With fewer and fewer people heading to the gym due to the COVID pandemic, running has gotten more and more popular as a way for people to stay fit, socially distance, get out of the house, and de-stress.
Whether you are athletic or not, you likely enjoy the sensation of running: the wind in your face, the sound of your heart pounding, and the feeling of your feet carrying you to a distant destination. You experienced your first run as a toddler. This is a glorious, if unsteady, moment that leads you into an entire young life of running freely and without care.
Because running comes naturally to you, it’s difficult to think that there is a right way or wrong way to run, but your adult body will tell you differently. Running without proper alignment can lead to pain, unnecessary exhaustion, and even injury, especially if you go for long runs as part of your routine exercise or to clear your head.
Running correctly is all about balancing your body. Your skeleton, muscles, and tendons form a finely tuned machine, and like a machine, everything must be aligned correctly for optimal performance and for avoiding accidents. If your ankles turn out, your knees knock, or your shoulders slump, you can become exhausted, feel pain, or increase your chance of a stress injury or a fall. If you run with proper alignment, you can increase your speed, enjoy a more efficient use of your body’s energy, and find that strain injuries are a thing of the past. Here’s how it’s done.
Head Aligned with Spine
Start with your head. Running is a full-body experience, and the alignment of your spine matters from top to bottom. You should not look up or down, left or right, for any extended amount of time. The best posture for your head is with your chin approximately parallel to the ground, pointed straight forward in alignment with your spine. Your eyes can look anywhere, but it’s easier to maintain good posture if you look ahead at nothing in particular.
Back Straight, Torso Firm and Gyrating
Your back should also be aligned to keep your spine relatively straight. You’ll likely find your abdomen naturally firm, but not tense. Breathe deeply in through the nose and out through the mouth, allowing your diaphragm to expand and contract without fully relaxing your abdomen.
Do not hold your torso fully rigid. This can throw off your gait. Instead, allow your body to gyrate naturally while maintaining finishing-school-style posture.
Shoulders Thrown Back and Cross-Coordinated
Your shoulders should be thrown back as if you’re trying to trap something between your shoulder blades. But again, don’t tense up or remain rigid. Your shoulders will need to move with your arms cross-coordinated with the knee that is lifted or back. In this case, your right shoulder will roll forward as your left knee rises. The left shoulder will roll back as your left foot pushes off behind you.
Thumbs Up, Elbows Bent
As for the rest of your arms, make sure that your elbows are bent at approximately 90 degrees. Don’t let your hands ball into fists or tense into rigid blades no matter how hard you’re running. To keep your shoulders loose, you’ll need to keep your hands loose. For the best alignment, point your thumbs toward the sky. Whether it’s more comfortable to form semi-blades, hand-cups, or a thumbs-up is up to you.
Knees Aligned with Feet
Your feet should be pointed straight forward down the path. Make sure you’re wearing the right supportive shoes for your arches and stepping without rolling your ankles inward or outward. Also, make sure that your knees are aligned with the center of each foot as your step lands. Keep your knees pointing straight forward, which should lift enough to provide a decent stride for your run.
The Right Kind of Foot Strike
While you will see conflicting information all over the internet, studies are relatively inconclusive over which kind of foot strike – heel, midfoot, or forefoot – is best. In fact, there are positives and negatives to each style of running. What’s important is to find the running style that works best and feels most comfortable for you, rather than trying to force yourself into a specific kind of foot strike (some studies show that may actually INCREASE injuries).
Choose The Right Shoes
It goes without saying that choosing the right running shoes and gear for you is important. While there isn’t any good evidence that choosing a specific kind of running shoe can prevent injury (spoiler, its actually running form that can do that), running in shoes that feel comfortable and enjoyable to run in can help tremendously with staying consistent in your running regimen.
Unsure of where to start? Here are the best running shoes of 2020, according to the experts at Runner’s World.
The Joy of Running Properly
How do you know when you are running with the correct musculoskeletal alignment? Your body will tell you. Running with proper alignment will feel like you are facing less resistance and have a great deal more energy because your body is not wasting energy on pulling muscles in a less optimal way. Your joints and ligaments are less likely to feel sore at the end of a run, and you may even top your best speed because there’s no misalignment drag holding you back.