How To Improve Your Running Form

I cannot believe marathon training starts in 2 weeks for NYC Marathon…and for some of you doing a 20 week plan, it starts this week. I’m going to follow the first 2 weeks of a 20 week plan loosely, but not OFFICIALLY starting until 18 weeks out. Getting nervous!! Because running will really ramp up.

I’m not 100% sure yet what training plan I will be using, but I will post more about that once I choose (along with the 2 I’m considering and their pros and cons).

Anyway, today I wanted to talk about running form. We have all read about running form in one way or another, I’m sure…especially about foot strike. 

Running form can affect your injury patterns (or whether you get an injury), your efficiency and how much energy you use to run, your strength up hills or in that final sprint, and more. Here are a few tips that I have found helpful throughout my running journey and can maybe help you improve your running form as well:

4 ways to improve your running form today! | http://reach-yourpeak.com

Arm Swing

Arm swing is something that really helps propel you forward, especially when you’re getting tired. When you watch race videos (or am I the only one watching elites race on FloTrack lol), you notice how they really use their arms and pump them hard in order to run faster.

This is why doing upper body exercises are essential as well, especially in your off season. The stronger your arms, the faster you will go once your body is tired (like at the finish line, or up hills). 

When you’re running up hills, think of your arms as pulling on a rope to get you up (at least that is how I imagine it). Pump them like pistons. Same thing when you’re tired. During track workouts, I will also imagine “whipping” my hand back with power in order to help me excel forward.

You also want to makes sure your arms aren’t crossing over your chest/mid-line. Your elbows should be swinging straight back, and your hands straight (or almost straight) forward. “Hip to nip” is what I’ve read in many places.

Lastly, make sure your hands are relaxed. It’s easy to get tense and make fists when you’re going all out, but you want to stay relaxed. Pretend you’re holding an egg in each hand – if you squeeze too hard, you’ll break the egg. 

So to review:

  • Use your arms as pistons when you need more power.
  • Hip to nip. Don’t cross the midline.
  • Relax your hands, don’t make fists.

Stand Tall

Good posture is key. And something I also have to work on. I’ve noticed after marathons/long runs, my neck hurts, and my lower back. During Chicago Marathon, about half way through, I had to stop to get ibuprofen from a medical tent because I had such a bad headache from my neck tension. As I mentioned above, you want to make sure you’re relaxed and loose.

On runs, I regularly check in to see how my posture is. More often than not, I have to re-adjust. A good cue (and one I’ve mentioned here in the past) is “chest up, shoulders back.” Once you roll your shoulders back, it will help align everything else. Your neck won’t be forward, your lower back won’t be too arched, etc.

Your gaze should be ahead of you not staring down at the ground (unless you’re on a trail run, in which case, look at the ground so you don’t sprain an ankle). And your core should be engaged. I will talk about that in the next point.

Quick review:

  • Chest up, shoulders back.
  • Look ahead.
  • Relax your face. It’s easy to get all tense when you’re working hard, keep your face muscles relaxed.
  • Head and neck straight up and down (don’t lean your head back or forward/down when you get tired)

Pelvic Tilt

Have you ever heard of “sitting in the bucket?” It’s a common term that describes many runners. If you have had lower back pain after a run, this might be why (and definitely why I do as well).

Sitting in the bucket is when, “the pelvis tilts forward and the hips push back. “This posture reduces the power of the hip extensors, stresses the lower back, and shortens your stride. This posture is responsible for a lot of runners’ back and hip problems,” from Human Kinectics.

According to Runner’s World, “when the lumbar area is contracted and weak, the pelvic girdle will begin to rotate backward, causing the back musculature to overwork. This causes pain and keeps you from activating the proper muscles to propel you forward, making you compensate with other muscles.”

If you were to lay on your back and press your lower back into the floor, that is the posture you should have while running. Obviously this is easier said than done, and requires good core strength, which is why doing core exercises is so important.

A good exercise to do (and one suggested in that Runner’s World article) is reverse crunches. Here’s my how-to video:

You can hold on to a heavy object or bench if you need to, and work your way up to just using your own body strength. I also like to do leg drops where I keep my lower back pressed firmly against the ground. I can only lower my legs a few inches, but the key is to not go to low where your back starts coming up off the floor. Eventually you’ll work your way up (or down I guess) to lowering your legs fully.

While you’re running, check in and see if you’re engaging your core. Sometimes on a run, I will place my hand on my abs or hips and push on them to remind myself to engage my core and move my pelvis back.

Foot Strike

This one has been controversial. Initially, people were all about forefoot strike, but then people started saying foot strike wasn’t the be all end all of running form…who knows exactly? My thoughts are that you have your own running gait/pattern. Your body moves in a way that is most efficient to you. Many elites have a heel strike, and many have a mid-foot or forefoot strike. I think the key point is that you don’t ever want to be OVER striding.

A lot of new runners I’ve spoken with have been like “so and so is so fast because she has really big strides, I need to do that too!” And I’m like please don’t! 1) You should be shooting for 180 foot strikes per minute and 2) big elongating your stride past its natural point, you will then be forcing a heel strike, which means more braking forces on your legs, which could lead to injuries.

Next time you’re on a run, count how many steps you take per minute. Surprisingly, I’m exactly at around 180 per min. This might vary depending on how you run, your leg length, etc. 

