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How to run properly

How to run properly: Image shows runner going up steps
(Image credit: Getty)

Wondering how to run properly? If this is something you’ve been thinking about for a while, we’re here to explain how to better your run – and in detail. According to the latest statistics, 15% of the US population takes part in some form of running or jogging. This might seem small, but that equates to around 50 million Americans.

So, if you’ve got the running bug, or are slowly getting into this form of cardio, we’ve got all the expert advice and need-to-know tips on how to run properly. We’ll be covering how your feet should hit the ground whilst running, the difference a good pair of trainers makes, and whether barefoot running is good for you. Plus, we’ll answer the question of whether you should swing your arms whilst pounding the pavement. If you’d prefer to run indoors, discover the best treadmills to help you get your running fix.

How should your feet hit the ground when running?

Thanks to our unique make-up, every runner has their own running gait. Your running gait is the sequence your leg travels through whilst running and how your foot hits the ground. This can be broken down into three types of pronation – which is the term used for the natural side-to-side movement of the foot.
This includes: 

  • Neutral pronation –  where your foot lands on the outside of the heel and rolls inward to absorb the shock.
  • Supination (which is sometimes referred to as underpronation) – this occurs when the outer side of your heel hits the ground first with little-to-no inward rolling.
  • Overpronation – where you land on the outside of the heel and then roll inward more than 15%. 

According to registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Running Strong coach, Janet Hamilton MA, RCEP, CSCS, whether you’re running indoors or outdoors, your feet should hit the ground in ‘whatever fashion feels normal to you’.

"The way you run is determined by some factors you can control and others that you can’t," Hamilton told Live Science. "Your unique biomechanical alignment, your strength, your flexibility, the terrain you’re on, the speed you’re running, your fatigue state at the time. It all plays into the mix of how your foot initially contacts the ground."

But is there a wrong way to run? "Possibly," Hamilton acknowledges. "But for most people, it’s hard to sustain a truly ‘wrong’ form for long.

"There are plenty of world-class athletes who have a mid-foot initial contact point, some also have a forefoot initial contact point, and yes there are plenty that also have a rearfoot initial contact point. One is not better than the other."

According to Hamilton, what seems to be counterproductive is if you overstride, which is when your foot initially contacts the ground way out in front of your center of gravity. She says: "This form results in a deceleration or braking force at initial contact – and this is kind of inefficient."

How to run properly: Image of legs running up stairs

(Image credit: Getty Images )

What difference do your trainers make?

Nearly eight out of every 10 runners have, or will be injured at some point in the year, with biomechanical aspects, like footwear, to blame for some part. This is why, the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine acknowledges that good running shoes can give your feet stability, comfort, and cushioning to ensure you are protecting your joints whilst taking part in this form of high-impact exercise.

And Hamilton agrees. She says: "The shoes you wear should protect your feet from sharp objects in the terrain. Also, ideally, they should complement your unique biomechanical strengths and weaknesses."

For example, these forms of strengths and weaknesses might include a runner with a high arch and a relatively stiff foot. "They might do better with a fairly cushioned shoe," Hamilton says. Whereas a runner with a very flexible foot might benefit from a somewhat more ‘stable shoe’.  She added: "The needs of the runner should dictate the type of footwear that is worn."

The type of footwear that is worn will also depend on the type of terrain you are running on. Otherwise, you may risk injury.

As noted by Women’s Running, the harder the ground, the more cushioning your shoe will need. The softer the ground the less cushioning. Although if you run on hard and soft terrain a ‘moderately cushion shoe’ should work on most types of surfaces.  

How to run properly: Image shows person tying trainer laces.

(Image credit: Getty)

Is barefoot running good for you?

As its name suggests, barefoot running is the activity of running barefoot. So how good can this type of running be? As claimed by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, due to the support and cushioning shod running gives us, barefoot running can strengthen the ‘intrinsic muscles of the foot and the ankle, along with the natural arch of the foot’ as these muscles aren’t being supported. Barefoot running also requires less energy, compared to shoe running, because of the lack of extra weight you’re carrying. 

However, barefoot running can expose you to uncertain terrain – which could result in injuries and damage to the soft tissues of your foot. This is why a 2014 report concluded that many runners viewed barefoot running as a ‘training tool’ to help them improve aspects of their running, rather than use it continually.

Hamilton added: "If you wish to add this to your training routine, do it carefully and systematically. Pick a place where you are not likely to step on a sharp object – perhaps a well-groomed football field – and introduce it in short segments at first.

"Keep in mind that while we were born barefoot and evolved for centuries barefoot, you have not been barefoot your whole life and so you may need to work into it gradually and keep a keen awareness of any aches or injuries at the earliest stages."

Should you swing your arms when running?

Swinging your arms is an important factor in how to run properly. One study in the Journal of Experimental Biology found that swinging your arms while running is ‘especially important for limiting head yaw and improving visual stability during running.’

Hamilton explains: "Your arms move in opposition to your leg movements for a reason – to counteract rotational forces of your legs. 

"Running with your arms glued to your sides feels weird for a reason. Don’t overthink running, just let the natural motion happen. Let the reflexes work their magic."

Becks Shepherd

Becks is a freelance journalist and writer writing for a range of titles including Stylist, The Independent and LiveScience covering lifestyle topics such as health and fitness, homes and food. She also ghostwrites for a number of Physiotherapists and Osteopaths. When she’s not reading or writing, you’ll find her in the gym, learning new techniques and perfecting her form.