoes include:

  • Reduced risk of injury
  • Better foot support
  • Improvement of athletic performance

Additionally, many shoe stores will run a free gait analysis on you when you go to pick out shoes.  Just another perk of having the right shoes!

The Bottom Line on Jogging Form

Just like lifting or any other exercise, form is the most important aspect of running.  Whether you’re a seasoned runner, just getting started, or only jog as a warm-up exercise, form will always be king. Get the most out of your runs and minimize potential injuries with good form. Follow these tips and you will be doing it just like the pros.

 

Bonus tip: If running isn’t your thing, don’t sweat it.

Walking is a simpler yet in many ways equally effective cardio workout when compared to running.  


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