Tired of watching runners who make it seem so smooth and effortless while your runs just seem like a constant struggle? If your runs are anything but smooth and efficient, then you’ve got some work to do to. You need to learn how to run properly and implement the proper running form.
Learning how to run properly is kind of like learning to swim. Just about anyone can stay afloat and even move around in the water by flailing around or resorting to the famous “doggy-paddle”.
But it’s not very efficient and you’ll be out of breath by the time you get to the other side of your kiddie pool. It takes determination and practice to refine your strokes to the point that you could swim effortlessly for miles.
The same’s true with running. If you’re more like the person who flails around and is out of breath by the time you get out of your culdesac, then this guide is for you!
So what will you learn in this guide?
We’ll teach you proper running form from head to toe. After three basic reminders, we’ll give you seven other tips for everything from head position to how to swing your arms. You’ve even got a BONUS guide at the end with some exercises that’ll help you run properly.
Read the guide now and get ready – your next run is going to be awesome!
How To Run Properly – 3 Foundational Tips
Before we focus on more detailed tips related to proper running form and the different body parts, here are a few basic things you should make sure you’re doing. These three things are the foundation of having good running form.
- Always Warm-Up
- You Need Proper Nutrition and Hydration
- Make Sure You Have the Right Shoes
1. Always Warm Up for Good Running Form
Main Takeaway: Always warm-up before starting your run.
Never start a run when your muscles are “cold”. It’s the fastest way to a quick injury. That’s why it’s important to start slow and get blood flowing to your muscles, joints and tendons before starting to run.
What constitutes a good warm-up? A good warm-up that promotes proper running form might involve a few minutes of walking combined with some light stretching.
IMPORTANT! Never stretch a “cold” muscle. Stretching a muscle that hasn’t been warmed up could actually cause injury instead of prevent it.
Try walking for a few minutes or doing some bodyweight squats and lunges before starting your stretches. If you want some good ideas for warm-up movements to get you primed and ready to run, check out this great run warm-up video.
So although you might be anxious to start your run, warming up is important to run properly and without injury.
2. You Need Proper Running Nutrition and Hydration
Main Takeaway: Have a snack and a glass of water 1-2 hours before your run.
If you haven’t eaten or hydrated properly it’s going to be virtually impossible to maintain good running form.
So make sure you’re hydrated before and during your run. About an hour or two before your run drink at least a large glass (16oz.) of water. Some people like to use sports drinks but in reality you don’t need those extra electrolytes unless you’re going on a long and intense run – like more than an hour.
What about hydrating during your run? How much do you need?
Here’s a general idea:
- 4-6 oz. every 20 minutes for an average pace
- 6-8 oz. every 20 minutes for a fast pace
And food? What should you eat before a run?
If you eat something directly before a run you’ll probably end up with an upset stomach. It’s actually best to have a snack about an hour or two before your run. You want foods that are easy to digest but still have some sticking power so they won’t cause a sugar crash.
Here are some ideas.
Try something like this:
- Half a banana with almond butter
- Bowl of oatmeal with berries
- Piece of toast with peanut butter
- High-fiber veggies
- Cheese and meat
- Candy or sugary drinks
3. The Right Shoes Can Help You Run Properly
Main Takeaway: Take the time to get the right shoes for your feet.
Something beginners often neglect is finding the right pair of running shoes. Choosing the right shoes that work well with the way your body moves can go a long way in helping you run with proper form.
That’s why it’s worth it to take the time to choose wisely. Learn about your feet and how they work. Do you have high arches? Are you a heel striker? Do you overpronate?
It’s surprising how much you can learn even just by looking at the soles on your last pair of shoes. Check out this video to learn what to look for when choosing your running shoes.
7 More Tips for Proper Running Form from Head to Toe
Now that you’ve got the three foundational tips squared away, let’s see how different body parts all contribute to proper running form. You might be surprised at how these few simple tweaks can make such a big difference!
EXTRA TIP: Video yourself while running!
Set up your phone or have a friend take a video of you running. Make sure it shows you from head to toe and has at least 10-15 secs of your running. Then, as you read through these tips refer back to your video to evaluate your running form.
Once you’ve completed this guide and have gone on a few runs to apply what you’ve learned, video yourself again. Then compare the two and see how much you’ve improved!
How to Use Your Head and Torso to Run Properly
Although your legs do most of the work while running, having a properly positioned head and torso is important to maintaining proper running form.
It’s common for people to experience some discomfort in their shoulders, back and neck after running for a while. If this is true in your case put the following tips into practice and you’ll quickly start feeling less pain, even after a couple of miles on the road.
Let’s start at the top with your head.
Main Takeaway: Keep your head up, chin lifted and stand tall.
In today’s modern world we’re used to looking down at our computer or phone screens. But while running, you actually want to do the opposite. So keep your chin up and resist the temptation to look at the ground directly in front of you – unless there’s a big pothole – always be aware of where you’re stepping.
