5 Super Easy Tips For Better Running Form

People run ugly. It's sad, so this is my PSA, my one-man crusade to help you run beautifully. My form is far from perfect (I'll get to that later), but like a good literary critic, I don't necessarily have to write the next great American novel to recognize the next great American novel (it's Franzen's The Corrections, in case you were wondering), and recommend it. So, here are some quick and easy tips that will instantly improve your form.

1. Run Naked

Not completely naked, but strip the shirt off, or if you're a girl, strip down to a running bra. Believe me, very little of this has to do with enlightened self-interest. Most of us look better with clothes on, and I hate running with my shirt off, but a funny thing happens when I take it off. In a feeble quest to not embarrass myself, I'll do my best to make sure I'm running tall, with good posture, chest expanded and shoulders relaxed. I'm usually alone on the trail when I'm daring enough to strip down; I know nobody's watching, but I still feel the need to focus on my form and posture.

Give it a try and see if you feel the difference. People may give you funny looks, but you're a runner, people are giving you funny looks anyway, and if that morbidly obese couple in the minivan at the drive-thru snickers at your bare-midriff, let them, and channel your inner Ronnie Mund, T-O-P-L-E-S-S.

2. Just Smile and Wave

Seriously, stop grimacing. If you hate it that much, then don't run. Do something you enjoy, something that will hopefully fulfill your exercise (if not your masochistic) needs. When we get tired, our faces tighten up, and while it's not much, it uses up energy that could be transferred to the ground in the process of forward momentum.

So, next time you pass someone when running, smile and say hi, then use this as a trigger to help you remember to relax the muscles in your face, then work down, make sure your shoulders are relaxed and not attached to your ears, then keep working down, do a quick body scan trying to focus on any tightness you feel, and work on letting go of that tension. If you're an anti-social grouch, and don't want to make eye-contact with anyone, or if all your runs are on remote trails, set the timer on your watch to go off every 5 minutes, smile at the nearest happy tree, and do the self-check.

3. Cool Moss

When I was seventeen, a high school senior, my dad took my brother and I to one of Tony Robbins' seminars, and we walked across 30 or so feet of burning coals, so what, no biggie. Surprisingly, the one image from that night that has stuck in my head all these years (aside from the fact that the guy has a ginormous head) is "cool moss." That is what we said under our breath as we quickly crossed the coals, hoping that all of this mind over matter mumbo jumbo actually worked, or that chicks dig stubs.

You want to minimize the time that your feet spend in contact with the pavement or whatever surface you are running on. You also want to work on maintaining a fast turnover (the consensus is that your foot should touch the ground about 90 times per minute, whether you are running fast or slow). Saying cool moss over and over (and over) in my head helps me keep my feet light and fast. I have heard other methods of accomplishing the same thing, some people use a metronome that gives an audible click every .66 seconds (note to self: check the math). The drawback to this method is that whoever you are running with is eventually going to imagine smacking you every 2/3 of a second. Other people say tap-tap, or pop-pop as their feet hit the ground to remind them to keep a quick turnover. Whatever you do, listen to your feet, don't let them slap the pavement and camp out there waiting for the other proverbial shoe to drop.

4. Photo Finish

If you really want to see some ugly running form, camp out at the finish line of one of those 40,000 entrant marathons. It seems like everyone wants to be on ABC's Wide World of Sports in their very own Julie Moss moment. So, even if you think you have perfect form, dig up a race photo. Those jackass photographers always conveniently position themselves a mile from the finish line with a goal of catching you at your worst possible running form moment.

I had no idea my right foot took this wide arc, flapping in the wind, until I noticed it in a race photo. That's kind of weird, I thought, the photographer caught me the one time that my right foot was perpendicular to the rest of my body. Then, it seemed like every race photographer caught the same thing. It got my attention and now that I'm conscious of it, I'm trying to fix it. The weird thing is, I have had ankle problems the last couple of years, just with my right ankle, and I'm willing to bet that it's from this weird little form quirk.

I think my foot sees something it likes among the cacti

Check your race finish photos for those hunched backs, tilted heads, high arms, and knocked knees, then you can get to work on fixing the problem, because like GI Joe says, "knowing is half the battle".

5. Drill, Baby, Drill

And not in that Sarah Palin, or Ron Jeremy way. Add these three drills to your running routine -- high knees, butt kicks, and skipping for height (the over-achievers can add a fourth -- the carioca). They make a good warm-up or cool-down routine. Ideally, you will want to do these on grass or a dirt track. You can even take off your shoes and ruin a pair of socks when you do these because all the cool kids are running barefoot. I like to do each drill for about 50 yards, then transition into a fast, but relaxed strider for 50 yards, then jog back 100 yards to the start to recover. Do each of the following drills twice, and try to incorporate them into one or two runs per week.

Butt kicks and high knees drill

Skipping drill


That's it...5 easy tips that are guaranteed to improve you form. Thanks for doing your part to run beautifully, because this is what it's supposed to look like:

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