Four Steps to Better Running Form

We could all use a few pointers on running form. For the most seemingly simple activity one can do, there are actually a lot of moving parts. And due to the repetitive nature of the sport, if you’re not careful, you could be unwittingly setting yourself up for an injury down the road. “We’re doing so much while we run, and we don’t even realize it,” says Brian Beckstead, co-founder of running shoe brand Altra. An ultra runner himself (who recently completed the 100-mile-plus Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc and followed by the Wasatch 100 just two weeks later), Beckstead, along with fellow ultra runner and Altra founder Golden Harper, built his running shoe brand around the principle of efficient natural movement. To bring runners closer to a barefoot running experience, Altra shoes are built with zero drop from heel to toe. They also feature a foot-shaped toe box to allow the toes to splay naturally, dramatically improving stability and response. To Beckstead, as you could imagine, form is everything—from success in his sport to longevity in the long run. “Running technique is a lifelong project,” he says. “It’s not something like, ‘Oh, I got it—now I can just run.’ Its something you can absolutely make big improvements on. You can always get a little better.” Here, in his own words, are Beckstead’s four principles for optimal running form.

Brian Beckstead runs through some form tips with a group of elite athletes in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France, days before taking on the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc.
Brian Beckstead runs through some form tips with a group of elite athletes in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France, days before taking on the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc.

Maintain Balance

The easiest way to get into a balanced forward posture is to take a deep breath. When you take a deep breath, your shoulders come back, your spine straightens, and your chest opens up. That’s the balanced part. Then you want to get that posture forward, but you don’t want to bend at the waist. As soon as you bend at the waist, your shoulders come down, your chest closes, and your back isn’t straight anymore. The way I recommend doing it is from the bottom up—leaning forward from the ankles. You want to be careful with your eyes as well. For most people, as soon as they try to lean forward their eyes go down to the ground, and when you do that your neck goes down as well and you hunch and lose your balanced posture. So you want to make sure your eyes are straight ahead. It will also help you keep that chest up.

Keep It Quiet

Balanced forward posture is number one, and complementary to that is your arm swing. You want compact arm swings. When you’re swinging your arms big and heavy, particularly with your elbows coming out in front of your body, you lose that forward posture. The other thing is that you never want your hands to cross your belly button, because then you start swinging from side to side and that’s not efficient; you’re going to be twisting, you can get hip issues, and its just a problem. So you want to keep your elbows behind you. In fact, when your elbows drive backward, your chest comes forward, so it encourages that forward posture. Bring them in, and keep them nice and light. I like to think of holding a potato chip between my fingers. If you have a potato chip in your fingers, and you go too tight and tense, you’ll break the potato chip. So you want to hold it nice and light and keep those arms compact. So keep your elbows behind your hips and arms light and compact. We call that a “quiet upper body.” You don’t want a lot of movement.

Bend The Rules

Think about keeping your legs underneath your body. When your legs come too far out in front of you, your posture goes out of whack. So, to keep that balanced forward posture, you want to land underneath your body with a bent knee. When your legs come too far out in front of your body, you land with a heel strike, and a lot of impact on your knee. Your knee has nowhere to go when its straight. So that’s why we say to land under a bent knee. When your knee is bent, then that pressure from the ground and your body weight has a place to go and your body can naturally absorb that shock. Not only do you absorb it, but you can use it. Your body is like a rubber band, or a spring. It powers you forward. When your foot lands on the ground under a bent knee, you get more speed and more momentum with less impact. It’s a win-win.

Do a 180

The thing that ties it all together is cadence. You want to aim for 180 steps per minute (SPM). When you’re at that cadence, everything else just falls into place. It’s really hard to do it with long arms, and, because your legs will always follow your arms, it’s hard to do it and land on a straight knee. If you can maintain that cadence, your posture is going to be good; you’re going to have to lean forward. You can’t lean backward and hit a 180 cadence. It’s almost impossible. So cadence really does tie everything together.


Photo: Nathan Rupert


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