1. Don’t look down!
Some runners naturally look down while running. It’s an understandable response for many— our legs are hard at work while we run, and plenty of people just want to see those legs in action. Totally understandable. Unfortunately this puts your body in an unnatural position, and it leads to neck strains over prolonged periods of time. Additionally, many trail runners look down instinctively to avoid tripping while on rugged trails. The problem? If you’re looking down at your feet, whatever you see that you need to avoid— it’ll likely be too late for you to respond in time anyway!
→ Do: look forward about 25 feet ahead of you while you run. This helps not only ensure that you avoid straining your neck, but it also aids in proper running form by helping you avoid slouching. And for trail runners, this provides time for you to respond to ditches, branches, etc. that might be in your running path.
2. Don’t clench your fists.
Running is an intense activity for many. It gets most people “fired up,” and, as a result, people are prone to clenching their fists tightly. Its a reflexive action for many— their brain is in “fight through it” mode, so their body responses with a literal fighting stance. The problem is that the muscle activity required to clench one’s fists can easily fatigue runners. Bottom line: it’s expending precious energy that you need to run, so don’t do it.
→ Do: keep your hands in an unclenched fist. Imagine that there’s a space between your fingers and your palms, one big enough to easily slide a pencil through.
3. Don’t cross the midline.
In the same vein, runners also tend to get carried away with the arm movements. Running, however, is first and foremost a lower body activity. While the upper body is involved to some degree, it shouldn’t be where you’re using up the majority of your energy. Have you ever seen a runner making erratic cross-body arm movements? It looks exhausting just watching it! Not only does an overly exaggerated arm swing waste much-needed energy, but it also puts your body at risk for injury (shoulder joints, primarily) due to the unnatural range of motion.
→ Do: focus on the swing through. Your elbow should be bent at roughly a 90 degree angle, and your arms should be moving primarily in a front to back motion. Imagine a line down the center of your body, and avoid allowing your arms to swing across that line.
4. Don’t lean forward at the waist.
For whatever reason, some runners seem to think that leaning forward drastically at the waist will enable faster running somehow. It doesn’t. In fact, it’s actually the opposite. It’s almost as if mentally you are telling yourself to get there faster, but— since your legs can’t go that fast— leaning forward at the waist makes you mentally “feel” like you’re getting there faster. The only problem is that this throws off your balance by altering your center of gravity. Not only does this create the potential for back problems due to the poor posture, but it also causes your body to work harder since now not only does it have to cope with the physical demands of running— but it also has utilize additional energy towards maintaining balance.
→ Do: find your sweet spot. To do this, stand straight up. Slowly lean forward at your ankles, not your waist. At a certain point, you’ll feel the natural urge to step forward. This is your running “sweet spot,” which is the ideal posture for running. Due to the slight lean, it aids in foot movement, by making it easier for you to propel your foot forward, but the lean is neither at the waist nor exaggerated, preventing unnecessary energy use or possible injury risks. Avoid slouching your shoulders or slumping over at the waist.
5. Don’t over-stride.
Runners often think that the longer your stride is, the faster your pace will be overall. Again, this is misguided thinking. The fact is that the longer your stride, the more work you create yourself. It requires a great amount of energy to propel your body forward to meet your over-stride point, not to mention that it places unnecessary stress on your leg muscles. Like the other don’ts of good running form, this one too can exponentially increase your risk for injury.
→ Do: use shorter, quicker strides. Your ideal stride length depends largely on the length of your legs, and, while I could give you a complicated formula to discern your ideal stride length— no one wants that. The perfect stride length should feel natural to you, not like an over-reaching of the foot forward.