Running along, you suddenly feel a sharp pain in your side. You slow down, stop, do the telltale side grab. Bend at the waist, breathe…
Side stitches are just one of the issues that can arise from poor running form. While they aren’t always caused by poor form, it certainly doesn’t help.
Runners know, form is important. When you’re running along, you may be using up more energy than you need to, setting yourself up for fatigue, side stitches, strains and even stress fractures. If you want to hit the pavement regularly (and not burn out) you may need know how to improve your running form.
So if you’re ready to feel better running (and even boost your time and stamina) here’s how to improve your form.
Improve Your Running Form with Focus on Your Upper Body
Believe it or not the first step in improving your running form is looking at how you hold your upper body when you run. Many runners lean too far forward, too far back or hold tension in their shoulders.
When you run, you should RELAX. I know, that’s a tall order, after all, running requires energy and tension to be present in your body. When you’re a new runner first starting out, you may feel like you’re holding your body tense because running’s tough! It’s hard to relax when you’re simply trying to get through it.
The good news is, it gets better with time. As you start to become more comfortable with running, you’ll loosen up a bit. Your shoulders will come down.
Work on Your Arms
When you’re running hold your arms at an angle by your sides (not high up, or *shudder* swinging at your sides). It’s hard especially when you’re starting out, to not want to move your arms to “propel” yourself forward. We’ve all seen elite athletes who really pump their arms as their racing.
However, pumping your arms will actually cause you to burn out quickly. It tenses up your body and uses more energy. Your arms should be relaxed and bent 90 degrees at the elbows. Your hands should be held in loose fists (not tight). Imagine you’re holding something delicate in your fists. Keep your thumb knuckles pointed upward.
Don’t move your arms across your body (which is a surefire way to cause injury). Instead just let them relax at your sides. They’ll move slightly as you run, but they should be pretty steady.
This is a tough one. It’s hard not to bounce as you run. After all, running IS bouncing/jumping (in a way). Imagine you’re in a room with a very short ceiling. If you bounce up too much you’ll hit your head.
Keep your steps loose and soft. Don’t strike the ground hard or spring too much. If you’re springing along, you’ll find yourself using much more energy than if you simply run along the ground steadily.
Bouncing can also cause side aches. It’s tough and jarring on your whole body. If you find yourself bouncing too much, it may help to slow down as you work on proper form rather than speed.
Pay Attention to Your Foot Strike
As we’ve discussed before, there’s a common tendency among runners to overpronate or underpronate. This has a lot to do with your arch (high or flat) and your body shape. While there’s not much you can do to change those factors you can make sure you’ve been fitted for the best shoes for your foot type.
You can also look at the way your foot lands on the ground. Your foot should land flat–not on tiptoe. Again, this is where watching elite runners can flub up your form. You see fast runners look as though their floating along–feet barely touching the ground.
Most of us aren’t elite runners. Your foot should land flat and it may help to slightly flex your foot. It shouldn’t land hard or “pound” the ground. Don’t land on your heal either (ouch!).
Proper shoes will go a long way to improving your footstrike. Head to your nearest running store to see what type of shoe you need. They can test your gate and see exactly how you strike and stride. This will allow you to find shoes to support your feet, prevent injury and it will make your run feel easier!
Watch the way you breathe as you run. Stand up straight and take in deep breaths (not gasps or hyperventilation). If your shoulders are relaxed, your chest will feel more open. You’ll be able to take in more air and thus, have more energy.
Side aches can be caused by improper breathing. To use the best breathing technique, Inhale for three counts (or steps) and exhale for two. You may want to breathe in and out of both your nose and your mouth. Try holding your mouth slightly open–not gasping, but relax your jaw and let your lips part as you breathe in and out.
Make a conscious effort to keep your breathing rhythmic. Running can become a form of meditation, which is why many runners prefer to run without music or sound. Listen to your breathe and focus on keeping it slow, even and steady.
Stand Up Straight
Like your teachers probably told you in school–sit up straight–you’ll want to keep your back nice and straight as you run. This also helps keep your lungs open. Imagine your head being held up by a string. You want to keep your back long and strong. Keep your neck straight. Hold your chin normally.
It can really help to keep your eyes fixed on a point on the horizon. Not only does this help you maintain good posture, but it can also make your run feel shorter. People who keep their eyes on the finish line (or at a point ahead in the distance) run faster, feel less fatigued and interpret their run as being “shorter.”
So look ahead, run with confidence. Stay relaxed and breathe. Let your feet hit the ground solidly-but-lightly. You’ve got this!
Running with proper form isn’t hard, but it requires you adopt a few techniques to keep you on track. Try these tips and see if your run-energy improves!