5 Running Form Bad Habits to Break

I don’t think we talked about running form enough. If you’re a swimmer or triathlete, you probably think about technique a lot because it’s so crucial in the pool to have good technique. If you have bad technique, you can muster all the strength you can and you’re going nowhere fast.

I don’t think we talked about running form enough. If you’re a swimmer or triathlete, you probably think about technique a lot because it’s so crucial in the pool to have good technique. If you have bad technique, you can muster all the strength you can and you’re going nowhere fast.

But it’s not quite as crucial in running so we tend to just say, well, however you run is fine. But that kind of belies the underlying fact that there is a way to get the maximum potential out of your body by using it properly. So, today, I’m going to give you my five bad running habits you may be doing and what to do instead.

If you haven’t been on the channel here before, I’m Jesse Funk, founder of the company Solpri, and the author of this show, Runner’s High, where we talk about everything running from today’s running form to different kinds of workouts, to all other kinds of questions that come up when you run. So, if you like running, hit that subscribe button, stick around for more videos every Tuesday and Thursday of this show.

Now, when we’re talking about running form, there’s a lot of things we can nitpick, right? We can think about all the different movements that go on. But there are five bad habits I see most often. I have a lot of people run by my house, there’s a trail near here, I see a lot of people run. And I want to stop people and say, let me help. But I don’t because that would be creepy and weird. So, instead, I will help you by telling you all the things I see and what to do instead.

The first bad habit I see. And this kind of comes in two forms, both with your arms and with your actual torso itself is twisting your body. Now, you have to remember that running is a linear motion, meaning we’re going in one direction with very little exception. If you’re running on a track, you’re going to run straight, turn left, run straight, turn left, ad infinitum.

Okay. So, yes, there is a little turning from time to time when you’re running, especially if your trail running. But generally speaking, we’re not working on lateral movements. If you play soccer, different story. But if you’re a runner, which is why you’re here, I think, then we’re moving forward. And this side to side motion, this twisting the body wastes energy by pushing the momentum of our body in either direction over and over again, instead of in this straightforward pattern.

So, what we want to do is stop basically. This one is a really easy antidote. And many of the problems really can be solved by stopping. But this one especially, stop twisting. There is a very little bit of motion that comes with your arms, and it goes side to side, your arms come back and forward. So, there’s a little movement where your shoulders -- goes kind of release, they go back and they come forward but there’s no twisting about from side to side. So, you want to make sure you reduce that twisting motion, if that’s happening to you. And that’s number one.

Number two is not picking up your knees. Your knees have to be picked up. They just have to. I see people where their knees are almost stationary, and they kind of flip their legs out, their lower legs out to run. This does a couple things. One, you’re going to hit your heel on the ground really hard, which means you’re going to be sending a shock into your skeletal system, you’re more likely to have shin splints, and other kinds of skeletal issues.

On top of that, you’re wasting the best running muscles that you have. And that’s your quads and hamstrings. You have to pick up your knee to plant it to use those muscles. You’re basically running with your calves if you’re not picking up your knees. This is one I don’t see quite as often but when I do see it, it’s so obvious that this person is not picking up their knees. If you see somebody like this or if you’re like this and you think, what am I doing wrong? What is it? Are you picking up your knees?

Now, the important thing to think is we’re not doing high knees. Okay. You’re not a sprinter. You don’t need to pick them up a ton. If you look at studies between sprinting and running distance form, what you’ll see is that sprinters pick their knees up much closer to 90 degrees, where your body, your torso is here, and then see I make a nice 90 on the screen here. So, your body and your torso are straight up, your knee goes up and then the leg goes down.

That’s a sprinting form. Runners who are going distance, on the other hand, typically only get to about 45 degrees. So, it’s not a huge pickup but if you’re much much lower, you’re in that like 10, 20 degree range, you’re missing a lot of power that you could be getting by picking up your knees to that full 30 to 45 degree range, and actually planting and pushing off with that major move of your quads and your hamstrings.

Number three is swinging your legs out to your sides. Now, I see this more often with women. And my suspicion, although I don’t have conclusive proof here, is that it has to do with how women’s hips are positioned. So, swinging your legs out to the side actually is also a symptom that goes along with not picking up your knees. Because when you’re bringing your leg forward, if you pick your knees up, then your foot is not going to trail on the ground.

However, if you’re not picking your knees up, you’re more prone to swing your legs out to the side, so that they’ll clear the ground and get back to the plant position in the front. The problem with this is, is not only are you not getting full power out of your legs, you’re actually leaving a lot of potential to have knee injuries because of the way you’re torquing your lower leg over and over and over again by swinging your legs out.

Ideally, because again, as I mentioned in the beginning of this video, everything is a linear motion. Your legs have this pretty much straight trail around just from the back to the front. There’s no side to side motion. It’s pick up, pull forward, plant, push off, and then on we go to the next one with the other leg. There’s no swing out to the side, bring it in. All these kind of extra motions are what often leads to overuse injuries, because that’s not what we’re built for biomechanically.

So, if you do that lack of picking up your knees, you may also be swinging your legs out, they’re not. They’re not always tied together. But they are often tied together. Sometimes you do one, sometimes you do the other. Sometimes you do both. But that’s something you definitely want to check out. If you can get video of yourself on the treadmill, think about what you’re doing.

