6 Tips To Improve Running Form

Form is a tricky topic and in fact, a bit of a “bunny hole”, particularly when coaching online. That’s partly because form is highly subjective and individual, and therefore “messing with it” can often be counterproductive. Since it is a common concern runners have, it’s worth sharing a few thoughts on a “form philosophy” that I’ve built over the years.

1: Form Isn’t Always The Root Cause of Injury

Form (just like shoes) gets overly blamed for injury issues. More often, injuries arise from over training or from getting out of balance, where either our cardiovascular fitness proceeds faster than our musculoskeletal fitness or we develop (or possess) strength imbalances between competing or complimentary muscles.

2: Each Runner Is Different

There is no one right running form, but there is a right running form for each runner. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and the goal is to make our form align to those current realities – though these realities can be moved over time through such efforts as strength training.

3: Adapt Slowly

Form follows function. It is impossible to make certain “improvements” to form if they body isn’t ready to support it. For example, one can’t successfully run with a forefoot strike if they don’t have the calf strength, foot function, and ankle mobility to support it. Trying to force “form fixes” can be a recipe for injury.

4: Proper Form Can Be Tough

Proper form can be tougher to sustain at a slower pace than a faster pace. Thus extended periods of base building (run primarily at an easy pace) can exaggerate conditions that may be caused by form issues, which can then defeat the purpose of keeping training easy.

Form changes need to be made slowly, as you progress through four stages in making such shifts:

  • Unconsciously incompetent – you don’t yet realize where there are issues, so of course can’t address it
  • Consciously incompetent – you are aware of the issue, but don’t know how to fix it
  • Consciously competent – you are aware of the issue and can fix it, but have to concentrate on doing so
  • Unconsciously competent – the form “fix” has taken hold and become a part of the “normal” way you run

5: One Step At A Time

Form is best addressed one area at a time, proceeding through the above four stages completely before moving to the next element.

The goal of “good form” is to direct as much energy forward as possible, by minimizing extraneous movement in planes other than your sagittal plane (i.e., front/back). Ironically, you resist allowing movement in the other planes by strengthening yourself in those planes, and this is the reason why core work is so valuable to runners.

Your running form often starts from the top and works its way down. Specific, your body tends to follow your arms when you run, so directing your arms forward is the best place to start in terms of form cues.

6: One Step Back – Two Steps Forward

Finally, changing your form, even when done thoroughly and properly, can actually set back your running efficiency and economy. While the long-term gains may make it worthwhile, initially you may find exactly the feelings Brian Martin expresses below about moving to more of a midfoot running form.

Bottom line – there are a lot of other areas of your training (and maybe diet) that can have a bigger impact on your performance than “fixing” your form. While a few minor tweaks may have a small positive benefit with just a little effort, a more whole scale undertaking may be more than you bargain for. It may be better to let form “come to you” through focusing instead on strength and mobility and just a few minor cues.