A Head to Toes Guide to Healthy Running Form

Running is one of the best and most natural forms of exercise. It contributes to muscular, respiratory, cardiovascular, and even psychological health. And, unlike many other forms of exercise, very little investment and preparation is needed to begin running.

Like any other type of exercise, however, running can lead to injury — and one of the leading causes of running injuries is improper form. This is why it’s important to educate yourself before beginning a running routine.

Below, you will find a brief overview of the basics of good running form.

  • Head

Set your gaze toward the horizon, as looking down at your feet or up at the sky brings your neck out of alignment. Resist the urge to jut your chin forward, as well.

  • Shoulders

Keep your shoulders loose, low, and level. Tightening your shoulders, allowing them to creep up towards your ears, or letting them get out of balance can lead to discomfort or injury.

  • Arms

Running is not just a lower-body workout. Your arms can lend a helping hand (pun intended) as long as you use the correct form. The arms should swing straight forward and back, without swinging inward in front of your body. Just as importantly, the elbows should bend at roughly 90 degrees. There’s no need to stress yourself out about the exact geometry of your body, but watch out for two common habits brought on by fatigue: arms that are overly contracted, and arms that hang loose.

  • Hands

Keep your hands in loose, unclenched fists as if you were holding eggs in each palm.

  • Torso

Keep your torso straight. Or, as many running coaches extol: run tall. Slouching can get awfully tempting after those first few miles, but in the end it will only lead to discomfort and possibly even injury.

  • Hips

Like your shoulders, your hips should stay aligned and level. Like slouching, bending forward at the waist is a popular way of coping with fatigue, but it is highly unhealthy. Likewise, if one of your legs happens to be a bit stronger than the other (and yes, people are often right or left-legged, just as they are right or left-handed) then you may find yourself drifting to one side once you get tired, which is also a risk factor for injury.

  • Knees

Sprinters should lift the knees high to gain maximum power on each stride. Joggers, on the other hand, should conserve energy, lifting the knees in a lower, more natural form.

  • Feet

Your feet should land softly — if you hear the soles of your shoes hitting the pavement, then you are probably landing to roughly, and you risk injuring your legs and/or back. It is important for your feet to land directly below the body. Last but not least, you should be pushing off with your feet, allowing your calves to do part of the hard running work. After all, the more evenly distributed the force of running becomes, the less stress will be focused on any one part of your body.