For any runner to achieve the best race results, running efficiently—relaxed and with good form—is required. More than anything else, practicing good running form will carry you to the finish line safely and enjoyably.
The adage, "Listen to your body" is an important rule for maintaining good form.
When we maintain good body position—head over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over the mid-foot upon landing and arms swinging directly ahead—we run with good form and use less energy to run faster. If your arms, shoulders or back hurt or feel tense during training, you need a form adjustment.
New runners can learn proper running form by avoiding "zipper lines" and "chicken wings" while "holding chips." These three easy visual cues are telltale signs that running form is breaking down. Fortunately, when we listen to our bodies and recognize these inefficiencies, each faulty habit is easily corrected.
Form Fix 1: Zipper Lines
Running is a linear sport. Many runners spend a great deal of energy twisting their upper bodies, fighting the efforts of the lower body. Think of the zipper line on a jacket running down the center of your torso. If your hands cross that zipper line, the shoulders and the top half of the body usually follow the hands. The torque created from the waist up is energy that could be used to run faster.
Periodically, glance down at the position of your hands at the front part of your arm swing. If you see your thumb and forefinger, your hands are likely crossing the zipper line. A slight adjustment is all that's needed. Hold your hands a little wider from your body, slightly wider than your hips. As your arm swings back, think about reaching into your back pocket. This extends your reach further in a straight line with less crossing over the zipper line.
Form Fix 2: Chicken Wings
When fatigued, our arm carriage changes and our body position often resembles the wings of a chicken—pulled up and close to the body. Our shoulders rise closer to our ears, as if we are shrugging and maintaining that shrug. Like a chicken, we can't fly very well with our arms held tightly to the sides of our bodies. The result is a shorter arm swing and, consequently, a shorter stride. By taking more strides, we use more energy to cover the race distance.
Soreness in the lower neck and shoulders is the body's first signal of running with chicken wings. When you feel this tension, check your form. Relax your shoulders by dropping your arms to your side and shaking out your hands for 50 to 100 meters. This simple action will relieve the stress in your neck and shoulders. You can then slowly bring your arms back to a normal position and refocus on a relaxed arm swing.