Just Run (Overthinking running form can do more harm than good)

Lisa Jhung
Writer and Author of Running That Doesn't Suck: How To Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It)
September 12, 2023

I’ve always been a firm believer in the notion that you run how you run. We all have an instinctive way we each run that is natural to our own unique bodies.

Think about how you ran as a kid—freely, without worrying about your foot strike or cadence, and likely laughing. In my mind, that’s generally how each of us should run as adults…maybe the laughing is internal most of the time, but generally, without overthinking.

It's true that some styles of running form are more efficient than others. Landing on your midfoot, for instance, has been proven to both create a faster cadence (higher turnover, greater number of steps per minute) and produce faster times. But there are some truly fast runners out there who land on their heels first, and that is just fine.

Some cues to running form can decrease the likelihood for running overuse injuries. If a runner hits the ground with a foot strike that does something wonky to their knee with every step, for instance, it’s worth seeing a running form specialist to try to relieve pain.

Cues like relaxing your hands and shoulders, not crossing your body with your arm swing, looking ahead and not straight down, engaging your core, and keeping a neutral pelvis (instead of tilting too far forward with a swayed back or tucking your pelvis under you) can be helpful in avoiding injury.

A simple way to neutralize your pelvis is to interlock your fingers and aim your palms to the sky over your head. You can do this before you run, or even mid-run.

Or you can not do it at all.

The more you run, the more your form will naturally sort itself out and you’ll settle into an efficient way your body likes to move.

No Drastic Changes

Trying to change how you naturally run can sometimes cause more harm than good.

Case in point: I’ve been running for almost 35 years.

I’m a heel-striking, loping-type of runner who runs with her arms out wide, kind of like I’m swimming through the air. My form hasn’t kept me injury-free, but I think it’s more that I need to stay on top of strengthening in and body maintenance to blame than my form.

The one time I tried to drastically change my form, I hurt something in my lower body and was out for weeks. I’d been training for a race—I forget which one as it was years ago—and researching a new shoe brand that is now defunct. The research led me to alter the way I naturally ran. While out on a run in the shoes, I mentally widened my stride so that my feet landed more in a train track pattern than they usually do. Something in my hips shifted, and something in one of my legs tweaked. A bruise appeared on my thigh and the pain kept me from being able to even show up at the starting line of my planned race.

It doesn’t help that I’m hypermobile and things shift on me easily, but that experience confirmed that I knew better than to try to drastically change my natural form, and I went back to my belief that…we run how we run.

Especially for those new to running, obsessing over running form instead of just getting out there and running how your body wants to run can overcomplicate matters. If running feels awkward as you’re starting out, even for weeks, it’s likely that your body just needs to get used to the impact and learn to move in sync with your breath. Stick with it, and things will click.

You can remind yourself of a couple simple cues once in a while, but do your best to not think, and just run. Embody that kid in you who used to run across playgrounds and chase their friends.

That’s the runner you’re aiming to be…the laughing kind.