The best runners make it look effortless, but there’s a lot that goes into running efficiently.
Running is easy—just lace up your shoes and start moving at a faster pace than a walk, right? But having proper running form? That’s a lot easier said than done. Your unique running mechanics are determined by the strength and flexibility of certain muscles and how your body is built.
“It’s important to pay attention to mechanics, even if you’re not an elite or professional runner,” says Adidas high-performance coach Terrence Mahon.“We’re trying to do two things: One is not get hurt so that we can keep doing the thing we love to do, and two, we’re trying to do it with less effort and more efficiency.”
In other words, the better your form, the easier running feels—especially when you start to get fatigued. While everyone’s natural mechanics are different, here’s what you should be doing to ensure proper running form, from your head to your toes.
You might think running is all about your lower body, but your run technique needs to be dialled in from the top down. That said, don’t look at your feet. “Be sure to gaze directly in front of you,” says Kelli Fierras, USATF-certified running coach and Asics Studio trainer. “Don’t tilt your chin up or down, which happens when people get tired,” she adds.
Really, your eyes can look anywhere, but a focused gaze helps maintain proper posture, which keeps your neck in proper alignment with your spine. “The classic thing I’ll see is a person starting their run with their head, meaning their head is always in front of their body,” says Mahon. “You want to have your ears in line with your shoulders.”
We spend so much time hunched over at our desks and on our phones, but it’s crucial to open up your shoulders while you run, says Amanda Nurse, an elite marathoner, running coach, and certified yoga instructor in Boston. “You should pull them back, almost like you’re squeezing a pencil between your shoulder blades,” she says. “If you’re starting to hunch over, it’s going to affect your speed or endurance.”
Ideally, your shoulders are moving independently of your torso and opposite of one another, says Mahon. “So when you take a right step forward, your left shoulder is also forward, and therefore your right shoulder is back as your left leg is back,” he explains. “They should operate in that X pattern.” As the run goes on, it is common to get tight and tense in your shoulder area, almost like you’re shrugging. But this will cost your body valuable energy so it’s important to stay relaxed. Shake out your arms, shrug your shoulders, and focus on loosening up, especially as you get fatigued.
The way you move your arms can help you move faster or slow you down. “Your arms should be at a 90-degree angle,” says Nurse. Your palms or fists move from chin to hip. That’s going to help you propel your body forward. Keep your elbows close to your sides.
“If your elbows point outwards, that means your arms are crossing your body, which actually slows you down—you won’t be able to get the momentum you need,” says Fierras. Try pointing your thumbs to the ceiling to keep your arms in line or imagining an invisible line that runs down the centre of your body—don’t let your hands cross over that line.