The key to improving your running form is to focus on the running basics first, and not try to adapt too many running form improvement techniques too quickly. When you keep it simple, it all begins to make more sense.
Running form develops in time, and by focusing on the basics first, you’ll improve without being completely overwhelmed. When we try to focus on everything before it is time, confusion wins out and a lack of progress follows.
Perform a Head-to-Toe Inventory one or two times per run.
Understanding what your body is doing by performing an inventory, head to toe, will allow you to learn how your body is moving forward and bring awareness to your running style. Perform this inventory a few times during your run and let this simmer for several weeks.
Your head should be over your shoulders, eyes looking forward.
Neck and shoulders should be relaxed—tightness here is a huge energy suck.
Arms bent (don’t worry about the exact degree just yet) and swinging like a pendulum from your shoulder. Still confused? Stand with your feet hip width apart and arms long and start swinging them. You’ll notice they follow a natural arc from your hip to your center line. Now bend your arms and keep swinging with relaxed shoulders—this is it!
Relax your hands—you’re not getting ready for a fight! If it helps, think of something delicate in your palm (bird, chip…)
Hips should be under the shoulders. Think of natural alignment from head to toes. Watch other runners for this one and you’ll see what I mean. If they are bent or slouched forward, they are out of alignment.
Your feet should land with short, quick strides under your hips.
Next—Focus on your feet.
Once you learn how to run in alignment and with less tension with the head-to-toe inventory, the next step is to dial in your tempo, or the number of strides per minute. During the heart of your run, count the number of strides (or steps) your right foot takes in one minute.
According to Coach Jack Daniels, the general rule of thumb for efficient running is 90 strides per minute for one foot, or 180 for both, but there is variance based on leg length. The key is in knowing what your tempo is, and if you’re in the 70s to low-80s, you’re likely trying to cover too much ground with each step—a common newbie mistake.
If this is the case, practice running with shorter, quicker steps. One fun way is to run to a fast-paced song, you can also learn via gadgets like a Garmin. Like proper alignment, being aware of your tempo will have a profound effect on your energy management and efficiency down the road, but it will take time to learn.
Warm Up and Build Your Running Game Slowly.
This may not seem like a running form tip, but it certainly is, especially if you sit during the day and head out for your run post-work with your hips and hamstrings so tight you could play a tune on them. Invest at least three to five minutes in walking briskly and with purpose.
Try backwards walking to open your hips (be careful) and foam rolling if you are particularly tight in areas (hips, ITB, hamstrings). Also have a look at our article on the benefits yoga can bring to your running. A warmup is the gateway to better running form, as it prepares your body to run optimally.
Avoid trying to run ‘perfect’ initially if you still need to learn how to run or you’re fresh into the running scene. Like all sports, investing the time in building the mechanics, fitness, and stamina will allow you to run stronger more quickly than jumping ahead. In many cases, running form issues stem from a lack of foundation of miles and mechanics and can be easily resolved by a solid running training plan and following steps one and two above.