Running is one of the most popular exercise options out there, as it is free, you can do it anywhere, and it provides a great cardio workout. Whether you participate in marathons or just jog a few miles here and there, knowing what proper form looks and feels like is absolutely essential to preventing injury and getting the most out of your running routine.
First and foremost, remember that running form is not universal; it depends on several factors that vary from person to person. The main factors that influence the proper running form for you include personal body mechanics (how your body is built), strength and flexibility in certain muscles, and your form leading up to this point. Sometimes, trying to make drastic, sudden changes can lead to injury.
There are general rules that everyone can and should consider to achieve proper and safe running form!
This might seem like an odd one to begin with, but developing and/or maintaining a weight lifting/strength training routine is crucial to proper running form and even more-so for injury prevention. At the end of this article, you can check out a great example of strength training for a runner’s routine.
Resistance training works to strengthen certain muscles necessary for runners, especially the glutes and core muscles. This will help to prevent low back injury by making it easier to avoid excessively hinging forward from the hip, and keeping an upright position even when fatigued.
Take Short Strides
Trying to lengthen your stride too much can set you up for injury. Stick to short, quick strides, instead. While everyone's running strides may be different keep in mind if you are taking too long of a stride it can stretch and stress the muscles and ligaments in ways they were not meant to be stretched.
Be Aware Of Foot Positioning
Just like in a squat or a lunge, when you are running it’s important that your foot does not land in front of your knee on any given stride. The foot should land just beneath your knee, as this can also prevent injury. If you step on a weird object on the ground, it can set you up to roll the ankle or stretch the ligaments in muscles in ways they were not meant to be strained.
Stay Stream-Lined With The Arms
This means, no flailing elbows! Keep your arms relaxed but at ninety degree angles by your sides, hands below your chest. This will help maintain a solid center of balance, and can work to increase speed and efficiency. Also, keep in mind the tightness you are keeping your hands. Are you clinching your fists? Or are you gentle enough to hold an egg in your hand? Try and keep your hands as relaxed as possible, and it will keep your whole body relaxed too.
Use The Ground Behind You
Instead of reaching forward with your front foot, focus on pushing off the ground with your back foot. Using the ground is very important because you are pushing off of a strong and solid surface that will propel you forward and up. This will also lower your chance of tripping over your feet and falling down (which will also cause injury.)
Be Aware Of Certain Considerations When Climbing A Hill
Going both up and downhill offers specific challenges that can make you even more prone to injury if you’re not careful. When climbing, focus on keeping your head and chest up, and look ahead and instead of down at your feet. Continue to push off the ground with your back foot, and try to stay more on your toes.
Careful On The Downhill
Running downhill can really open you up to injury more than any type of running, so it is essential keep your upper body and head upright, and look forward. Most importantly, keep your strides/steps short and soft, and try to maintain your head over your toes (not hinged forward).
Don’t Forget A Dynamic Warm-up and A Thorough Cool-Down
A dynamic warm-up simply means a movement-based warm-up that targets the muscles and joints being used when running. Shoot for at least 5 minutes of dynamic movements, such as hamstring (Frankenstein) kicks, butt-kickers, dynamic calf stretch, and hip circles. As far as a cool-down, give yourself time to walk and slow the heart rate, and the end of a run is a great time do some static stretching, meaning you hold stretches for a minimum of 30 seconds.
Invest Is Good Running Shoes
Since this varies so much depending on the individual, I highly recommend going to a sporting goods store or (even better) one that specializes in running, where you can have a professional measure your feet, analyze your stride, and fit you with a good pair of shoes.
Increase Time and Intensity Gradually
Last but certainly not least, increase the length of your runs and your speed gradually. If you throw your body into an eight mile run when it has really only been running three or four, this is a recipe for injury.
One more note (and this goes for any form of exercise), allow for proper recovery time, and if you are injured, stop. Not forever, but long enough to allow your body to heal. If possible, find a physical therapist or knowledgeable personal trainer to help heal injuries and build proper strength and flexibility in order to prevent problems down the road.
Consider as well the amount of time you run per week. One study actually showed the potential for cardiovascular damage by running excess (20 miles per week or more).
At-Home Strength Training Routine for Runners:
**Repeat circuit 3 times. Be sure to begin with some dynamic stretching, and end with static stretching.
- 10 Bodyweight Squats (weight on heels, knees staying in line over toes)
- Forearm or hand plank, 30 seconds
- 16 Alternating Reverse Lunges (8 each side)
- Side Plank, 30 seconds on each side
- Wall-sit, 30 seconds