Feeling aches & pains during runs? Try these tips for improving running form!

We are all familiar with the aches and pains that can pop up during a long run. Knee pain, hip pain, stomach cramps or maybe it’s the day where your big toe randomly decides to hurt. If you run enough, you are bound to feel those aches and pains at some point! (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you are a bionic woman and we are all super jealous.)

The good news is there are things you can do to protect your body and minimize the discomfort that you may feel while running. Improving your running form is a great place to begin. Here are a few tips to get you started.

  1. Relax your shoulders.

Take a moment during your runs to focus on your upper body. Are you holding a lot of tension in your neck and shoulders? The goal is to keep your shoulders low and loose. Relax them down and back, drawing them away from your ears. Sometimes it helps to give them a little shake to loosen the tension. This will help you maintain good posture and reduce neck pain after a long run.

  1. Activate your gut and your butt.

You can make a lot of progress by focusing on activating the proper muscles. First, your core should always be working when you run. Think about bracing and tightening your midsection. This will be especially useful if you tend to feel back pain after a long run. If you aren’t sure what it feels like to brace your core, just cough. See if you can use some of those cough muscles more often.

Second, make sure you’re using your glutes (aka junk in the trunk.) A lot of runners rely solely on hamstrings, quads and calves to propel them forward, and this results in under-active, weak glutes. The main problem? Your glutes are what stabilize your hips. Everything in your body is connected. Unstable hips lead to unstable knees. Unstable knees lead to unstable ankles..etc. etc. If your glutes are asleep during a long run, you may run into a number of problems such as knee pain, ankle pain or IT band pain. (Side note for anyone who needs it – your IT band is a ligament that runs down the outside of your thigh from your pelvic bone to your shinbone. I could write a whole post about the notorious IT band but I’ll save that for another time.)

So how do you activate your glutes? There are a lot of exercises you can try such as squats and floor bridges. For more on that, check out our posts on how to perform a proper squat and best exercises for runners. The goal is to actually feel those muscles contracting when you run (like how you feel your biceps contract when you show off your arm muscles.) Next time you go for a run, be aware of the muscles you feel and try squeezing your glutes as you push off in your stride.

  1. Land mid-foot.

Pay attention to how your foot strikes the ground when you run. Here’s what you DON’T want to do. DON’T let your heel strike the ground first. “Heel toe” running used to be the standard a few decades ago, but now we know it leads to unnecessary impact on the joints and it’s counterproductive. Think about it. You are trying to move FORWARD. If your heel strikes the ground first, you have a force pushing you backwards. You also have extra impact running up your leg to your ankles, knees and hips. Try this instead. Land lightly toward the middle of your foot, then roll forward and push off with your toes. Try not to sound like a Tyrannosaurus Rex when you run. More noise means more impact. Try to keep it quiet and springy!

OK now also make sure you pat your head and rub your belly. Just kidding…but I know it’s a lot to think about. Don’t try to conquer all of this at once. Next time you go for a run, see if you can pick one thing to focus on to improve your form. Once you’ve got that down, move onto the next thing. Before you know it, all of these tips will come naturally and you won’t have to think about it quite as hard!

Good luck runners and I hope these tips are helpful! Post any questions in the comments below.

-Amanda

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