The idea is that It’s better to keep your gaze lifted and stay focused on what’s ahead. Try to keep your gaze fixed on what’s about 20-30 feet in front of you. This’ll allow you to keep your head in a neutral position while still having a close watch on your footing.
You can also try imagining there’s a helium balloon tied to your head and it’s pulling upwards ever so slightly, helping you keep your head up and neck in a neutral position.
To see this in practice, check out this runner’s silhouette. She has great posture, her head is held high and she’s looking forward.
Something else you want to watch out for is tension in your neck and jaw. Many people will tense up their neck and jaw muscles when concentrating or when under exertion.
While you want to keep some tension in those neck muscles to support your head and maintain proper posture, try to relax as many muscles as you can in these areas. You’ll feel less discomfort and it’ll even help improve your endurance.
Keeping your head up meshes well with our next tip for your posture.
Main Takeaway: Stand tall to maintain a neutral and upright spine.
Good lung function is essential to be able to run properly. And it’s harder for your lungs to work if you have bad posture.
Try this test!
Hunch over and try to take a deep breath of air. Now correct your posture, sit/stand up straight with your shoulders back and take a deep breath of air.
Which was easier? Of course the second time. Good posture makes it easier to breathe in and keep supplying your muscles with necessary oxygen.
So when running, stand tall. Keep a neutral spine. Remember that helium balloon tugging on the top of your head? In addition to keeping your head up, imagine it helps pull you out of a slouching position and up to a straight posture.
As you slouch forward – like when working at a desk – your shoulders also will roll forward. To counteract this, try to keep your shoulders back. Imagine trying to squeeze something in between your shoulder blades. Keeping them tight opens up your shoulders and works to maintain proper posture.
Be sure to check out our BONUS section at the end to see some awesome exercises that help improve your posture.
Keep going with the next tip. It’s also essential to maintaining a good running posture.
Main Takeaway: Keep your core engaged.
In most athletic movements, your core – your abdominal and lower back muscles – is where your power comes from. Whether you’re a powerlifter, a cross-fitter or an endurance runner, you need to know how to engage your core muscles.
In fact, it’s virtually impossible to move a single part of your body without engaging some part of your core.
That’s why it’s important to focus on keeping your core muscles slightly tensed while running. This will promote good posture by keeping you from slouching or the opposite, overextending.
An engaged core also helps with proper running form by acting as a spring to propel you forward.
When you’re running and you swing your right foot forward, your torso moves in the opposite direction. Your left arm swings forward and your torso twists a little to the right.
When you swing your left foot forward, the opposite happens. This constant twisting back and forth keeps you running smoothly in a straight line.
When your core is engaged, this twisting motion works more efficiently and releases more power when you “unwind”. But now imagine you have weak core muscles or don’t properly use the ones you have.
This means your body will have to find other ways to compensate to keep you running in a straight line. This could mean turning your legs awkwardly, rolling your feet or doing other unnatural movements that’ll eventually result in pain or injury.
Be sure to check out some great core exercises we included in the BONUS section at the end of this guide.
Let’s talk now about the last part of our torso – the arms!
Main Takeaway: Keep your elbows bent and arms swinging (but not crossing in front of you!)
Yes, the legs get all the glory for being the main running workhorses. But your arms play a surprisingly large role in propelling you forward and maintaining proper running form.
Swinging your arms helps create the momentum for your legs to rhythmically move forward.
Want to see how much your arms actually help your running? Try running a mile with your arms behind your back. It’s really awkward and uncomfortable!
So to get the most out of your arm swing, avoid crossing your arms excessively in front of your body. This wastes a lot of the energy that comes through your arms by throwing it side to side and even makes you overcompensate with your core muscles.
To avoid doing this, keep your elbows tucked in. if you flare your elbows out to the side it makes it much easier to then cross them in front of your body. So keep your elbows tucked and your arms swinging parallel to your body.
Check how this runner keeps his elbows tucked close to his body.
Should your arms be bent?
Yes, keep your arms bent at about 90 degrees and avoid clenching your fists. This creates unnecessary tension. Remember when we talked about the head and core? It’s important to have some things tensed. Your fists just aren’t one of them.
So now that we’ve covered how to run properly by paying attention to your head and torso.
Let’s move on to the lower body.
How to Use Your Legs to Run Properly
You’ve already learned how to use your head and torso to run properly. If you’ve done that, moving your legs efficiently will come much easier.
So keep reading to learn how to use your lower body to maintain proper running form.
Main Takeaway: Drive the hips forward slightly to generate forward propulsion.
The position of your hips in relation to your shoulders and push-off leg determines how much you’re propelling your body forward.
Some beginner runners have the tendency to curl or hunch their torso forward to propel themselves ahead. But as you’ve already learned, you need to maintain good posture and a neutral spine while running.
However, while maintaining good posture, your shoulders should be slightly in front of your hips. If you were to get out your super-special running protractor you would see that this translates to about a 5-10 degree lean forward.
