Running helps improve cardiovascular health, burn calories, and relieve stress. However, running boasts one of the highest injury rates for novice or amateurs. The truth is that many runners are at risk of injury due to improper running form. In this article, we explore what the research points to as proper running form, how it can help prevent injuries, and provide links to clinical resources and research articles.
Let’s first dive into defining Proper Running Form.
What is Proper Running Form or Technique?
When we say “Proper running form”, we mean the technique and posture you use while running. It involves a series of movements that help reduce the impact on your joints and muscles. The correct running form includes the following:
- Posture: Stand up straight with your shoulders relaxed and your head facing forward. Avoid leaning forward or backward, as this can strain your neck and back.
- Foot Strike: Your foot should land gently on the ground, and the ball of your foot should make initial contact. Avoid landing on your heel, which can cause injuries such as shin splints and plantar fasciitis.
- Cadence: Aim for a cadence of 180 steps per minute. This will help reduce the impact on your joints and muscles, and increase your running efficiency.
- Arm Swing: Keep your arms relaxed and bent at a 90-degree angle. Your arms should swing back and forth, not across your body.
As we’ve written about in this article, focusing on a forefoot or mid foot strike helps address all four of the points listed above. Running from the forefoot or mid-foot reduces the risk of heel-striking. In heel striking, you land on your head and your foot and body-weight shift from your heel to your goals. In forefoot striking, you land on your forefoot (the ball of your foot) and your foot and body weight shift back towards your heel at the end of a step. This means that, instead of stretching out your leg in front of yourself when running, your foot tends to land directly under your body and center of gravity.
How does this change in foot strike affect impact forces, and potentially, injury risks? Well, one study suggested that —even on harder surfaces— “runners who forefoot strike generate smaller collision forces that shot rear foot strikers.”
What does “good” running form look like?
So what does “good” running form look like? Well, I described it a bit in the section above, but it involves avoiding over-striding. This is was most runners do. To run faster, they stretch their leg out in front of their body, landing on their heel. This results in longer, slower strides, which makes you less efficient as a runner, but can also increase the impact through the knees, hips, and back.
Simply changing stride-length can have a great impact on your running form. It helps increase your cadence (the number of steps your take in a minute), and improves your form by encouraging you to stay in an upright posture, using your elbows to drive back behind your body to propel you forward.
This picture shows the difference between heel striking and forefoot strike:
You can see in the picture on the left, the runner stretches forward and lands on their heel with their knee extended. They then end up “pushing” off with that foot and stretching forward with the other leg, to land on that heel. In the picture on the right, you can see that the length of the steps is shorter. Also, the heel is getting pulled up towards the read, instead of stretched out in front of the body.
Why Proper Running Form is Important
Proper running form helps prevent injuries while running. As mentioned above, when you run with proper form, you reduce the impact on your joints and muscles, which can help prevent injuries such as:
- Shin splints
- Plantar fasciitis
- IT band syndrome
- Runner’s knee
By running with proper form, you can also improve your running efficiency, which means you’ll be able to run longer and faster.
What the Research Says About Proper Running Form
Here are four clinical resources that show the importance of proper running form in preventing injuries:
- A 2014 study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy found that runners who landed on their heel had a higher risk of injury than those who landed on the ball of their foot.
- A 2015 study published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine found that increasing your cadence can reduce the impact on your knees while running.
- A 2016 study published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that improving your posture while running can reduce the risk of injuries such as lower back pain and IT band syndrome.
- A 2017 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that runners who focused on their arm swing while running had a more efficient running form and reduced their risk of injury.
Heel Striking & Running Form
The first study listed compared the foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot runners and those who run with shoes. The study found that barefoot runners tended to land on the forefoot or midfoot, while shod runners tended to land on the heel.
The researchers also found that barefoot runners experienced lower impact forces than shod runners, which may reduce the risk of injury.
Cadence or Step Rate & Running Impact
The second study listed investigated the effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running. The researchers found that increasing the cadence (step rate) of running can reduce the impact on your knees while running. Specifically, they found that increasing the cadence by 10% resulted in a 14% reduction in knee joint loading.
Using Proper Running Form to Address Knee Pain
The third study investigated the best practices for conservative management of patellofemoral pain (PFP), a common running injury. The study recommended addressing running technique as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for PFP.
Specifically, the researchers suggested focusing on reducing impact forces through changes in foot strike pattern and increasing step rate.
Using Running Form to address Medically Diagnosed Running Injuries
The fourth listed study found that runners with injuries tended to have greater vertical impact loading than those without injuries. The researchers suggested that reducing impact forces through changes in running technique, such as landing on the forefoot, could help prevent injuries.
In summary, these studies suggest that proper running form, including landing on the forefoot, increasing cadence, and reducing impact forces, can help prevent injuries while running.
Proper running form is essential for preventing injuries and improving running efficiency. By maintaining good posture, landing on the ball of your foot, aiming for a cadence of 180 steps per minute, and keeping your arms relaxed and bent, you can reduce the impact on your joints and muscles and avoid common running injuries. With the help of the clinical resources we’ve provided, we hope you can see the importance of proper running form and implement it in your next run.
And, if you want to start your path towards natural, pain-free running, check out The Natural Running Training Program.
If you live in the local area, and want to address running injuries or pains, book an appointment with us here.
- Lieberman, D. E., Venkadesan, M., Werbel, W. A., Daoud, A. I., D’Andrea, S., Davis, I. S., … & Pitsiladis, Y. (2010). Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature, 463(7280), 531-535. https://www.nature.com/articles/nature08723
- Heiderscheit, B. C., Chumanov, E. S., Michalski, M. P., Wille, C. M., & Ryan, M. B. (2011). Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 43(2), 296-302. https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/fulltext/2011/02000/effects_of_step_rate_manipulation_on_joint.16.aspx
- Barton, C. J., Lack, S., Hemmings, S., Tufail, S., & Morrissey, D. (2016). The ‘best practice guide to conservative management of patellofemoral pain’: incorporating level 1 evidence with expert clinical reasoning. British journal of sports medicine, 50(14), 849-853. https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/50/14/849
- Schubert, A. G., Kempf, J., & Heiderscheit, B. C. (2017). Influence of stride frequency and length on running mechanics: a systematic review. Sports health, 9(2), 154-161. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1941738117694860
- Hutchison MK, Dorociak R, Modafferi A, et al. Can Foot Exercises and Going Barefoot Improve Function, Muscle Size, Foot Pressure During Walking and Qualitative Reports of Function in People with Flat Foot? Foot & Ankle Orthopaedics. July 2018. doi:10.1177/2473011418S00257