Going along with the stride length, I think another key point to remember is to try to land beneath your body (and not in front of it). You can achieve this by having a slight forward lean while running, as opposed to leaning back, which many do once they’re getting tired or working hard at the end of a race.

Quick review:

  • Don’t overstride. It will lead to injuries
  • Shoot for 180 steps per minute.
  • Have a slight forward lean…do not lean backwards!

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If all of this confuses you, I highly recommend getting a gait analysis done, or just filming yourself running. I’ve learned a lot about my running form by doing a slow-mo video from behind of me running on a treadmill. 

I wouldn’t recommend getting a gait analysis done at a running store because often times it’s just younger kids working there or they are trying to push a certain shoe…I don’t know, there are a lot of factors. 

I would say go to a physical therapist or athletic trainer to get a running analysis done…or even a running coach like my old coach Marc! He has a special software to watch your running videos and analyze all your specific angles (like foot strike, leg stride, arm angles, etc.) You can find his running gait analysis services here.

Have you ever had a gait analysis or had a PT tell you something that needed to be changed?

Have you ever felt lower back pain after long runs? The worst!

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Comments

  1. My coach fixed my form for me. Made a huge difference!
    Carmy recently posted…Monday on the Run #45My Profile

  2. Definitely need these tips. Thank you!

  3. These are great tips, thank you!

  4. I’ve been working hard the past year to incorporate these exact tips into my running form. It takes a while to change things but it is helping
    Deborah @ Confessions of a mother runner recently posted…Granola Parfait Pops-Meatless MondayMy Profile

  5. This is soo helpful! I don’t like to think about running form too much because I got obsessed with foot strike a few years ago and lead to some problems….I do notice some lower back and shoulder discomfort after my longer runs, so I know I need to work on my core and improve my posture. Great tips!
    Janelle @ Run With No Regrets recently posted…Philly Marathon Pre-Training Week 2 RecapMy Profile

  6. Great tips! I love that you focus on things that are fixable, like posture and arm swing. It’s always a little touch to mess with a runner’s form. Some of the fastest runners I’ve seen have form that makes me cringe a little. I also agree that focusing on leg turnover, not stride length or where your foot hits the ground, is key to running faster.
    Debbie @ Coach Debbie Runs recently posted…Big Bear Running and Baby it’s HOT Outside!My Profile

  7. This is all so helpful!! I’m going to share your post on Twitter :)
    Michelle Rogers recently posted…Obesity may cause sugar cravings; Overtime linked to disease in women; Exercise helps prevent dementiaMy Profile

  8. great post! I do try to concentrate on my arms- where are they? Am I all over the place? My coach is working with me on the heel strike too. No back pain after long runs so maybe I am doing something right!
    Mary Beth Jackson recently posted…Happy June Week Three- The Big EasyMy Profile

  9. Great tips! I hadn’t heard of the “sitting in the bucket” before. I don’t usually get lower back pain, but I will have to pay attention to see what’s going on (or not going on) with my pelvic tilt.

    In my experience, there are a lot of running store employees who are great at gait analysis. And there are a lot of PTs who aren’t so great. I know in our area, our store works in conjunction with local PTs to help runners get the right shoe and gait advice for their needs.It’s nice when all the cogs in the community can cooperate and work together.
    Jenn recently posted…weekly recap x 2: 6.5 – 6.17My Profile

  10. Such great reminders on how important form is! My coach did a lot of work with me on this. The other thing that really helped me, believe it or not, was all that pool running I did last winter when I was training for Big Sur. There’ s no other way to pool run unless you are straight up and shoulders back. I’m going to head back to the pool, just to give my body a reminder!
    Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home recently posted…Life Goes On….My Week on the RunMy Profile

  11. Great post, Patty! I incorporate a lot of different exercises during strength training to help improve my running form- I have to say that it has helped me to run faster too!!!
    Annmarie recently posted…Mexican Lentil Pasta Salad {Gluten Free}My Profile

  12. Lots of great info here!!! I’m tall (long legs) and I have a really difficult time shortening my stride. I’m not trying to make it too short (that would be awkward and unnatural), but I do think my strides are longer than they should be (?). I think I have more of a mid-foot strike, though…I’m a constant work in progress LOL I have learned the value in using my arms for getting up hills, etc. It makes a huge difference!
    Kimberly Hatting recently posted…Not Rushing the RecoveryMy Profile

  13. I totally do the sit in a bucket thing. I’ve really noticed it late in longer races when I see pictures. I’m trying to be much more cognizant of it. Great information.
    MCM Mama Runs recently posted…NordicTrack Commercial 1750 Treadmill ReviewMy Profile

  14. I’ve noticed that the better my posture, the easier time I have running, and often the faster my pace is. Good posture plays such a huge role in so many aspects of our daily lives, including running.
    Kathryn @ Dancing to Running recently posted…Weekly Recap – Week of June 13thMy Profile

  15. Great tips! I have worked on my form on and off over the years and I did utilize many of these tips to improve my form!
    Toni @runninglovingliving recently posted…Fueling & Recovery with #NOWWellnessMy Profile

  16. My arms is an area I know I need to improve on. I hold my arms really high and tighten up my neck muscles when I run

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