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How to Run with Proper Form and Technique

Find Your Stride with Our Running Guide

-- By Nancy Howard, Certified Running Coach
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Arms and Hands
When you run, your arms (and hands) are just as important and powerful as your legs are. They provide power and speed as they propel forward. Proper arm and hand placement is just as important as good posture if you want to be a better runner. Here's a rundown of proper alignment and movement from your fingertips to your shoulders.
  • Lightly cup your hand as through you were holding an egg or a delicate butterfly. Don't make a tight, clenching fist or keep your hands too loose that they become floppy.
  • Keep your wrists loose. This will help you maintain a good hand and shoulder position—and avoid tension in the hands and arms that can work its way up to your shoulders.
  • Bend your elbows at approximately a 90-degree angle with your elbows slightly pointed away from your torso. As your arms pump, your elbows should swing somewhere between your chest and waistline—not higher or lower than that. Carrying your arms too high can lead to fatigue, a shorter stride length, and increased shoulder tension; carrying them too low can lead to bouncing and a forward lean.
  • Allow your arms to swing from the shoulders in a pumping motion from front to back. Be careful to prevent your arms from crossing the midline of your body.
  • Pumping your arms at a faster rate will allow for faster leg turnover, however make sure you do not put too much power into your arm movement unless you are doing speed work, running up hills or powering yourself to get across the finish line. Your goal is to hold off fatigue and muscle tension.
Over time, each runner will discover a breathing technique that works best for him or her. As to whether you breathe through your nose, mouth, or a combination of the two, is a personal preference. Most runners find that mouth breathing provides the body with the greatest amount of oxygen.

Whatever technique you choose to use, make sure your breathing is relaxed and deep. It may take conscious effort in the beginning, but deep abdominal or "belly" breathing is ideal for running. Most of the time, we breath quickly and shallowly into our chests. This may work fine for daily living, when the body isn't demanding a greater need for oxygen, but it's an inefficient—and even stressful—way to breathe when exercising.

To practice belly breathing, lie flat on your back with a book on your abdomen. Slowly inhale as you watch the book rise, then lower the book by slowly exhaling. This takes focus, but overtime you will find it easier to do this type of breathing during your runs.

Side stitches (sharp, cramp-like pain in the trunk of the body) are quite common among new runners, and they can really put a damper on your workout. One cause of side stitches can be shallow, upper chest breathing. This is where belly breathing helps tremendously. By inhaling and then forcefully exhaling through pursed lips, you can very often help prevent the dreaded side stitch. Maintaining good posture, with your body in an upright position, also allows for better lung expansion, therefore permitting for greater delivery of oxygen to the muscles.
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About The Author

Nancy Howard Nancy Howard
Nancy is an avid runner and health enthusiast. A retired pediatric nurse, she received her bachelor's degree in nursing from Texas Woman's University and is also a certified running coach and ACE-certified personal trainer.

Member Comments

  • Thanks for sharing - 11/15/2013 7:37:00 AM
  • I don't like running that much. I like to walk. - 7/20/2013 8:49:29 PM
  • No, she actually said quite clearly that heel strike is bad, bad bad -- read it again! That horrible picture (about which I completely agree) probably influenced what you thought you read.

    I really like this article overall, I just wish the really important stuff as regards injury (stride and foot strike) had been put up front where people prone to "tl;dr" would be sure to see it. - 3/25/2013 9:10:18 PM
    you start the article with a picture of bad form, then in the article you say heel strike is OK- WOW- yes heel strike is great running form for other people to use if you are an orthpedic surgeon! - 3/5/2013 4:05:19 AM
  • Switching from a heel strike to a mid-foot strike was awkward at first but holy moley what a difference!! Knee pain? COMPLETELY GONE! Not only that but I have more power and am able to run much faster now. Granted, my calf muscles were in agony for the first 4 days because they were not used to that motion but they recover quickly and did I mention, NO MORE KNEE PAIN!!!!!
    I am through my first 5 (of 8) weeks of Zombies, Run 5K training and for the first time I have some hope that I'll actually be able to run the entire 5K by the time I finish the series!! - 2/20/2013 11:12:53 AM
  • "This occurs when you land lightly on the outside ball of the foot then quickly roll to the heel only to push off with your big toe."

    Does this mean you land mid-strike, roll your foot backward, then roll it forward again? Ain't nobody got time for that!!! - 2/5/2013 10:14:13 AM
  • Why does the accompanying picture demonstrate bad running mechanics such as over striding, heel first foot strike and the centre of mass behind the foot strike with the knee locked? - 1/13/2013 7:30:41 AM
    This is a very informative article.. Thank you for sharing. When I run or walk my feet don't always seem to come off the ground. I'm not sure the correct term for this.. But ik it's not good for my walk or jog. - 10/3/2012 2:00:21 PM
  • I am so glad to hear there was a way to get rid of the side stitches. I thought it was just something I had to deal with until I became more fit. Same for the neck pain. Excited to try these techniques out tonight on my run! - 9/20/2012 1:51:05 PM
  • RYAN092409
    I have to say that I am new to running and literally just started a week ago I ran 1.5 miles everyday for 5 days and was exhausted and breathing to hard that my throat would hurt. I started reading some articles and found that everything this article has in on different sites. So I slouched, had a long stride, and was chest breathing. On the sixth day I tryed all of these. I ran with my back straight and head up, this helped me with to belly breath. I also shortened my stride a bit. I went from 1.5 miles one day to 2.7 miles the next. I could have kept going but i was tired from a long day at work. This truly does help for the beginners. I used to get discuraged and quit running after a week due to lack of results but I am now excited to go for a run. - 8/7/2012 1:54:45 PM
  • Before I had read this article I would walk/jog/run while breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth. I would always get those side stitches so I will definitely practice the belly breathing. It'll be a challenge trying to focus on that while running but to not have those side stitches would be wonderful they always hold me back from continuing. I've also been having trouble with what exactly my foot strike should be I was running on the balls of my feet is that bad form though I'm still kind of confused by that. Great and very informative article though thanks a bunch!! - 8/2/2012 3:25:38 PM
  • Great article. Getting the form right is a challenge but, adjusting the swing of my arms has helped. I will try fixing the face :) - 7/19/2012 4:38:59 PM
  • Without meaning to sound disrespectful, I 'd be happy to just be able to RUN again
    :( - 5/29/2012 9:07:38 PM
  • Thanks for the great read, Nancy. This is the second time I've read it and will continue to do so as a refresher in my journey. I've learned a lot from your contributions and guidance. All the best....Monty - 5/17/2012 9:12:58 AM
  • Great article!! I'm just starting out and very guilty of the shallow breathing and always looking down. I have a hard time with looking up. Too much track work, I guess. I'm going to go down the list one at a time and work on each area. Thanks for the great article! - 10/25/2011 6:53:51 PM
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