How To Achieve A Proper Running Technique

If you’re into running, we’re sure you know that running with good form helps you perform well and reduces your risk of injury.

But unless you’ve worked with a coach, you’ve probably had to figure out how to run on your own, and you could do with some pointers. Let’s examine how to achieve a proper running technique.

Aim to optimize your unique natural form to achieve a proper running technique. To do so, concentrate on maintaining a relaxed and neutral running posture and running with a shorter stride length. You do not generally have to worry about footstrike or cadence.

Some aspects of good running form are universal, and we will show you how to incorporate these into your running style. However, everyone has their unique way of running, and overthinking how you run can do more harm than good. Let’s see what makes up a good running technique.

Should You Try To Change Your Running Technique? 

How to achieve proper running technique

While you can benefit from optimizing your natural running form, trying to fit into an ideal mold that does not consider your unique makeup can create problems that didn’t previously exist.

Let’s examine this idea.

Every Runner Has A Unique Makeup And History 

The first thing to know about running techniques is that everyone has a unique anatomy.

For example, someone who has the head of the femur rotated forward will tend to run with their toes turned in. If you have such anatomy, trying to turn your toes out more won’t work, and the attempt may result in injury.

Every runner has different strength, endurance, and mobility, which will affect their running style. What’s more, every runner has their own unique goals and history of training and injuries, and you need to consider this when modifying your running style.

Your unique way of running is known as your natural form. While you can improve your natural form, you should do so with caution.

One important thing to know is that the shoes you wear can interfere with your natural form and cause you to run in a sub-optimal way for your unique makeup. For this reason, many runners nowadays favor “barefoot” shoes with minimal cushioning rather than the heavily-cushioned shoes formerly in fashion.

Proceed With Caution When Changing Running Form

Even at the level of elite runners, there is often room for improvement in running technique, and coaches sometimes intervene to enhance their charges’ natural running form.

However, you’ve probably noticed that not all elite runners run the same way, and some display tendencies that you could regard as faults

For example, Michael Johnson notoriously ran too upright, and the legendary Emil Zátopek’s torso swung from side to side. 

Emil Zatopek

Despite this, coaches often leave well alone rather than create problems by interfering with natural biomechanics. Because each runner has a unique build and distinctive natural form, what could be the right tweak for one runner may create problems for another. Optimization means optimization of one’s natural form.

You should implement changes with caution, as it can create problems. It’s too easy to overcompensate and change a minor flaw or even a distinctive quirk into a severe problem in the other direction.

What’s more, different paces require different techniques. How you run at 7 minutes to the mile will be very different from how you run at 4 minutes. Overthinking your running style can mess up your body’s natural mechanisms for compensating for different speeds.

When You Should Try To Change Your Running Form

The cautionary note above does not mean you shouldn’t try to improve your natural running form. You can do certain things to enhance how you run naturally, and doing these can benefit you.

So when should you try to change your running form?

One excellent indication that you need to change your running form is if you are experiencing injuries. Running with an optimized natural form should result in injury-free running. Additionally, if you aren’t comfortable in your running style, try tweaking it to accommodate your body’s natural biomechanics.

You could also try changing your form if you are aiming to improve your performance. It’s best to enlist the help of a coach when doing so.

Whatever changes you make, implement them gradually. You will have to think about them, to begin with, before they become unconscious. Focus on the changes that will bring the most benefit first.

The Role Of Ancillary Training In Correct Running Form

Mobility issues in particular joints can affect attempts to correct form, as can strength issues in specific muscles. You need to do ancillary training to support running form. If your joints aren’t loose enough or your muscles strong enough, tweaking your running technique won’t work.

Not only does ancillary training support your natural biomechanics, but your efficiency will naturally improve as you get fitter.

The Best Overall Running Posture

Some changes to your running style won’t make a significant difference. But good posture most certainly will. 

You run with your whole body and following good running posture tenets will help optimize your unique natural running form. 

Start with your head and neck aligned and loose. Face forward with your neck relaxed, not straining upward or hunched down. Try imagining a balloon attached to the top of your head, pulling it up so that your neck is loose and free below, and your head rides on your neck. 

Look ahead about 10 to 20 feet, not downward at the ground. Try to identify upcoming hazards before you are on top of them! Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed, not hunched and stiff. Loosening up is one of the most beneficial changes you can make to your running style – and it will help you breathe better, too.

Hold your arms relaxed with a slight bend to your elbows. Your arms play a vital role in good running form, and you can’t run properly without them. They counterbalance your hips and pelvis rotation, with your left arm swinging back when your left leg drives forward and vice versa. If they are too tight, they can’t correctly perform as counterbalances.

