A Little More Each Day

One working mama learning to run & to maintain my 100+ pound weight loss!

Simple tips for running form (from a total non-expert)

on July 30, 2015

I have a friend who is getting started running (Yay for her!), which has me thinking a lot about beginner running questions. I know that when I first started out, I would get overwhelmed by thinking about the form of how you’re supposed to run and wondering whether I was doing it “right.” Obviously, I’m not an elite runner or a sports medicine specialist or anything like that (so be sure to get advice from a real professional) but these are the things I keep in mind:

Take shorter steps, with your foot landing underneath you: I cannot concentrate on heel striking versus mid foot striking or anything like that when I run – it’s just too much for my brain! However, I do frequently remind myself to keep my steps shorter and keep my feet landing underneath me. As a beginner it felt like I need to take longer strides to get faster and it turns out that just the opposite is true generally! Also, by not overstriding, I’ve minimized a lot of the trouble I had early on with plantar fasciitis and other aches and pains. There are also lots of tips about using these shorter steps to increase your cadence or foot turnover, but that’s frankly beyond my mental abilities most days. πŸ™‚ You should totally try that if you can though.

Drop your shoulders! When I first started running, I would frequently find myself with these sharp pains and aches in my shoulders afterwards. I expected leg pain but shoulder pain? That threw me off. It turns out, I tend to hunch my shoulders when I’m working hard. Now I periodically check my shadow and my shoulders to see if I’m out of whack. I’m not the only person with this problem, apparently, as it frequently comes up in form tips. One of my favorite ways I’ve seen to address it is consciously raising and lowering your shoulders at every mile marker to recenter things. I also liked the tip I saw a while back that said to imagine a super hero cape flying from your shoulders. What better visualization could there for your running?

Sunny days can be good for form checks!

Sunny days can be good for form checks!

Keep your hands soft: Hunching your shoulders and clenching your fists not only leave you with weird aches and pains after the run, but they also waste energy that the rest of your body needs to run. Keep your hands soft, as if you were holding an egg (or in my case frequently, a flower you see on the side of the road that you pick for your flower loving boy).

Running the last two miles holding Oliver's flower kept me focused on not clenching my fists.

Running the last two miles holding Oliver’s flower kept me focused on not clenching my fists.

Lean forward from your ankles or your hips, not your waist: You don’t want to hunch over. It isn’t efficient and it doesn’t feel good. I find myself doing this going uphill, so I visualize a lasso from my hips to whatever tree/light post/person is ahead of me to pull me along without bending over.

Swing your arms to power your run: Yes, your arms actually help you run (so I should totally drop and do push ups RIGHT NOW). Importantly, be sure they’re swinging in a way that helps you run – i.e. back and forth, not across your body. Twisting your center mass constantly is not a good way to move forward more efficiently.

Tweaking your running form can make you a more efficient runner and decrease your chance of injury. If you’re having pain with your running, going to a physical therapist or other sports medicine specialist who could evaluate your form may be really helpful in identifying problems. Thankfully, (knock on wood) I haven’t had any long lasting or serious running injuries but I frequently self-check my form. It’s a great way to distract myself when I’m in the middle of a long run (or at the END of a long run, when I know my form can suffer) or to feel like I’m doing good “work” in my easy runs that might otherwise seem useless. Don’t worry – I know easy runs are important and good work. Obviously, running form is a hugely complex thing and there are lots more nuances to it than the things I’ve mentioned here but these are the little things I find it easy to think about on my runs as a purely recreational runner.

For more information from far more expert people, check out these articles:

Ten Changes to Improve Your Running Form

The Starting Line: Proper Running Form

Good Running Form for Beginners

Do you check your form while you’re running? Have you ever been formally evaluated? I confess, I’m a little afraid that if I were formally evaluated, they’d tell me I was doing it all wrong and I’d have to start over!

If you were a beginner runner, what questions would you have?



14 responses to “Simple tips for running form (from a total non-expert)

  1. Great tips! I try to remember to check my form regularly… I’m the worst about hunching over, especially towards the end of a run.

    Even though I’ve been “running” for a few months, I’m still definitely a beginner. I’ve been running so infrequently lately that I am basically making no progress. Oh well. I’ll get there!

    • I’ve been running almost 3 years now and still feel like a beginner. It’s good to keep that starry eyed new runner perspective in some ways. πŸ™‚ With the heat you deal with, I’m super impressed that you ever get out to run! There’s a definite reason I didn’t start running until I left the South and that’s definitely the weather!

  2. Run Wright says:

    That’s great advice. Even as someone who’s been running for a long time, I constantly have to remind myself about stride. It’s easy to overshoot and get foot pains at the end of the run.

  3. Run Wright says:

    Also, one bit of advice. Hydrate. Water. Lots of it. I drink a couple glasses an hour or so before a run

  4. chasingdownhealthy says:

    I was formally evaluated once, and was told my form was great. But that was not 4 miles into a sun-baked slog in late July. I’m sure the results would not be as stellar. I’m overweight, I have MS and I get *super* hot. I know my form breaks down badly during my runs. Like you said, I start to feel it in my shoulders. I could barely move after my first half because of that. This is all super good advice, something we all need to remember. πŸ™‚

  5. Marissa says:

    I would drop the egg!

    I focus on keeping my spine long. It’s probably the same result as shoulders-down, but that’s how I visualize it.

  6. Great tips! Clenched shoulders is my weakness, so I always try to remind myself of it. When I first started running I used the Chi Running technique, which is all about form and includes these things. So form was always at the top of my mind. These days I find it easy to forget about. I need to make the effort to do regular form checks on every run.

  7. Anna says:

    You are making me want to run πŸ™‚

    • I always get jazzed when someone I know is starting to run. It just reminds of the fun of starting something new. πŸ™‚ It’s perfect this time of year, when the weather makes running inherently fun otherwise!

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