Proper Running form: What is the best way to run?

You need to make sure that you are running with the right technique. Actually, the right way to run is something that people are only just beginning to learn. Because for years, we believed incorrectly that correct proper running form involved a heel-toe strike.

This is why our shoes have big heels on them: for centuries we believed that our heel should hit the floor first and then roll onto the ball of the foot, propelling us off.

Evolutionary biologists now know that humans are designed for running long distances. Compared with other animals in the animal kingdom, we are not particularly strong. We are not very fast either. Our specialty is in tracking.

And tracking needs two things: brains and the ability to run for long distances. We can’t outpace our prey and predators but we can out-endure them. When other animals are left panting, we can keep going because we have the ability to sweat.

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When other animals are out of glycogen, we switch to our aerobic energy system. We can just keep on going.

This is why running is so healthy for us – and the best way to do it is just like the Tarahumara tribe.

How the Tarahumara Run

The Tarahumara are people who still live and work in a manner very similar to how we would live and work when we were still evolving.

They run entire marathons most days in order to hunt. Not only that but they do on either bare feet or in very light sandals. And they do it with no rest and no recovery.

Conventional wisdom tells us that this should be terrible for them: their bones should be shot, their adrenal glands should be empty and they should be constantly close to starving.

But the reality is that these people are incredibly healthy and capable of physical feats that modern man can only dream of. And the big truth that comes from all this is that we were born to run.

Must read – How to start running as a beginner

This then means that they strike the ground with the ball of their foot first because hitting the ground with your heel first hurts if you’re not wearing shoes.

This instantly changes their whole gait. It means that their feet are now directly underneath their knees and their bodies when they hit the ground.

This in turn means that there is a straight line that the impact travels through and that the knee, ankle, and waist can all compress to absorb that impact like a spring.

Watch a cheetah run and it’s very similar. This way, the leg provides natural shock absorption, which is rather different from what happens when our heel hits the floor first and sends a wave of the impact traveling up through our legs and all the way through our backs.

What’s more, is that it allows us to lean slightly more forward, which means that gravity can help us to propel ourselves forward. This makes this form of running a bit more energy efficient because we are no longer relying purely on our own thrust to push forward.

And as such, we can run further, faster and injury-free. This is the correct way to run and it means that ‘toe-heel’ is actually the better option. This is what athletic coaches are now teaching their athletes, except they are giving the technique names.

Must read – Causes of foot injuries and their prevention

It also means that you should aim to gradually move toward a more minimal shoe so that you can come a little closer to running as you would naturally and as you would if you were going barefoot.

Heels first or the Toes?

About 80% of runners strike the ground with their heel first, termed “rearfoot running”. Another 15% of runners strike the ground with their foot flat, termed “midfoot running”. That leaves a very small group of “forefoot runners”, who run on the balls of their feet.

The reality is almost everyone sprints on their forefoot. It is biomechanically faster, though requiring greater calf and leg strength to maintain. It is also true that when we run barefoot, almost everyone again runs on their toes or forefoot (1).

Recently, the thinking has become that perhaps forefoot running is more natural and modern-day shoes and concrete running have only turned us all into injury-prone, rearfoot runners.

How to Switch to a More Minimal Running Style

There are more and more shoes hitting the market that offer a more
minimal structure to encourage this kind of running. And if you want to go there, you can even try something like the ‘Vibram Five Fingers’ – this is a shoe that is designed to act like a glove around the foot.

It offers enough protection from twigs, grass, and shrapnel that you can safely run on all terrains but it also lets your foot move completely freely. But before you go and jump right in, keep in mind that this can be a quick way to injure yourself.

While this is the correct way to run technique, different people are built differently. If you have a flat foot or a pronated foot, then you will be less likely to adapt well to this style of running.

With no cushioning and no guidance, you are much more likely to cause an injury. What’s more, is that you have likely been walking and running using shoes with heels for a very long time – and your feet have probably adapted.

Must read – How to choose running accessories

If you currently have a heel-toe strike, then you should try and slowly change your form with time and practice rather than just jumping straight in.

Progress to slightly more minimal shoes over time and monitor how it feels carefully. And only do this once you have checked with your doctor that it is okay to go ahead!

Right Running form tips

These are the proper running form techniques for effortless and enjoyable running. It is not advised to try all these techniques at once. Start with the one you want and drive for others step-by-step (2).

Right Posture is necessary

Stand tall – Think of someone is drawing you up from the hair on to your head.
Maintain your belly stable – Correct stress in the abdominal muscles and the back helps the effective transfer of force from the arm or legs to the ground.
Keep shoulder blades tight – Visualize you are squeezing a pencil in between them. This will open your shoulders as well as keep them from slouching.
Look ahead – Resist the urge to look at your feet or turn your chin up.
Lean somewhat forward – The lean needs to come from ankles/hips, not the back.

Arms and upper body in Rhythm

Start from the shoulders – Pulling your shoulder blades together, lets the arms swing freely and loosened up.
Bend joints – Maintain them at about 90 degrees.
Maintain the arm joints “tucked” in – Draw them backward alongside the body, to make sure that your arms don’t dangle on your sides.
Do not clench your hands – It develops unnecessary stress. Your arms need to be relaxed throughout the activity.

Forward stance

Lift and bend your knee – A bent knee will certainly function even more like a spring and much less like a brake.
Use your back leg – An effective and also rapid lift-off of the back leg pushes you ahead.
Lift the heel of your back leg – Raising the heel after you push off prepares the leg for a better ahead swing.

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