5 Signs Of Bad Running Form: And How To Fix Them

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Just because we can run from a young age… doesn’t mean our technique is the best.

How we run can cause severe strain and aches, ultimately leading to injury or under-performance. However, since running is so popular, there are plenty of ways to analyze harmful running form and find ways to fix them.

If you’re struggling after your latest race, or not recovering as fast as you’d like, we’re going to address some classic signs of bad running form – and how to fix them.

The most common signs of bad running form are soreness of the back, lower back, knees, ankles, and feet. You may also have aching in your shoulders or chest due to bad running technique, which you or a friend may notice as indicated by hunched or forward shoulders and chin while running.

Many running forms can result in injuries or unnecessary pain and tension if you don’t work hard on teaching yourself how to use better techniques.

However, if you take running seriously or are training and want to improve your times, bad running techniques can also influence performance in a major way. And not for the better.

To reduce the strain on your body and improve, you should know where your running technique is lacking.

What Are The Signs Of Bad Running Form?

Signs of Bad Running Form

There are many ways you and others can tell if you have bad running form.

However, the most likely sign is that your body is hurt or aching or that you sustain injuries regularly.

Though the pain factor is a wake-up call, it is not the only reason or way to tell if you have bad running form.

If you have the time and money to see a specialist, it is a good idea to ask a professional to help you improve your running technique.

However, if you have a camera, a friend who’s willing to help, or a mirror, it is likely that you will be able to see much of what you need to improve without the help of a professional.

Below are some of the most well-known mistakes people make when running. Some of these are easier to see than others.

Straining Your Neck

The first and one of the most common mistakes runners make is how they hold their head and even where they look.

If you push your head forward instead of letting it rest, you may put extra strain on your neck and upper back, which is one of runners’ worst and most commonly felt pains. It can also have a negative effect on your breathing, causing all kinds of performance losses.

It’s best to look where you want to go, as this can protect your neck and other joints and muscles in your body from some awkward imbalances.

Some studies have shown that, for example, looking up instead of forward can change your gravitational pull and cause your weight to lean backward and put a strain on your neck, back, and knees.

There’s an exception to this rule – if you are running on trail or across terrain that has obstacles that are likely to trip you up. In those cases, it’s always safer to look down slightly.

Hunching Your Shoulders

Another common mistake we see is athletes running with their shoulders hunched or pushed up or forward. Doing this may put additional strain and tension on your shoulders, chest, and upper back.

Do you spend a lot of time sat at a desk? You probably already know you have hunched up shoulders and the bad news is that running can exasperate this muscular imbalance. 

Though not all runners have this problem, it is prominent in those with an otherwise sedentary lifestyle and may stem from bad posture or an attempt to stay balanced and control your arms.

However, there are ways to keep your arms from swinging around without hurting your shoulders and back.

Overstriding

Foot strike for running form

Since most of us associate the speed of our walk or run with the length of our steps, it is natural that we assume we will be faster if we take larger steps. But it’s not true…

Bigger steps tend to do the opposite of making you faster and have the added negative of putting you at greater risk for injuries, putting you at increased risk of both overpronation and supination.

If you are unsure how to tell if you are overstepping, you can measure your cadence to help you determine the rough turnover. The easiest way to determine your tempo is to count your steps for 15 seconds and multiply that by four to determine how many steps you take per minute.

A good range is between 160 and 190, and under 150 means you are likely overstriding.

Apps like Strava can measure your cadence while you run, making them particularly useful if you are trying to improve this part of your technique.

Stepping Too Hard

Though this may seem strange, there is a chance that you may be running “too hard” or “too loud,”

This technical fault can add extra strain on your joints and make you a less effective runner. If you can hear your footsteps clearly when you run and notice that your feet are hitting the ground with force, this is an issue that you should work on improving.

Stepping too hard or landing each step with too much force is also very common in combination with other harmful running forms like overstriding and looking upward while you run.

There’s a reason why runners use terms like “pounding the pavement” – and that reason is because the body absorbs a huge amount of stress while we’re running. Particularly on concrete.

Improving your foot strike is key if you are stepping too hard. Try to avoid heel striking and aim for a mid-foot or forefoot strike. This should create a softer landing, meaning less stress travelling through your body.

Not Controlling Your Arms

Are your arms windmilling all over the place?

When it comes to your arms, there are a lot of mistakes runners can make, and these usually influence other parts of your body too.

One common mistake is allowing your arms to swing freely while running. Doing this will tire you, impact your breathing, and cause you to slouch or hunch your shoulders.

It’s not an efficient way to run. A better technique is to keep the elbows parallel and use them to drive forward.

