Good running form is important for any athlete, but proper technique is especially important if you are a beginner runner. If you can learn to develop an efficient footstrike, good upper body posture, strong hips, and a relaxed stride, you not only help to prevent injury, but you also lay the groundwork for longer mileage and improved speed.
Also, when you are first starting out, you develop patterns that can stay with you for the duration of your running career. So if you set goals to run competitively or to participate in running events like a 10K or a marathon, you'll need to rely on good running technique to reach those milestones.
Lower Body Running Form for a Beginner
You want to keep your lower body efficient and strong when you are learning how to run. You'll accomplish this by evaluating your stride, your footstrike, and your lower body alignment.
Your stride is the pattern of steps that you take. Some runners have a tendency to take shorter steps or strides, and some take longer steps or strides. Your stride rate or stride frequency is the number of strides per minute.
Your stride length and frequency can impact the intensity of your run. Taking long, fast strides is likely to feel harder than taking quick, short strides. But those long strides cover more ground and make you feel like you're going faster.
With some practice you will develop a stride that feels comfortable and efficient for you. Try to land each step under your hips rather than out in front of your body to avoid over-striding. But you don't want your steps to be so short that you feel like you're running in place.
It's helpful to be aware of your stride and experiment with it, but also keep in mind that research suggests that there is no need to make drastic changes or hire a coach to adjust their stride. Both beginning runners and advanced runners have the capacity to find the stride pattern that works best for them. So do what makes your body feel good.
The way that your foot contacts the pavement with each stride is called your footstrike. There are three basic footstrike patterns and they are categorized by the part of your foot that hits the ground first.
- Rearfoot striking is also called heel striking. It occurs when you hit the ground with your heel first before rolling through the foot and pushing off from the big toe. Some coaches believe that heel striking puts undue pressure on your joints.
- Midfoot strikers contact the ground with the middle of the foot first. Traditionally, this pattern has been preferred by coaches because it puts the least amount of strain on the body.
- Forefoot strikers hit the ground with the front part of the foot first. Sprinters are often forefoot strikers because they can use this stride pattern to propel themselves forward with greater velocity.
Coaches used to try to get rearfoot strikers and forefoot strikers to become midfoot strikers, especially if they were distance runners. However, current evidence suggests that changing your footstrike pattern may not be worth the effort.
When you are developing your new runner form, simply evaluate your footstrike pattern. If it works for you, don't change it. But you might try experimenting with other patterns to see how they feel. If you start to develop aches and pains, or worse, you develop an injury, talk to a coach or physical therapist about your footstrike pattern and see if a change is warranted.
New runners can avoid injury by tending to their lower body alignment. Simply put, you want your hip, knee, and ankle on each side to track in one straight line so that impact forces are distributed properly.
There are a few patterns that might cause the joints to come out of alignment. Watch for these issues:
- Ankles rolling in or out can be an indication of a pronation issue. Overpronation occurs when you roll in on the arches of your feet with each stride. This typically happens in flat-footed runners. Underpronation occurs when you emphasize the outer part of the foot with each stride and typically occurs in runners with high arches. Running shoe manufacturers make shoes for overpronaters and underpronators. If you notice that your ankles are out of alignment, visit your local running store and get shoes to correct the problem.
- Hips sinking or swaying can occur when you start to get tired. With each stride, the hip drops slightly, and the body sinks on that side. Try to keep the hips level, aligned under the shoulders and over the hips. If you are unable to change this pattern, consider reducing your mileage until you can maintain strong hips through the duration of your run.
Upper Body Running Technique for Beginners
Your lower body is most active when you run. But your upper body also plays an important role in running economy - or your ability to run longer with less effort. A strong arm swing, rhythmic breathing, and good posture can help you to cover longer distances and feel good when you reach the finish line.
Natural Arm Swing
Keep your arms slightly bent but relaxed at your sides. You'll notice that your arms fall into a natural oppositional swing, where one arm swings forward when the opposite foot strides.
Your hands should also stay relaxed and free from any gripping or strain. If your arms and hands are properly positioned, they will not cross the midline of the body.
Good running posture is similar to good walking or standing posture. Keep the shoulders relaxed and aligned over the hips. Keep the chest open and your focus forward so that your head doesn't droop. Engage through your core so that the torso stays strong and the chest stays open.
You'll notice that as you get tired, there is a tendency to drop the shoulders forward. As a result, the chest may start to sink or cave in and your lower body alignment may suffer as well.
To avoid this pattern, make a mental note to check your running posture every 10 minutes or so and make adjustments to keep the core strong, shoulders over the hips, and chest open.
One of the greatest challenges for a new runner is dealing with the sensation that you are out of breath. Thankfully, there are breathing techniques that can help you to get it under control.
As a general rule, you want to feel like you are breathing from your belly. Shallow breathing can lead to side cramps - which can be painful. Deep diaphragmatic breathing allows more oxygen into the body.
Once you get the hang of belly breathing, you can find a breathing rhythm that works for you.
- 2:1 approach: Inhale for two steps, exhale for one step
- 2:2 approach: Inhale for two steps, exhale for two steps
- 3:2 approach: Inhale for three steps, exhale for two steps
Try different breathing techniques and see which one works best for you. Researchers have found that focussing too much on your breathing can make you less efficient. So you want to find a pattern that feels right and then maintain it for the duration of your run.
Why Running Technique Matters
Many new runners pick up the sport because it seems simple and intuitive. Most of us know the basic mechanics of running. So spending extra time on the details of running form may seem counterproductive. But running form matters when you are a new runner.
The more efficient and enjoyable your running workouts are, the more likely you are to remain motivated. Good running technique also helps you to conserve energy so that you don't feel exhausted at the end of your workout. And lastly, good running form can help you avoid injury and stay healthy. When you feel fit, efficient, and strong, you're likely to stay motivated and reach all of your running goals.