Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Running Posture Works

Best Running Posture

As we alluded to in the previous page, the posture for which you want to strive depends on the type of running you'll be doing as well as the elevation of your running surface. Let's take a look at what best running posture looks like for each area of your body you use while running.

For most types of running, you want to be looking straight ahead with your head raised vertically. But if you're using a rough or uneven surface, as with cross-country or trail running, look down periodically to see where your next step is going.

Keep your shoulders relaxed and straight, aligned with your body. The tendency with many is to slouch a bit or lean back, but resist that temptation. Your arms should move smoothly at your side, not crossing in front of you, with your elbows bent at 90 degrees [source: Hahn, Jones]. Even many professional runners come across the finish line with their arms going any number of directions, but this is more likely from fatigue than from their secret training manual. Not keeping your arms at your side probably won't cause an injury, but it wastes energy, and you'll tire faster. Another energy-saver is to keep your arms and hands relaxed; this means no fists. For cross-country and trail running, you'll need to use your arms for lateral balance as well as forward motion balance.

Although your back should remain straight, running is a controlled fall, meaning your center of gravity is going forward. Therefore, your torso should reflect this by leaning forward just slightly [source: Morris]. If you have trouble remembering to lean forward, one purely psychological trick is to try imagining a balloon tied to your chest, pulling you forward. Also, breathing in through your diaphragm (belly breathing) can help you maintain this posture, since breathing with your chest not only forces other parts of your torso higher, it wastes energy. Some experts frown on the traditional advice to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. They argue that you'll get much more of the oxygen your body needs -- and more quickly -- by breathing with both your mouth and nose [source: Eyestone].

Your hips should be in a neutral position, and it's best to avoid letting them lean forward or backward. Some studies have suggested that not maintaining a neutral hip position can lead to fatigue during a race as your muscles try to compensate, or even cause knee-related injuries during running [source: Comereski]. Ideally, your hips, torso, arms, shoulders and head should all be aligned when you run.

Now you know what your posture should look like when running, but will that form slow you down? In the next section, we'll learn how running posture relates to speed.