Should You Try to Improve or Change Your Running Form?

Jannine Myers

My oldest daughter came to visit a couple of weeks ago, and during one of our many conversations we talked a little about running. She works part-time at a fitness center on her university campus, and one day while running on one of the treadmills at her work, a fellow co-worker (and running coach/instructor) corrected her running form. My daughter said she was a little surprised – since she had been feeling great while running – but she took his advice anyway and attempted to apply his recommendations.

I’ve often wondered about running form, and how important it is in the big scheme of things. A couple of years ago when I was training for the 2014 Boston Marathon, I followed a training program prescribed by New Zealand running coach, Barry Magee. Barry’s training plan and tips were great, but I remember feeling a little skeptical when he assured me that my natural tendency to heel-strike was perfectly okay. I had been told on two previous occasions by different running gait analysts that I should try to improve my form by becoming a mid or forefoot striker; so confusing!!!

With so many “experts” and specialists all giving widely different views on which type of foot strike equates to best running form, as well as postural advice, correct arm swing, as well as stride length and frequency, it’s all a bit overwhelming. And yet it comes up in conversations and debate over and over again.

I’ve switched shoe types several times; I’ve tried correcting my exaggerated left arm swing by running with a stick in my hand and thrusting it straight forward instead of across my chest; I’ve tried counting my foot strike; and I’ve tried perfecting my stride length to where it’s neither too short nor too long. Guess what? Nothing has changed. I always end up going back to what feels natural to me, not because I mean to but because anything that doesn’t feel natural is too difficult to stick with.

My left arm always swings across my chest instead of straight forward

My left arm always swings across my chest instead of straight forward

So, do I have any great advice for those of you who are also throughly confused about correct or proper running form? Sadly no. However, I did come across one runner’s thoughts on a social media group page, and his advice made sense to me; he basically said that there are only two scenarios that would warrant an attempt to change running form:

  • 1/ if you are a competitive runner who is not seeing gains in performance, or 2/ you’re a runner who repeatedly suffers from the same injuries. Otherwise, he said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”.

But that still doesn’t tell us what we need to do If it is broke, i.e. if you feel that your running form is hurting either your performance or your body. So here’s my two cents worth (I never said I had no advice; I said I didn’t have any great advice):

  • Find another sport
  • Reduce either one, or all of the following: training intensity, workout frequency, and overall volume of running
  • Act like you don’t feel any pain and just keep running like you usually do
  • Pull up a bunch of articles on “proper” running form and foot strike, then play Eenie Meenie Miney Mo; whichever article wins is the one you should follow
  • Find someone who legitimately changed their running form and as a result saw improvements in performance or a decrease in injuries; ask them to show you what they did
  • Make room in your budget for regular massage visits and deal with your regular aches and pains that way
  • OR, ignore all of these and chime in to tell us what has worked for you


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