Nail the Perfect Running Form
By Nike Running
Follow these pointers to help make running feel easier—and go easier on your body.
While everyone's stride is unique, there are a few general guidelines that can help all runners, beginner to pro, move better. These expert-backed tips cover everything from how to swing your arms to exactly what to do with your feet (and the right shoes to put on them).
When a run is going well, it can feel like you're flying. You can imagine what your form must look like, the picture of an elite runner: knees driving high, heels grazing your bum, shoulders relaxed and back straight, arms pumping at your sides. Then you catch a glimpse of your reflection in a shop-front window and think, "huh. That is ... not what I envisioned".
"The goal of working on your form is the same as the goal of your overall training: to become a better and more elite version of you".
Chris Bennett, Nike Running Global Head Coach
And that's okay. "There's a reason you run the way you do. That hitch or head bobble or slight lean-back or lack of knee lift is all yours", says Nike Running global head coach Chris Bennett. "The goal of working on your form is the same as the goal of your overall training: to become a better and more elite version of you".
To that happy end, we have the advice to fine-tune your form and help you run more efficiently and, fingers crossed, gracefully.
01. First, Take More Steps
One of the most important aspects of good running form is the foot landing. You want to make sure your foot doesn't land in front of you, says LA-based Nike Run Club coach Blue Benadum. "We call this an overstride", he says.
That's a crime that recreational runners often commit, says licensed physiotherapist and Nike Performance Council member Derek Samuel. "Look at elite-level athletes. They land with their heel right underneath their centre of mass, leg perpendicular to the ground". This keeps the pros—and any runner—moving quickly and efficiently.
To create that effect and prevent overstriding, Samuel tells his patients to take more steps per minute. If you're thinking, "oof, sounds like more work", know this: "You don't use any more energy taking more steps", he says. In fact, you're actually going to run smoother and use less energy. That's because when you overstride, your heel hits the ground in front of you, acting like a brake. "The ground sends a force up the lower leg, which actually slows you down", says Samuel. "It's a big issue because it can create so many injuries".
02. Now, Double-Check That You're Doing It Right
You can practise taking more steps before you try it on a run. Benadum's easy tip: Run in place. "This teaches you the sensation that you're gonna need to run with a foot landing that's below yourself and not out in front of you", he says.
Another good cue is to think about your chin leading your chest. "It's a simple reference that often helps runners' feet land where they should"—under the hips, not excessively on the heels—"and it takes stress off the lower back and hamstrings", notes Bennett. (When Samuel describes this cue to patients, he calls it "a controlled fall forwards".)
"You're gonna need to run with a foot landing that's below yourself and not out in front of you".
Blue Benadum, Nike Run Club Coach
If you want evidence of whether you're overstriding, Samuel suggests taking a video of yourself running on a treadmill, shot from the side. "It's a great visual", he says. "When I show this to patients, the light bulb goes off. They really see how their leg isn't landing perpendicular to the ground".
03. "Dance" Up Hills
To keep your stride efficient when you hit an incline, think short and fast. "I tell runners that they should dance up the hills, with light and quick steps", says Bennett. Stay relaxed, lean forwards, pump your arms for momentum, and try to stay in control of your breath. Going downhill, embrace the speed. "Focus on relaxing your upper body and keeping your arms loose, your back tall and your foot strike on the middle to the ball of your foot", says NRC San Francisco coach Jason Rexing.
04. Stay Relaxed
As you run, occasionally perform a head-to-toe body check to see if you're holding tension anywhere. Are you hiking up your shoulders? Are your hands in fists? Are you grimacing? To help release any clenched muscles, take a deep breath in and slowly let it out. You can also shake out your arms and hands and even turn your head from side to side. The more you can stay loose, says Bennett, the more energy you'll have for your run.
05. Rein In Your Arm Swing
While arm swings vary from athlete to athlete, you can make yours as efficient as possible by driving your elbows straight back and imagining that you're buffing your fingernails on your hips with loose, relaxed hands. Keep your torso upright, and, says Bennett, make sure you don't drive your arms across your body in front of you. Otherwise, "your hips will follow, swinging to the right and then the left, which wastes energy".
06. Wear the Right Sneakers
Above all, your shoes should feel comfortable. "If they're uncomfortable, you're going to anticipate that discomfort with every footfall", says Bennett. "Then, whether it's conscious or subconscious, your body is going to try to adjust to deal with that discomfort. That means you're running unnaturally, against your own form". That can add up fast, he says. "If you're constantly having to adjust because of uncomfortable shoes, you're not going to have to adjust much longer—because you won't be running, you'll be hurt", says Bennett.
"If it's not broken, don't fix it".
Kate VanDamme, NYU Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist
Which is why, if you're in a shoe that works for you, stick with it. "If it's not broken, don't fix it", says Kate VanDamme, a physiotherapist and orthopaedic clinical specialist at the NYU Langone Health Sports Performance Center. "If their current footwear is working for them, we don't want to push a runner into shoes just because that's the 'type' of shoe the assessment indicates", she says. "Doing that might throw off their running game". Plus, VanDamme adds, if your shoe feels good, it indicates that it supports your anatomy and running mechanics. What's more, selecting shoes based on mechanical recommendation alone indicated little difference in injury rates in an analysis of studies published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy.
07. Don't Run On Tired Shoes
Replace your shoes when you start to notice signs of wear (the heels look uneven, the tread has worn away) or you feel any discomfort. "A shoe is kind of like a muscle", says Ian Klein, a specialist in exercise physiology, cross-training and injury prevention at Ohio University. "When a muscle gets fatigued, it loses its function. When a shoe gets fatigued, or worn out, it loses its structural integrity and can no longer perform its function", he says, whether that's absorbing the impact of the 100 miles you want to run this month or just keeping you comfortable through the occasional neighbourhood jog.
08. Do the Work to Keep Good Form
To maintain proper running form, strength training and mobility work is essential, says Klein. Which makes sense. When your body is strong and relaxed, you run well. The weaker and tighter you are and the more easily you fatigue, the more likely you are to lose that good form and open yourself up to injury.
That's especially true for the knees, where some 50 percent of running injuries occur, says Klein. "Think of your knee as the middle of a bridge, with your foot on one side and your hip on the other. It's the weakest area and can be affected by problems on both sides", he explains. If you have bad form—say, you roll your feet inwards or overstride—the knee bears the brunt of it.
"Every time you land on a single foot, your whole body has to be balanced".
Janet Hamilton, Running Strong Coach
Strengthen the muscles below and above the knee—from your foot muscles to your calves and your quads and hamstrings to your glutes and hips—and you can better absorb running's impact and prevent the fatigue that brings on sloppy form, says strength and conditioning coach Janet Hamilton, the owner of Atlanta-based coaching company Running Strong. After all, she says, if you can lift heavy weights over and over, carrying your body weight for several miles is going to feel a whole lot easier. And total-body strength will help prepare you for the balancing act that running demands. "Every time you land on a single foot, your whole body has to be balanced in such a way that your posture remains upright and you're not twisting or bending to either side", says Hamilton.
To strength-train for that, "you want to stress-load the muscle in a similar pattern to what you would experience when you're running", says Klein. Focus on single-leg exercises, such as lunges, step-ups and one-legged squats.
09. Got All That? Don't Overthink It
Yep, that was a lot of info, but you don't have to put it all into action right away. Keep these tips in mind and the more you run, the more your form should improve, says Jason Fitzgerald, a USA Track & Field–certified coach, the head coach of Strength Running and the host of The Strength Running Podcast. In other words? Doing more of the sport you love will make you better at it. Win-win.