There are a few things virtually all runners agree are important. A perfect pair of running shoes, for starters. A really good anti-chafe solution, for sure. And of course, running form. Every person’s running form is just as unique as their fingerprint, and research shows good running form can positively impact performance.
“Even when you watch elite runners at major marathons like Boston or New York, you will see differences in how they run and the differences in their running form,” says Kim Peek, a RRCA and USATF coach based in Kansas City. “Rather than fixating on how to be perfect, pay attention to just one detail at a time to make your form 1% better. Trying to overhaul your entire running form all at once is going to create a whole new series of problems.”
There are a few aspects important to keep your stride not just effective, but safe. Here, experts weigh in on five things to take into account when you hit your stride:
STAND TALL AND IN ALIGNMENT
“Your ears should be over shoulders and shoulders over hips,” says Peek. “It’s very similar to when you go into a Pilates or a TRX class and they tell you that the basis of all movement is the plank. When you’re in a plank, your total spine is in alignment. That’s what we want when we are running. We want the body parts to be stacked.”
KEEP YOUR EYES FACING FORWARD
Head positioning should be comfortable and relaxed. Peek suggests making an L with your right thumb and pointer finger, then placing the thumb right between your collar bones with your pointer facing out. Your chin should comfortably and effortlessly meet your pointer — that’s the money spot. Also, keeping your gaze set on an item in the distance (you know, that whole “eyes on the prize” mentality) actually makes the distance feel shorter, according to research.
STEP UP YOUR CADENCE
Everyone moves at a different pace. However, most runners should aim to hit a cadence between 165–180 steps per minute, suggests Rick Muhr, a Boston-based running coach. By maintaining this cadence, you’ll avoid overstriding — or when the horizontal distance between your heel and center of mass at the moment of contact is too long.
If you’re below that steps-per-minute target, don’t freak out. “Gradually increase [the] number of steps you take per minute over weeks or a month,” suggests Peek. 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. “If you try to make this grand sweeping leap — you will likely create an injury. Also the number of steps is not as important as the increased cadence.”
RELAX YOUR HANDS WITHOUT CROSSING YOUR MIDLINE
Running can be a really relaxing, enjoyable experience — so do yourself a favor and avoid clenching your fists (this applies to your jaw, too). If you hold tension there, it could translate to other areas of your body. “You want to keep hands close to your torso without crossing your center line,” suggests Muhr. “Crossing your centerline causes rotation in your hips and disrupts the efficiency and rhythm of the kinetic chain.”
LEAN FORWARD AT THE ANKLES
A lot of people lean forward at the hips, and that takes away our ability to be fast, says Peek. Instead, find that lean in the ankles, which can promote alignment throughout the entire body. “
AIM FOR A FOOT STRIKE BELOW, OR CLOSELY IN FRONT OF, YOUR CENTER OF MASS
“If you extend well beyond your center of gravity, you will overstride,” says Muhr. This could cause what he calls a “breaking effect,” placing more stress and impact on your lower extremities.