Perfect, Pain-free Running Form

“No pain, no gain” is one of the most persistent fitness bromides, chanted by countless exercisers as they push themselves through their workouts. Despite the prevalence of this phrase though, it’s actually a terrible over-simplification, with potentially dangerous effects.

The truth is that pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong and shouldn’t just be ignored. If your car starts to make an unfamiliar sound, do you drive faster or do you stop to see what the problem is?

Out of all exercise modes, running can come with an extremely wide spectrum of aches and pains, some minor and some more severe. While the exact remedy for your particular pain will depend on your individual situation, a major step for most runners is to check their stride and running form. Although these changes generally help relieve most common pains, more severe and persistent problems should be discussed with your doctor.


How to Run

People rarely think about their running form; they just run. And since running comes so naturally to the human body, it can take a considerable amount of conscious effort to make any changes. It’s very possible, though, that your running technique is the cause of your pains, whether they’re in your feet or your neck.

Do you watch your feet when you run? Or are you looking for dropped change? Since your posture begins in your neck, it’s vital that you hold your head upright. This will help to straighten up your shoulders and align your spine, which will make all of your other movements more efficient.

Personally, I have difficulty with my shoulders. Especially towards the end of my run, when I’m starting to get tired, my shoulders start to tighten and creep up toward my ears. When this happens my chest narrows and reduces my breathing capacity and my balance is thrown off. If you struggle with this, periodically shake your shoulders loose and be conscious of keeping them level.

The arms play a surprisingly important role in running, since most of the work is done by your legs. The well-timed swinging of your arms works along with your legs to maintain your balance and move you forward. To optimize this relationship and stop yourself from wasting energy where it’s not needed, make sure that your arms swing forward and back, not side to side across your torso. For the same reason, refrain from clenching your fists since this will tighten up much of your upper body and limit movement while burning unnecessary calories and demanding blood which is really needed elsewhere.

You may not think of it as a particularly dynamic area but the reality is that much of the movement associated with running originates in your torso and hips. If you’ve ever worked with a running coach or any track professional, you’ve probably heard a lengthy lecture of “running tall.” This means that you should keep your body upright, maintaining the natural curve in your lumbar spine. This plays the dual role of opening up your chest for maximum lung capacity and ensuring that all of your joints are properly.


Along with an upright posture, though, many modern running styles now stress a slight lean starting from your ankles. This can be very difficult to master and will require some patience but many notice a significant improvement in their speed and overall enjoyment after grasping this technique. The lean is almost a controlled fall so that you’re allowing gravity to pull you forward.

Make sure that your hips are level throughout your exercise since misaligned hips will throw off everything that comes after them. If your hips are crooked, your knees and ankles will all be forced into unnatural angles to compensate. This will often require stretching before and after your run to loosen the muscles around your hips and allow them to operate normally.

Keep a slight bend in your knees so that they can absorb the impact of each step but keep your steps short. If your lower leg is landing in front of you, you’re hyperextending your knees and this could cause pain and significant injury.

Lastly, of course, we have to consider your feet. You should land on the middle of your foot and roll forward onto the balls of your feet for the push-off. Some shoes can make this difficult if they have heavy padding on the heel which can encourage a heel-strike. This strike pattern will cut your stride short and greatly increase the risk of injury to your ankles, knees and muscles of your lower leg. Likewise, landing on the balls of your feet won’t allow your foot to properly absorb the impact and will put too much pressure of the weaker bones of your foot, as well as on your calves.

We tend to take for granted that our bodies will naturally know how to run correctly but the truth is that we often make mistakes without realizing it that can cause constant and even debilitating pain. Fortunately, a few simple changes to our technique can make all the difference.

What has helped you to avoid injuries while running? Please share your tips with us in the comments.





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About jonathan.thompson

Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Running Coach with the American Council on Exercise, specializing in nutrition. In addition to his real-world experience working with clients, his articles and blogs on fitness advice have been published on many websites and magazines.