Another mistake many runners make is keeping their arms to their sides but closer to their chest than they should. The runners that use this technique will usually also restrict their arms too much, which can cause a lack of energy and cause them to become tired much faster.

How To Fix Your Running Form

Now that we know some common signs of bad running form, we need to look at how we can improve our technique to lessen the strain on our bodies.

Improving your running technique can improve many things: your speed, how often you get injured, and the pain after running.

Below we discuss how to fix the mistakes people regularly make while running, as we have discussed them above.

Adopt A Neutral Head Position

Fixing how your neck gets positioned while you run may seem difficult if you don’t know you’re doing it. However, the fix is quite simple, and if you can focus on improving the way you run, doing this can significantly impact your body and reduce pain and unnecessary strain.

The key to improving your neck and head positioning is ensuring your head stays neutral.

One effective way of doing this is by imagining your head getting lifted by a balloon to straighten your spine. Though this may appear like an odd way to fix your neck, it improves your posture while allowing you to control your neck and head correctly.

Relax and Lower The Shoulders

If you are experiencing a lot of pain in your shoulder, upper back, or even chest after running, this is likely a slouching issue. The best way to improve your shoulders is by combining it with the technique used to fix your head positioning. 

While imagining yourself getting straightened by a balloon attached to your head, you should allow your shoulders to relax and rest comfortably. It’s best to concentrate on keeping your upper body settled and in a straight line to ensure your posture is correct and you are not putting strain on your back or shoulders.

Land Closer To Your Center of Mass

If you are guilty of overstriding, you can be placing a lot of impact on your joints unnecessarily.

Instead of pushing your foot out in front of you, you should focus on ensuring that your foot is beneath your body weight when it lands on the ground. Doing this means that your center of mass will not be pivoting on your front leg because of your step lengths.

A lot of the twists, sprains and rolling of ankles could be avoided by shortening the stride and keeping the foot strike closer to your hips.

Avoid Heel Striking Where Possible

A common occurrence when you are overstriding is stepping too hard or striking the ground too hard with your foot when it lands. Stepping too hard is commonly related to the length of steps and how the space between steps impacts your momentum and center of mass. 

A lot of this can be mitigated with mid-foot or forefoot striking.

Many of us resort to heel striking out of habit, but the truth is that it’s not a very efficient way to run. The exception is if you are running downhill, in which case the heel strike provides a vital natural braking.

However, that same natural braking is not necessary on flat ground. It gives the sensation of being ‘heavy footed’. The type of run that you describe on Strava as a “Slow Plod” – because that’s what it can feel like, particularly without a good warmup!

As with overstriding, you should focus on keeping your steps light and quick and not allowing yourself to “hit” the ground but tread lightly.

Adopt the 90 Degree Arm Bend

How you position your arms is critical when you run, as they can influence your steps, posture, energy levels, and even aches and pains.

It is best to keep your arms near your sides at a 90-degree angle while allowing them to flow naturally from back to front.

Keeping your arms at a 90-degree angle is also very helpful for runners that tend to bring their arms up to their chest. Lowering your arms and keeping the right angle and movement will improve your breathing and posture, which positively influences the rest of your body and your energy levels when running.

Other Aspects To Consider For Good Running Form

There are many other explanations for why you may not be doing as well as you should or are in pain after running.

If you’ve already worked on establishing the best technique, you should also consider looking at other things that may influence your run and how you feel after.

Below are some aspects you should consider if you want to improve your running or running form.

  • Running Shoes – Since running requires a lot of work from your feet, it is only natural that what you have on them affects how you run and feel. It is essential to look at running shoes that fit you properly and ensure that you replace your running shoes if they get too worn out
  • Run On Fresh Legs – One of the biggest mistakes amateur runners make is taking on too much before they are ready. Too far, too fast or too often. It’s always one of the three. It is essential to pay attention to your body, know your capabilities, and not push yourself too much too soon. Worship those rest days and focus on quality runs – especially if you are working on technique!

Final Thoughts On Poor Running Form

If you feel a lot of discomfort after running or have hit a plateau and cannot improve your time, looking at your running form may help you.

There are many ways lousy running form can influence your body and have the opposite effect than making you feel good.

If you are having severe trouble, cannot fix your technique, or don’t know what to do, you should see a professional.

Author Profile

Alex Randall

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Alex is the editor at Revel Sports. It was his idea to take our post-club-run chats and build a website out of them. He is responsible for dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s when any of us have something to post. (Basically: it’s all his fault). A ferocious 5K powerhouse on his day, Alex is known for not understanding the meaning of the term ‘negative split‘.
Alex Randall

Revel SPorts Contributor

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