And feel free to send it in to me, I’d love to take a look at it. Or if you let me -- allow me to share it with other viewers here on the channel, use you as a guinea pig. I’d love to be able to do case study videos of people running so we can help each other. I can help you and we can all get to be better runners. So, on to number four.

Now, when we talk about number four, I want to say guilty as charged. I had a lot of problems with this in high school. Frankly, it was a matter of I thought it was the right thing. And I thought wrong. Very wrong. And that is big arm swings. So, we want to do big arm swings because it feels good. It’s like, yeah, I’m putting all this energy in, I’m pushing off.

But big arm swings, again, are wasting motion, you kind of want to be like a choo-choo train a little bit. Where -- I know I’m talking to children apparently. You want to be a little train where your arms are kind of like the pistons driving the wheels. It’s this nice, small little motion, it stays inside. So, you do get some momentum from your arms but largely, it’s going to be stability rather than momentum.

Your legs are going to be doing what’s pushing you off. But your arms are what helps stabilize you because when your left leg goes back, your right arms goes back. And vice versa. It helps keep your body all together. If you try to do left leg back, right leg back, you’re going to start tilting, and it’s going to throw you off balance. So, your arms are more for balance than they are for propulsion.

And when you are using them for propulsion, the laws of physics, what? Well, what goes up comes down. But more importantly, every motion has an equal and opposite motion. That means that when you use this big motion, you now got to return it. So, you want to minimize that movement.

Again, as I mentioned earlier in the video with your arms, there’s a nice relaxed motion that your shoulders go through. You don’t want your shoulders to be stiff. If you come from a bird’s eye view looking down on top of you, your shoulders actually go back every time. So, if I move to the side here, you don’t run like this. Your movement actually goes back.

And it’s not -- this is exaggerated. I’m forcing it because I’m not running. But there’s a shoulder movement that goes back. So, if you keep your shoulders relaxed, and you keep that arm nice and tight, then you will not have problems with big arm swings.

This tip on how to fix this actually comes from an Olympic triathlete former pro, and my friend Barb Lindquist who taught this to me. She says, and actually, I think this comes from legendary running coach Bobby McGee, who trained her, thinking about drawing a string from your ear. So, if you have a string from your ear and it comes down, let’s stand up a little bit here and it comes down. This is about your motion. You don’t come all the way up to the ear.

It’s exaggerated to make you think about it. But you basically stay tucked in right here. And this is where you are, I used to go way bigger. And that was wasting a bunch of motion. So, check your arms, make sure you’re not wasting propulsion by trying to use them to push you forward. You’re not a sprinter, you’re an endurance runner so you want to be compact and efficient. Let’s go on to number five.

The last one is one that I see probably most commonly. And there’s a gentleman that runs by my house, I actually saw him this morning, he runs a lot. And it’s so obvious with him, he is somebody I’d really love to just stop and be like, you could be so much faster. And that is bouncing up and down. Now, there’s going to be some kind of vertical oscillation for most of us, as that moving up and down motion.

But this gentleman, in particular, which I wish I had a video of him, but again, that would be weird and creepy so I don’t video strangers. He bounces up and down a lot. He has a very straight body, which is rule number one, you don’t want. You want a slight lean forward. And then he moves up and down. He does have very tight arms which he needs to relax as well. But it’s, again, wasted motion. We’re trying to go forward. So, the more motion we put up is less motion we put forward.

You may think, well, Jesse, we have to have both feet off the ground for it to be running. You are correct. You do have to have both feet off the ground to be running, at some point in time in cycle. Obviously, not all the time, or we would be flying. But when you are going up and down, you’re basically doing upward jumps instead of forward leaps. And if you reduce the amount of vertical oscillation you have, then you are able to put that motion into forward motion, which makes you go faster.

Somebody who I wish I had a running demo of, maybe I can get a running demo of him some time to show you is my friend Todd Buckingham. He’s been on the Smart Athlete podcast a few times -- comes out on Fridays. He is in charge of a sports performance lab. He is such an excellent runner. He’s pretty compact. I think he’s 5”7, if I remember right. But he runs so smooth, smooth as butter, he’s ridiculously smooth and he’s very fast because of it. There are obviously other factors that make him fast as well. But that is a big component too. If he had more vertical oscillation he would slow down. So, that’s something to check as well.

This is something you’re going to want somebody else to video you for. You don’t want to try to video this on the treadmill because it’s a little harder to get a sense of if you’re moving up and down. But if you can get a friend, just grab your phone, you don’t have to use a camera like I’m using. Grab a phone, something easy. Have them take a video of you running and then see, am I running with that vertical oscillation? The way to do this and fix it is really to say stop, but you have to be mentally aware of it first. And then you try to run smoother, feel running smoother.

Again, video, what does that look like? Check your biomechanics again, and try to incorporate that feeling. They feel very different because again, you’re either jumping up and down or you’re pushing yourself forward. And when you go from one to the other, then you kind of get a different feel for it. So, video is key on this one. And then using the video to identify the exact feeling between the two is what’s going to help you figure out what to do.

So, those are my five bad running form habits to break. What’s going on with you and your running form? If you’d like to send me a video and especially if you’d like to allow me to share it here on the channel so we can talk about these things and identify what’s going on so that we all together, and maybe you can help somebody else see the bad habits that they’re doing and help them become better runners as well -- I’ll help you. Please send it in to me, FunkJ@Solpri.com. That’s my email. I’d love to hear from you. What’s going on with you? How can I help? Send me an email. Leave me a comment below. And I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.


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