Take a look again at this silhouette of a runner. Notice how despite her maintaining a good posture and an upright head, her shoulders are slightly ahead of her hips.
Your hip positioning in relation to your push-off leg can also decrease your running efficiency.
Have you ever seen a runner who seemed like they were just bobbing up and down more than they were actually moving forward?
That means their hips were too close to the push-off point of their rear foot. When that happens you expend more energy into moving up and down rather than propelling yourself forward.
Most marathon runners will have a rear leg extension angle of 18 degrees or greater. And as the speed increases, so does the angle of extension.
Now this can be hard to do especially if you’re used to being in a seated position all day. So then next time you run, focus on driving your rear foot backward when pushing off. At the same time, think about driving your opposing hip forward.
As my good friend and mentor Shakira says, “Hips don’t lie.”
So pay attention to the position of your hips in relation to the rest of your body and your running form will improve drastically.
DON’T FORGET! Remember when I asked you to video yourself when running? Try to get some side shots and watch them in slow motion to see where your hips are positioned in relation to the rest of your body.
Keep reading – you don’t want to miss important tips for your knees and feet, plus the BONUS section at the end!
Main Takeaway: Don’t run like you walk. Land on a bent knee.
When you walk, your front leg tends to land when it’s almost straight. That’s ok when walking, but your running form should be a little different.
If you land with your leg far out in front of you when your leg’s completely extended, it acts as a kind of a braking mechanism and actually slows you down. Not to mention it’s hard on your knees.
You should actually be landing on a bent knee that acts as a spring, ready to propel you forward.
Check out this great video that analyzes Eliud Kipchoge’s running stride. Notice the position of his front knee when landing.
Main Takeaway: Try not to land on the balls of your feet rather than your heels or toes.
If you just watched the video of Eliud Kipchoge’s running stride, something else you probably noticed was where he lands on his foot. Instead of throwing his foot far in front and landing on his heel, he lands right on the ball of his foot when it’s almost under his hips.
As mentioned in the last section on the knees, throwing your leg too far forward to the point where you land on a fully extended leg and heel acts as a brake and will only slow you down.
So try to do the same as Eliud. Strike with the ball of your foot. It’s a much more efficient running stride and will help propel you forward.
If you’re used to landing differently, it can take time to learn to run properly. One thing that can help is getting the right pair of shoes that is designed specifically for either heel or toe strikers.
How to Run Properly – Ready to Have Proper Running Form?
So when’s your next run? Today? Tomorrow? You’re going to enjoy it a lot more once you begin refining your running form.
Don’t forget to begin with the basics like proper hydration, warm-ups and the right running shoes. Then focus on your different body parts and how you should use them to run properly.
Just because you read this guide doesn’t mean your running form will be instantly perfect. It takes work along with some trial and error to keep refining it.
Instead of trying to implement all of these tips on your first run, why not work down the list one by one? On your next run work at maintaining proper head positioning. Then on the next one focus on correct posture, and so on.
EXTRA TIP PART 2: Remember how you took a video of yourself running? After a couple of runs where you’ve worked on proper running form, take another video and compare it to the first to see how much you’ve improved and to show you what areas you need to work on further.
You’ve arrived at the BONUS section! Keep going to see some great exercises that’ll help with your running form.
BONUS! – Do These Exercises to Help Your Running Form
You already know that core strength and being able to properly engage those muscles is essential to proper running form.
Here are three awesome core exercises that’ll help strengthen that area. As you do them pay special attention to the mind-muscle connection.
That means you shouldn’t just focus on performing the exercise, but actively think about your core muscles to keep them fully engaged throughout the movement.
The Mountain Climber
Elbow to Knee Bird Dog
Sitting all day at a poorly designed desk in an uncomfortable chair is good posture’s worst enemy, yet that’s what many of us have to deal with.
It makes it really hard to maintain good posture for that relatively short time each day when you’re on your run.
Here are a few exercises that’ll help you improve your overall posture and make it easier to run with proper form.
This is a combination exercise and stretch.
- Stand up straight with a neutrally aligned neck and spine.
- Perform a nodding motion to tuck your chin.
- While your chin is tucked, focus on pulling the back of your head higher.
- You should feel a slight stretch in the back of your neck and upper back. Hold this position for 2 seconds.
- Repeat 8-10 times.
This one requires some equipment and a little practice to get it right but it’s one of the best exercises for improving posture and shoulder health.
Check out this video demonstration.
You can even do them with bands at home.
This is another amazing exercise that helps strengthen the upper back and shoulder blades. There are several ways you can do it depending on what equipment you have.
If you have a band:
- Hold the resistance band in front of you with outstretched arms at chest height.
- While keeping your arms straight and parallel to the floor, open them up until they are at your side and you are in a T shape.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together for 1-2 seconds at the end of the movement.
- Repeat 8-10 times.
If you have dumbbells and a pilates ball:
If you just have dumbbells:
Latest posts by Austin Mills (see all)
- 8 Benefits of Running To Improve Your Life in 30 Days - May 8, 2020