Running hard is good. Running smart is better. By focusing on small but important movements and body alignment, you’ll save energy, avoid injury, and sprint past your competition.
Running injuries are made worse whenever your heel strikes the ground. “It acts like a brake, slowing you and creating stress,” says Rick Fishell, a running coach at Athletes’ Performance in Carson, California. To prevent this, pull your toes up toward your shins as soon as they leave the ground, and aim to land on the balls of your feet.
The correct stride length is shorter than you may think. Your feet should land beneath your hips, says Fishell. Any longer and you’re “reaching,” which adds destructive force. Strong glutes (butt muscles) will pull your legs back under your hips as your feet hit the ground and safely propel you forward.
Contract your abs so they can help you maintain good form (chest up, shoulders over hips). But don’t flex consciously, Fishell says. By doing that, you could distract yourself. Instead, activate your core by performing a dynamic warmup (jump squats, for example) prior to running.
Keep your shoulders back and shoulder blades pulled down toward your back pockets. Move your arms from your shoulders to save energy. Swinging your arms improperly can throw off your alignment and increase your risk of injury.
They should be lightly cupped. If you make a fist, your forearms will tense up and impede proper shoulder motion. Don’t carry your iPod or water bottle in your hand, because that could cause your torso to rotate instead of remaining straight and rigid.
Swing them at about 90 degrees, pulled close to your body. If your elbows flare out, your arm action will be less efficient and your upper-body mechanics will suffer.