7 Easy Cheap Ways to Critique and Improve your Running Form

Good running form, have three more complex words ever been uttered? The thing is when you go out to look for tips you get the same four over and over. That’s not what this is. What this is instead is hands on approaches to evaluating your form and steps you can take to make it better. The thing is there really isn’t a consensus on what makes for ideal form. Add to that there’s a difference between perfect form for speed vs injury prevention, probably. 

Now for me I’m not an expert of running form but I did set out to change mine a few years ago with some success. Every website that purported to help me change my form was actually a list of ways to change my running. That’s cool and all but none of that actually helps me change my form. Plenty of experts suggest that runners shouldn’t attempt to change their form and just run as it feels natural for you, especially for new runners. I really don’t disagree with that except in situations where you’re dealing with frequent injuries. If you are consistently running to the doctor or PT it might be time for a change. Runners should expect an injury about every 1000 km on average. I think the if you’re consistently hitting that marker or getting more injuries than that you should probably think about trying something new. Ending up injured too often is what made me take a look at my form.

If you are a new runner (welcome) I wish that youtube existed when I started. There is no better time to be aware of your form than when you’re starting. It’s way easier to make a good habit than to break a bad one. So these are the things I did or wish I did to make changes to my form. So lets quickly cover what to look out for and then get into some tips for improving it!

What to look out for

If you’re running style involves flapping your arms like wings but you’re never injured and you’re fine with it then don’t change a thing baby! As much as some people do what comes naturally there are some well studied aspects to keep in mind and things that might signal it’s time for a change:

  • Clenching your jaw or teeth (leads to a headache after a run)
  • Making hard fists (tight arms and shoulders)
  • Toe cramps (clenched toes)
  • Uneven sole wear at the heel, toe or sides
  • A sore back or shoulders
  • Frequent injury
  • Over striding (where you’re front foot lands)
  • A pronounced lean (forward is more common)
  • Heel strike

Watch Youtube videos

This is one of the things that I did that helped me actually modify my form. It’s one thing to read the STAR tips over and over but it’s another to see it in action over and over. Watch lots because you’re not just watching to learn what to do but to have the visual beaten into your head. I also found it helpful to watch my favorite one just before I headed out the door for a run.

Record yourself running

This is a no brainer but so few of us do it, including me. Now try as hard as you can to forget that that camera is recording. Take a video of yourself running and wait until you capture some strides that feel totally normal to you. Notice where and how your foot lands, what you’re arms are doing and overall how relaxed you look through all the parts of your body as you go. Then you can play it back frame by frame or slow it down to see how you look at each moment of your stride. I never thought or bothered to actually do it. When I started taking pictures for the blog’s Instagram all of a sudden I had this cache of images of my stride. Since then I can actually see the positive changes I made in my stride. 

Run with a shop club free run

Here’s the thing I know how I run, sort of, but it’s really hard for me to take in your stride and make suggestions since I’m not a super awesome run coach. Hiring a run coach is expensive though and maybe unnecessary for you, so how do you get some free advice? Almost every running/sports store out there hosts a weekly or monthly free run or clinic. Why not go a few times and then ask the coach running the program what he/she thinks you need to work on. Then go home work on that and come back if you need more advice.

Pick one run a week where it’s top of mind

Thinking about your form all the time when you’re running isn’t the most fun. If you find that thinking about how to change your stride is sucking all the fun our out of your runs than give yourself a break. Pick one run, the first few or last few miles of your runs to focus on changing your form. Alternatively if you want to make a variety of tweaks focus on changing one at a time until it sticks and then go on to the next one. Soon enough those changes will take hold, especially if it makes running feel easier for you.

STAR: shoulders, tall, arms, relax

So here’s the standard advice you’ll find everywhere else. Do go read about it to help it sink in but here goes. Shouders back, stand tall (and look straight ahead, arms moving, in light fists thumbs up and try your best to relax and let any tension you feel go. Cool, I said it now let’s move on.

Do more hills, notice changes on those hills

It is really, really hard to run up hills with bad form. Perhaps that’s why our form naturally seems to get better when we’re on a hill. However running down a hill is easy to do with bad form and can be more causative in injuries. So if you want to improve your ‘natural’ form run up lots of hills and make it a point to notice the little changes that happen with how you’re moving. Not advice any runner is really looking to hear but including a big hill at the start of my runs has done wonders for my form. On my regular route about 1km in there is a 700 m SUPER STEEP hill that I can’t run up without cursing at. However… it is a really good way for me to set out after my warm up km with good form. Notice it, emulate it and keep it as much as possible for the rest of the run. Sorry to tell you to run more hills but it also makes you faster overall and more injury resistant. Sorry!

Take more smaller steps

This is one of those things where regular runners deviate from the super-fast elites. They tend to run a certain way which is pretty much by definition not doable for the rest of us. They take lots of steps, long reaching steps and are often heel strikers. These things all make you faster but for us mere mortals some of those things are likely to end in injury (at least some studies show that). If you’re landing foot hits beyond your body that exerts more force on your body. So instead aim to take shorter steps and land under your upper body. In order to get faster you’ll take more steps per minute. This is a way to become a more efficient runner and guess what that feels easier! Just out of curiosity is this making up AT ALL for telling you to run up more hills? Landing like this is also more likely to lead to a mid-foot strike in case that actually lessens your chances of injury. If it doesn’t it does make your shoes last longer though so that’s a thing. While you’re working on this you might notice that you get a bit slower I did but that’s okay once you want to get faster again, AFTER you fix your form. Once that’s done you can focus on cadence (number of steps per minute) and get faster again. But you also might find it makes running seem easier so focus on that!

If all of that fails hire a run coach for a few sessions but take some time in between to work on your form to get the most out of it. Have you ever tried to change your running form? Did it work? How do you know it worked? 

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