Good form can make your runs easier, more efficient and more effective, especially when it comes to edging toward new mileage goals. Running properly can also help stave off injury.
Here are five tips from Nashville-based Fleet Feet Sports run-form coach Alex Mimlitz to improve your runs from your first step forward:
It’s important to keep your body upright. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, and clasp your hands, extending your arms above your head. Reaching your hands up can help bring your hips forward, so they’re aligned with your shoulders. “Runners often bend forward from the waist, which can make it harder to lift the knee for an effective stride,” Mimlitz says. “This helps correct posture from the get-go.”
Pretend you’re holding potato chips in your hands, with one between your index finger and thumb. Maintain a loose grip, so as not to break the chips. “Fisting your hands can cause your upper body to unnecessarily tighten and also takes extra energy,” says Mimlitz.
Keep your elbows bent to about 90 degrees while running, and avoid upper body rotation as you stride.
If you must look down, do so with your eyes only. Focus on the horizon during your runs.
“When you lean from your ankles, your body leads your feet, helping you conserve energy,” Mimlitz says. “If you lean back, you’re setting yourself up for a heel strike, which can force stress into your tibialis, potentially leading to shin splints. Keeping your feet under your body (through a proper ankle lean) allows you to better use your glutes, too, so you can have more power to propel yourself forward.”
Runners often tend to bound up vertically, which uses energy you could be putting toward more mileage. Instead, focus on pushing forward from the balls of your feet. This is where proper posture and an ankle lean come in. Lean back, and it’s nearly impossible to push forward with a heel strike; lean forward from the waist, and you’re in your own way. Proper posture and a slight ankle lean can help keep your feet under your body, making it easier for you to push your mileage.
Once you’ve put a lock on proper running form, you can turn your attention to cadence, which is perhaps the key secret ingredient to better runs. “A faster cadence doesn’t allow you to spend extra energy lifting your knees too high or bounding upwards,” Mimlitz says. “It helps you maintain your ideal pace while conserving energy.”
Runners often shoot for 180 steps per minute, but Mimlitz suggests starting slowly. “Your ideal cadence can depend on your height, weight and body mechanics,” he says. “But generally speaking, you may want to shoot for 160 steps per minute to start and work your way up.”
Under Armour’s Connected HOVR running shoes calculate and track your cadence using your height, weight, age, gender and running pace to provide personalized cadence targets at any pace. Some runners use a metronome app to check cadence. You can also download songs that have your desired beats per minute. Or you can go old-school and count your steps for a minute to understand the way your ideal cadence feels.
Mimlitz suggests checking your cadence once or twice during a run to start. “You’ll also want to give your body a chance to adjust,” he says. “Focus on one form issue per run, and be patient with yourself. By week five, you’ll notice you’ll be able to better listen to your body, and your body will have made more optimal adaptations.”