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by Kelsey Plefka

Some runners are born to run like gazelles. Others look like wounded ostriches and we struggle through our miles. The good news is that there are easy ways to improve our running form and become an altogether more efficient runner.

The first thing that runners can work on to improve their form is their core strength. Core strength is an extremely important part of running because it keeps us upright and loose. Hunched shoulders can increase the risk of shoulder cramps and side stitches. Simple abdominal workouts and body strength circuit training exercises can increase our core strength and keep us running strong. Try these exercises to strengthen your core:

  • Crunches and oblique twists
  • Forward and side planking
  • Pushups
  • Yoga
  • Squats (with light weights or just body weight)

Another downfall in a lot of running forms is the inability to pick up your feet to increase turnover. We all have had runs that ended (and sometimes began) with a survival shuffle. The feeling of not being able to pick your feet up after a hard run or workout is common. However, it becomes a problem for your form when the shuffle occurs even on days that you feel great. Allowing yourself to make a full stride increases turnover and, in turn, helps you pick up the pace. Dragging your feet will only make you more tired. Once you get used to what it feels like to complete a full stride, your form will become more efficient. Keep the following in mind:

  • Pay attention to where the arch of your shoe is passing on each stride. Try to get the arch of your shoe parallel to the middle of your calf as you lift your foot.
  • Warm-up with form drills like high knees and butt kickers. Lift your knees to a 90 degree angle as you run back and forth about 100 meters. Kick your butt with your heels as you run back and forth about 100 meters.

Running while your muscles are too tight can be another cause of poor form. This makes warming up for a hard run or workout all the more important. Foam rolling or using The Stick for massage can decrease muscle tension significantly. Dynamic stretching (or moving stretches) before a run can also loosen up the muscles. The most important thing a runner can do to prevent muscle tension is just relaxing during their runs. Paying attention to your tension during your run can also help to improve your form. If you feel your back aching, try rolling your shoulders backwards and forward. If your arms are tired, try shaking them out. A lot of people will run with their hands in fists, which increases upper body tension and can cause shoulder cramps. Try these strategies to relieve running-related stress:

  • Pretend to hold a potato chip between your thumb and index finger when you run. This will prevent you from clenching your fists because you won’t want to crack your potato chip
  • Stretch well before your go out for a hard run or workout.
  • Get sports massages once a month by a massage therapist who is used to working with runners.

Good running form does not come easily. But with a little bit of practice, even the wounded ostriches can begin to resemble gazelles.