Running requires your core, legs, upper body — you name it. And because of this, there’s a lot of room for error. One muscle imbalance or mile too far can spell injury, and it’s harder than you’d think to be careful. Not to mention, if your gait or stride isn’tjust right, you could quickly be sidelined.
Having proper running form is essential for any runner’s health and longevity. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know if you have good or bad running form without a coach or some serious self-analysis.
On the bright side, though, there are some signs and indications of poor running form — ones you can look out for and address to become a better, healthier runner.
A surprise to no one — when something hurts, something’s wrong. Too often, runners ignore aches and discomfort, and then wonder why they’re injured weeks or months later. All throughout college, I had pain in my lower calves whenever I’d run, and it wasn’t until I analyzed my running form that I realized it was bad. Once I did some research and fine-tuned my stride (which, for me, involved switching from a heel strike to a mid-foot strike), the pain disappeared.
Numerous runners suffer knee, hip, foot, and even upper body discomfort when they run, and are quick to write it off as a growing pain — something that comes with training. While you don’t have to jump at every twinge or overthink your soreness, pain often indicates that something, somewhere in your body is off, and it should prompt you to take another look at how you’re running. For me, if the pain doesn’t subside after one or two runs (and after continuous icing and resting), I’m taking a step back and seeking guidance — from a coach, a book, YouTube videos, wherever — to figure out what’s up.
This isn’t a telltale, sure-fire indicator, but if your posture is bad, there’s a decent chance that your running form is too. Posture reflects our body’s alignment, and when our alignment is off, we tend to develop muscular imbalances that can alter our running form. Improper posture can be difficult to correct, so if you experience chronic pain in your back (upper or lower), shoulders or hips, consider contacting a physical therapist, taking up yoga, and putting aside time to stretch and strengthen your postural muscles. Once your body is balanced and moving as intended, you’ll be able to correct your running form.
Nothing is more frustrating than working hard and seeing no progress. For many runners, that’s why they train. Progress takes effort and patience, but you should be progressing in some way when you’re consistently training.
If you feel that’s not the case, you have to look at your training program, your adherence to it, and your running form. First, is your training plan realistic? Are you trying to go from two to 10 miles in a week? Also ask yourself, how much are you actually running? We all go into training programs and new habit development with the best of intentions, but we underestimate how challenging self-accountability can be (when we’re so used to external validation). Whether or not you progress in speed, distance, or otherwise depends on your commitment level to training—when you practice, you get better; when you don’t, you won’t.
In the event that your plan is both realistic and attainable for you, you’re sticking to it, but you still aren’t running faster, farther, or with any more ease — well, it’s time to review your running form. Oftentimes adjusting your gait, head, arm swing, or opening your stride can unlock underlying speed and conserve your energy. The best way to diagnose the issue is to consult a running specialist or coach (which you can usually find at a running store, indoor running studio, or online), a sports physical therapist, or a sports medicine doctor. Once you know what’s going on, you can recalibrate and move forward in no time.
We also recommend discussing your health goals with your licensed healthcare professional. They can best provide you with the diagnosis and treatment of any medical condition and assist you as well in deciding whether a dietary supplement will be a helpful addition to your regimen.