A recent Brazilian study took 16 experienced runners and looked at a handful of running mechanics to see how they affected performance. Researchers found that having attributes like a faster stride, less torso movement and a freer movement of your arms and shoulders led to better running economy—the amount of energy needed to maintain a certain pace.
Having better running economy can help you run at a faster pace with the same amount of effort, avoid injuries, and maintain energy for the end of your race.
(You can also keep your form in check by having the right gear. Click here for the 10 Best Running Shoes.)
"If we have two runners with similar training, the runner with the better running economy will win the race 90 percent of the time," says Tim Quinn, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at the University of New Hampshire.
Try these three simple form fixes.
Up Your Leg Turnover
Elite runners have about 180 strides per minute. Target that mark by eliminating your loping stride and pump your legs higher with quick, light steps on the ground. Run to a song like The Gaslight Anthem's "45", which is right around 180 bpm.
(Check out our list of The 20 Best Running Songs of All Time for more inspiration.)
Having a strong knee lift in your stride helps you lean slightly forward, protects from over-striding, and allows for a joint-protecting mid-foot strike, says Quinn.
To keep your legs churning strong at the same pace, strengthen your hip flexors—they allow for fast, powerful forward leg movement. Try a move like the mogul jump to strengthen your hip flexors along with your whole core.
Quit Swaying and Bobbing
You want to keep your body and head from moving up and down or side to side as much as possible. Any movement outside of a straight-forward path just uses more energy, says Quinn.
To fix this, keep your eyes focused dead ahead on a target like a lamppost 100 to 200 meters away. This keeps your eyes from surveying all around you, and your body from following your gaze to take you off track. You can also imagine a string pulling you at your belly button so you stay on one straight path, instead of bounding all over like Tigger after a gallon of Mountain Dew. (Yep, that was a Winnie the Pooh reference. Deal with it.)
Use Your Arms Correctly
"The natural tendency for runners is to become rigid, which isn't to your benefit," says Quinn.
If you pinch your shoulders, you take energy away from propelling yourself forward with loose arm swings, which go hand in hand with an efficient stride, according to the study.
Another easy fix: Stop your arms from crossing over the mid-line of your body. Since your goal with running is to move forward, having your arms cross side to side makes you expend energy over your body laterally instead of roughly straight ahead, making it a double whammy of energy expenditure. Just relax your shoulders and keep your forearms from crossing the midpoint of your chest.
(Always tense in your upper body? Try these 7 Easy Stretches to Do at Work before your run).race.