Whether you’re running your first 5k or a marathon, one of the most important elements to optimize your running is form. You can not only improve your race times, but also avoid injury.
There are different schools of though when it comes to running form, such as minimalist and chi, but we’re just going to cover the basics and give you a general idea of how to improve your technique.
Stride—Your stride should be short and quick. Picking your feet up off the ground quickly will reduce the amount of energy needed to propel your feet forward; you should aim for 180 foot strikes per minute. Additionally, longer strides put you at a higher risk for injury.
Knees—Keep your knees in line with your feet so that when your feet strike the ground they are directly below your knees. This will also help you to avoid heel striking, which can be the result of over-striding.
Elbows—To avoid wasting energy, make sure your elbows are bent at 90 degrees or less at all times and be careful not to release the elbows as they move back.
Hands—Your hands should be relaxed and remain at your midline or lower. Raising your hands towards your chest will increase your heart rate and waste energy.
Gaze—No matter if you’re running on level ground, uphill or downhill, be sure to look straight ahead. This will help you maintain your posture.
Posture—You’ll want to keep your posture upright. You’ll naturally propel yourself forward, but be sure to lean from your ankles and not from your waist. Keep your hips and shoulders level and relaxed. To ensure that your shoulders are relaxed, lift them every so often and release.
Strike—Save energy and reduce the risk of energy by striking the ground softly. Everyone has a unique strike, and one isn’t necessarily better than the other, but you’ll want your foot to strike the ground as close to your body as possible.
Mobility—Flexibility is important for lengthening your muscles and allowing for a full range of motion. You’ll want to stretch your legs, back, shoulders and chest. A few yoga poses that you can try are the chair, bent standing split, twisting lunge, low lunge, seated spinal twist, and bridge.
Core—A strong core will help you to stay upright while running and to avoid slumping when you tire. Planks, Russian twists, standing trunk rotations, and stability ball roll-outs can help you develop your core muscles. For any exercises that involve lying on your back, make sure your lower back is always touching the floor.
Legs—Strengthen and tone your leg muscles with exercises such as sumo squats with calf raises, side lunges with dumbbells, and wall sits. For these exercises and others that involve bending at the knee, be careful to not let your knees bend out past your feet.
Now that you’ve got the basics, you’re ready to get out there and run (with proper form)!