Indeed, Emil Zátopek, despite his undesirably swinging torso, followed this advice about keeping loose.

He offered the following counsel to runners on how to achieve looseness: gently touch the tip of your index or middle finger to the end of your thumb to ensure relaxation in the arms and shoulders. 

Keep your arms at your side. If they cross in front of your torso, you reduce your efficiency and negatively affect your breathing. 

Keep your torso upright and aligned. Staying erect helps you to breathe correctly. Generally, a slight forward lean (about 10 degrees from the vertical) helps maintain the spine in correct alignment, with the lower back suitably flat and not excessively flexed or rounded.

Don’t lean forward or back from your waist, as this causes strain on your back.

Move your hips to get sufficient power. The best way to improve your hip motion and power is to squeeze the left glute when your left leg is pushing off and your right glute when your right leg is pushing off.

This technique will take concentration to begin with, but with time will become automatic.

Should You Make Changes To Your Footstrike And Cadence?

While many people say that your footstrike matters and that you should strike the ground either on your midfoot or further forward to avoid injury, the truth is that it doesn’t matter. 

Why Your Footstrike Doesn’t Matter (And What Does)

Changing your footstrike will take a long time (as long as a year) as you develop new neuromotor patterns and get the required strength and flexibility for the new technique. In that time, you will get injured as you try to adapt. Many would say it’s not worth it.

The ostensible reason for changing your footstrike is to reduce impact forces that can cause injury to the knee. However, changing your foot strike can cause increased strain to your ankles. 

What’s more, the thing that affects impact forces is stride length. Shorter strides make for reduced impact forces.

Rather than trying to change your footstrike, aim to shorten your stride and land with your shin roughly vertical, your feet under your body, and your knee slightly flexed at the moment of impact. Landing in such a way helps to absorb the shock. 

Taking long steps and landing with an extended knee, an error known as overstriding, puts more force on your knee instead of sending it up to your body for your glutes and core to absorb.

When You Should Consider Changing Your Running Cadence

A hip flexor injury

There’s quite a bit of debate among running experts about what constitutes ideal cadence and whether you should try changing yours.

In case you didn’t know, cadence is how many steps you take per minute.

Some say your cadence should be 180 steps per minute or more. Indeed, overstriding, which, as we have seen, is a fault that puts increased strain on your joints, happens more at lower cadences.

Increasing your cadence can shorten your stride and reduce your risk of injury.

However, your height and leg length will affect your ideal cadence, and therefore, prescribing absolute numbers for perfect cadence is not a good idea, as it tries to force all runners into the same mold. 

So when should you consider altering your cadence? If you are experiencing joint injuries in your legs, try speeding up your cadence. Doing so will lead to you taking shorter strides, improving your biomechanics, and helping stop you from getting injured.

The other reason to try speeding up your cadence is if your goal is to improve your performance, such as if you are shooting for a personal best. Try working with a coach, or use your phone to film yourself and analyze your cadence to see the effect that speeding up has.

What Pain Or Discomfort Says About Running Form

If you have strength or mobility issues somewhere in your body, it will lead to poor natural form and cause pain. The best fix is to correct the root of the problem rather than focusing on your form.

Tight hip flexors affect your ability to swing your leg back, impacting your cadence.

Tight hamstrings and calves can shorten your stride too much. Meanwhile, weakness in your core and glutes may cause you to arch your back too much and affect your ability to absorb the impact of running. 

You may have issues with hip drop and excessive adduction if you have a history of iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) or patellofemoral pain syndrome. Any imbalance between one side of the body and the other also causes problems.

The best fix for any of these issues is to see a physiotherapist who understands runners’ needs and ask them to figure out why you’re hurting and prescribe exercises to correct the underlying problem. 

Our Verdict On Proper Running Technique

Changing your running technique can reap benefits in reduced injury or improved performance.

However, you are unique, and as a result, your natural running style will be too.

Adopt changes to optimize your natural running form cautiously, concentrating on the factors that matter the most: a relaxed and neutral running posture and a shorter stride length.

Author Profile

Michael Paulson

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Michael is a frequent contributor, which is a miracle to us as he quite literally runs for days with the rest of his time. An ultra marathon specialist, Mike is the kind of guy who posts a 30K Morning Run on Strava before we’ve had our breakfast and prefixes it with the smart-assery: “Guess I wasn’t feeling it today.” He runs like he writes: slow with bits flying everywhere.
Michael Paulson

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