Running gets a bad rap. It can wreck your knees, trigger shin splints, wear down your foot arches, and worse. Every year up to 79 percent of runners, whether hardcore or recreational, suffer an injury, studies suggest. But researchers are discovering that the real problem isn't running — it's the sloppy form we use. "The majority of runners fall into patterns that cause unnecessary strain on their bodies," says running coach and former track-and-field Olympian Grant Robison. He offers a laundry list of errors: Our strides are too long; our shoulders slouch or our torsos are too upright; we land improperly. Plus, our posture and motions can be haphazard, so we're inefficient and tire quickly.
Which is why Robison boiled down the ideal running form to a simple plan. Called Good Form Running, it's a checklist of tips to improve posture, stride, and body position that Robison created with help from exercise physiologists, trainers, and coaches. The program, originally taught at Playmakers, a specialty running store in Michigan, became so popular that in 2010 it caught the attention of New Balance. The athletic-shoe company now owns the program and dispatches Robison to running stores all over the world to teach it. Sports doctors are also onboard with the protocol. "The form checks can reduce strain on the hamstrings, calves, Achilles tendons, and lower back," says Dr. Jeffrey Kovan, director of sports medicine and performance at Michigan State University. "When people use these tips, they improve their speed, boost their endurance, and enjoy the sport more."
Nailing the proper form, Robison says, begins before you take a step. Do this basic posture check first: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and raise your arms directly overhead, keeping your gaze level and knees soft. This ensures your spine, hips, and feet are aligned. (Recheck this periodically during your run.) Then follow these four tips:
Lean a Little
Tilt about 10 degrees forward, and the force of gravity will help propel you to the next step. Lean from ankles, not hips, so your back stays straight.
Check your Landing
Aim for the ball of your foot to hit the ground, rather than the heel (which increases strain on the knees) or toes (which wears out the calves). Try it first while walking in place, then in a slow jog.
Think About Your Arm Swings
Keep elbows in and bent at a 90-degree angle. Swing arms casually straight back, and never allow them to cross your midline. Don't squeeze your fists. Wild arm motions and tense muscles drain your energy.
Shorten Your Stride
The farther your foot lands in front of you, the harder the body works to stabilize; this strains muscles, slows you down, and makes you feel tired sooner. To dial in your stride, aim for a step cadence that gets you at 28 to 30 steps in 10 seconds. (Count them out to check.)