The Complete Guide to Running Form

People have been running since the beginning of mankind – some may even say we were Born to Run, (one of my favorite books, by the way). Whether hunting or being hunted, we have typically run for survival, not for fun.

At least, that’s what I would tell myself while running cross country in middle and high school. My mind would race –during the race – “why am I doing this?” There was no ball to chase, no goal to score. In my adult life, I would run for cardio, and I completed 5Ks and half marathons. However, I never felt the rush of the chemical mixture of serotonin and endorphins (what some may call a “runner’s high”).

That is, until a treadmill-focused class at KAMPS completely shifted my mindset on running. Sam Karl, one of the owners at KAMPS Fit, says that “the role of every trainer at KAMPS is to help guide you on the proper run form, most importantly to avoid injuries, but also to become a little bit faster or build a little more endurance after every run.” After taking my first class, I realized that I had been running WRONG my whole life. 

Whether you are an Olympian or a light jogger, your running technique differentiates between an aimless exercise or an intentional, result-driven experience. If you want to take your run to the next level, here is what to know about how to improve your form. 

guide to running form

Poor running form equals poor results

“How can someone run wrong?” you may ask. I’ll counter that with another question: Have you ever seen the episode of Friends where Phoebe runs? That’s a pretty good example of what not to do. 

When running properly, you’ll be able to run lighter and longer. You’ll also avoid the injuries that typically plague new runners, like shin splints, runner’s knee, achilles tendonitis, or stress fractures. On the other hand, having good form during an extended run, sprints, or incline can help you reach that magical runner’s high.This is how I began to shift from Phoebe’s running style to running more like Tom Cruise in just about every movie. (At least, that’s what I tell myself I look like now.) 

How to perfect your running form before you even start running

Before you begin any exercise, it’s imperative that you take a moment to connect your mind and body. When you activate and bring awareness to every muscle and movement, you hone in on all the small idiosyncrasies taking place that you may not even notice and align your mind/body. 

  1. Stand tall. Throughout the day, we tend to unknowingly slouch. Straightening your posture before a run helps you breathe and move more efficiently, while slouching can lead to joint and muscle stiffness. 
  2. Drop your shoulders. When we are stressed we sometimes raise our shoulders, unnecessarily using our deltoid muscles.  
  3. Relax your jaw. Unclenching your jaw helps to relax your face and breathe easier
  4. Unclamp your fists. Clamping your fists sends cues to activate your forearms. 
  5. Take a big deep breath. Believe it or not, we sometimes hold our breath while we run. It’s important to take big steady breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth to release proper oxygen flow. 
  6. Begin your jog. You don’t want to transition from walking to a full-on run. It’s important to warm up your body and loosen muscles by beginning with a jog. 

How to maintain good running form during your workout

Once you start to pick up speed, there are several more key components to take notice of in your run.

  1. Pull back from the treadmill screen (if you’re on one) by moving back a step. This gives you more room to begin pumping your arms. 
  2. Keep your arms/elbows at a 90 degree angle so they aren’t flailing, hanging or dragging you down. 
  3. Pump your arms front to back, never crossing your body, to propel you forward instead of swaying side to side.
  4. Run on the balls of your feet, to land lighter on your feet instead of stomping on the ground. This alleviates the impact on your knees.
  5. Take big strides, similar to a dancer. This elongates the body but also expends less energy. Think about how a gazelle covers more ground with less exertion – that’s your ultimate goal.
  6. Continue breathing, in through the nose and out through the nouth.

Keep in mind that all of our bodies are built differently, and you may have injuries that don’t allow certain movements. You may need to scale back or modify these instructions to safely meet your needs.

Not sure if your running form is more Phoebe Bouffat than Tom Cruise? If access to a trainer isn’t an option, try videoing yourself while on a treadmill or outside, or run near windows. You might be amazed at the difference between how you feel on a run versus how you’re actually running.

Mind over matter

Lastly, one of the main and most pivotal running components that KAMPS taught me is the mindset of running. Running can be daunting, and pounding the pavement or treadmill for an extended period of time can be a mind f*ck. The most important thing to remember is to be present. Focus on every muscle, every stride you make, focus on breathing and why you are doing what you’re doing. Whatever motivation it may be that gets you to move, remember your why and stay with it until you finish. Your mind may race, but bringing it back to the present moment will get you through the finish line with your form intact. 

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About Jenna Cerenko

Jenna is a marketing consultant with a love for writing. She studied English Literature and Communications at Florida State University and received her M.B.A from Florida International University. She currently lives in Miami with her husband, two active young children and rescue dog named Sky. Outside of spending time with family/friends and staying active, Jenna loves live music and traveling as often as possible.