It doesn’t matter whether you are a beginner, a life-long runner, or elite athlete—proper running posture is critical to your success and longevity in the sport. When running, each step can carry the impact of up to three times your bodyweight! Good posture is key to your performance as well as injury prevention, particularly if you are training for a half marathon or marathon and logging upwards of 40 kilometers per week.
Running mechanics can vary slightly for everyone but there are general guidelines to keep in mind to help you find your most efficient stride. Here are some tips to try on your next run.
Your Head and Shoulders
When running, try to maintain a balanced forward posture. This starts with the positioning of your head. Hold your head in line with your spine, keep your neck and shoulders relaxed, and keep your chin parallel to the ground.
As you get tired, you may feel your shoulders start to creep up towards your ears as you’re carrying tension. Shake out your arms to relieve the tension and remember to stay relaxed. Control your breathing by taking deep breaths, and try smiling every couple of miles—believe it or not, this can make a difference in how fatigued you feel and help you to keep a relaxed stride.
Ideally you should hold your arms at a 90 degree angle. When you are holding them still, they should fall around your hips or waist. Sometimes, as you get fatigued, your hands will start to drift closer to your shoulders. If this starts to happen, take a moment to shake out your arms and find the 90 degree position again.
As you run, make sure you are swinging your arms directly forward and back from your shoulders. If your elbows are swinging out and your hands are crossing in front of your chest, you are moving your arms too far from side to side which wastes energy.
The exact positioning of your hips and upper body as you run ultimately depends on how fast you’re running. For example, a sprinter will have a much more noticeable forward lean than a marathoner. For most distance runners, you’ll want to maintain a strong upright position with a slight forward lean.
Keep the core body aligned all the way from your pelvis to your head. Many coaches will call this “running tall.” This position helps to maximise the efficiency of your arms, improve balance, and allow you to maintain a relaxed position. It also improves the efficiency of your legs, making each stride use the minimal amount of effort to get the maximum output. Of course, maintaining a strong upright position throughout a long run or full marathon requires a strong core—so don’t forget to add those strength training exercises to your routine!
Focus on a slight knee lift, shorter stride and relatively quick turnover. Your foot should land almost directly underneath your body and the knee should be slightly flexed to help absorb the impact of the stride. You should aim to strike the ground with your midfoot. This will help you to avoid a choppy stride and achieve a fluid forward motion.
Exercises to Improve Your Posture
One of the keys to improving your posture while running is to work on building a strong core. Planks are great because they don’t just target your abs—they force you to keep a straight spine and engage the muscles in your back, hips, shoulders and chest.
Start by lying on your stomach with your forearms on the ground and your elbows directly under your shoulders, your legs should be extended out behind you with your toes curled under. Press up onto your toes and maintain length from the top of your head through to your heels. Make sure your hips stay in line with the spine and don’t raise them up or sink them down. Start by holding this position for 30 seconds at a time then work up to a minute or two as you build strength and progress.
A great way to practice the proper arm position is to sit down with your legs out in front of you in front of a full length mirror at home or at the gym. Bend your arms to 90 degrees and begin to pump them back and forth like you are running. Move them slowly at first and watch yourself in the mirror to ensure your elbows aren’t popping out and your hands don’t cross the centerline of your chest. As you get more comfortable, move them faster while remembering to maintain relaxed shoulders and a long neck.
- Start in the A position. Stand on one leg with the opposite knee bent to 90 degrees and raised parallel to the ground. The foot on your free leg should be flexed with your toes pointing up. The opposite arm from the raised leg should be forward, just as if you are running. Align your head with your spine and gaze forward, keeping your chin parallel to the ground. Your hips should be facing forward and your spine in a neutral position. Your standing leg heel should be slightly off the ground with your weight on your midfoot.
- Switch your standing leg and free leg while moving forward and pause to hit the same position. Keep both feet dorsiflexed and strike the ground with your midfoot.
- Continue to switch your legs back and forth while slightly moving forward. The motion should become more fluid, like a skip, as you become more comfortable with the position.
- Do this drill for 10-15 meters at a time.
- Start in the same position as the A-skip
- As you bring your foot down to switch your free and standing leg, slightly extend and reach out with your leg.
- Just before your foot reaches the ground, bring it back under your center of gravity, keeping the foot flexed throughout the motion and landing on your midfoot.
- Repeat this motion moving forward with each step. Again, as you become more comfortable, the motion should become more fluid.
- Do this drill for 10-15 meters at a time.
Strides are great to incorporate in your training routine, particularly if you are focusing on improving your form and committing some of the ideal positions to muscle memory.
- At the end of a recovery run, build in time to run four to six 50 to 100 meters strides.
- Strides should be run at an accelerated yet relaxed pace that you feel comfortable holding for the full distance.
- During each stride, focus on your posture and attempt to hit all of the ideal positions.
Remember, everyone’s body is different, so there is no universal running style that will work perfectly for everyone. The most important thing is learning about your own body’s movements and understanding the physics of running. With this greater awareness, you’ll be able to run more efficiently to improve your speed, comfort and overall running health.