Little running habits—that you don’t even realize you have—can cost you a lot of energy and keep you from running faster. Ignoring them is like driving down the highway with a tarp on top of your car—when the tarp has a loose corner. The tarp resistance can cause your fuel economy to dip—and your energy and enthusiasm for the trip can go with it.
Look around on the road and you’ll see runners doing the same thing. Runners move parts that don’t need to move and compromise their ability to speed up and stay fresh. Here are some of the most common bad running habits coaches see on the road—and how to fix them:
1. Swinging Your Hands Across Your Body
When you run, all of your movement should be forward or back. Any other motion saps energy. Crossing your hands over the midline of your body is a big one. Not only does this force your upper body to work harder, it makes you cross your legs over each other, too. "If there’s a white line on the road and you’re hitting it with every step, then you’re spinning your body more," says New York City Nike marathon training coach Terence Gerchberg.
The easiest fix is to be aware of where your arms are, he says. Keep your elbows moving front to back and your hands will follow. "Relax your arms and keep your elbows at a 90-degree angle. When your arms are a little lower, it’s harder for them to cross," Gerchberg says.
More: 6 Tips to Improve Your Running Form
2. Looking at Your Feet
"Look down at your feet and try to breathe in," Gerchberg says. "Now look in front of you and do the same thing. When you look down, you’re cutting off valuable oxygen." Plus, he says, "If you’re looking where you are, you’ve given up. There’s nothing to see at your feet." Look at least a few feet ahead of you.
3. Squeezing Your Fists
The pressure that you put on your hands translates into your forearms and shoulders, he says. "That energy starts to travel to every part of your body. If you’re not relaxed in your arms and hands, you’ll inevitably feel it in your legs," Gerchberg says. When you feel yourself tightening up, let your arms fall down to your sides, relax your shoulders, and shake out your hands.
4. Trying to Get Faster Every Day
To get strong and fast, your body doesn’t just need a workout; it needs to rest. Rest helps to repair muscle tissue, which is what makes you stronger over time.
To get faster, you should either build in rest days and/or truly go easy on your easy days. "Easy doesn’t mean 30 seconds slower than your race pace," Gerchberg says. "Some of the top runners in the world go as much as two and a half minutes slower per mile than marathon race pace.” And if they can back off some days and still run fast, so can you.
More: 4 Exercises to Increase Your Running Speed
5. Bouncing Up and Down
Going up in the air doesn’t help you move forward. You need to move horizontally across the ground. "When you toe off in the back of your stride, think about propelling yourself forward, not up," Gerchberg says. "Sometimes, this requires more of a bend in your ankle than you’re used to."
"Just be careful: Sometimes when you tell people to lean forward from the ankle, they want to lean from the waist," he says. Form better running habits by keeping the action in your feet, and let that lead you to speed you never knew you had.
More: Stride Right and Improve Your Run
Ready to run? Search for a race