5 Running Habits That Slow You Down—and How to Break Them

5 Running Habits That Slow You Down—and How to Break Them

We all know that bad running habits are hard to break. When you’ve been running a certain way for a long time, it’s difficult to identify quirks. Inefficiencies become second nature.

Fortunately, the majority of runners make the same five bad running habits. Once you learn to recognize them in your own gait, you can start to eliminate them. The result: more energy, fewer injuries, greater power, increased endurance, and extra strength in every stride.

Bad Running Habits You Need to Break

1. Holding your arms wrong

Running might be a lower body exercise. But how you move your arms can have a huge impact on performance.

Case in point: If you swing your arms across your body as you run, you expend significantly more energy with each stride than someone who doesn’t.

“Over-rotation of the trunk is a common cause, and is often the result of weaknesses elsewhere in the body,” says Steve Gonser, a physical therapist and founder of RunSmart Online. “Runners should look to address muscle imbalances through the spine and hips.”

To determine whether you have weak hips, take the single leg squat test, suggest Australian researchers in a study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

From a standing position, lift your right foot off the ground behind you. Then lower your body as far as you can toward the floor on your left leg (keep your back flat and chest up). Repeat on your right foot. Ideally, the knee and ankle on each leg will remain aligned.

If either knee rolls inward, you’re likely lacking strength and stability in your hips.

Here are five exercises to strengthen your hips.

And five more exercises every runner must do.

2. Bouncing too much 

There will always be some upward movement as you push off with each stride. And some runners may naturally demonstrate more bounce than others. But the goal is to travel the maximum distance horizontally, not vertically, says Gonser.

If you’re a “bouncer”—another of those common running habits—you’re likely wasting a considerable amount of energy that could otherwise be directed toward sustaining or increasing speed and endurance.

“In such instances, I either cue a runner to ‘quiet’ their feet (i.e., land more softly with each step), or simply increasing their step rate, assuming velocity is kept constant,” explains Chris Johnson, a Seattle-based physical therapist and running coach.

To increase your stride rate, count your normal steps for one minute, and then multiply that number times 1.1, adding 10 percent.

3.  Shuffling instead of running

Instead of bouncing with each step, some runners gravitate toward the other end of the spectrum, barely picking their feet up off the ground. It’s one of those running habits it’s easy to fall into.

“The main issue here is that such runners don’t transition away from their slower running gait once they start to run faster,” explains Gonser.

If you’re a “shuffler,” consciously fire each knee forward and pull it up as you run.

“Try to envision your leg taking the shape of the number ‘4’ with each stride,” suggests Gonser. “The figure four posture that is adopted by driving the knee and lifting the heel will feel awkward at first, but the more you do it, the less you’ll have to think about doing it.”

4. Looking at the ground

Since the rest of the body follows the head, it’s important to maintain a forward gaze, rather than a downward one.

“A runner looking down typically biases the entire spine into flexion, resulting in a closed airway and chest wall,” says Gonser. “A neutral head that looks forward can help you maintain proper alignment, which is not only important for breathing, but also for proper muscle function throughout the gait cycle.”

Running with your head tilted down or back (indeed, anywhere but neutral) can also increase your perceived effort. It can make every run feel harder than it actually is, according to a recent study in the International Journal of Exercise Science.

Bottom line: Focus on the horizon instead of your feet. Once you get in the habit of keeping your head up, other aspects of your posture will fall into place—especially if you also eliminate the next mistake.

5. Maintaining poor posture

One of the worst running habits is all too easy to fall into—if your posture isn’t dialed in, you can spring energy leaks anywhere (or everywhere) along your kinetic chain, which is all of the interconnected bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons that allow you to run.

“When it comes to recreational distance running, proper posture ultimately comes down to a [stable trunk], a steady head carriage, and short ground contact times, while synchronizing opposing arms and legs movements without overstriking and over-striding,” says Johnson.

That might sound complicated. But it really comes down to following the advice in the previous tips. And adding a slight forward lean to your gait.

Not only can that lean enhance your posture and boost running efficiency, it can reduce the load on your knee joints, reducing your risk of injury, according to a report in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy.

“Avoid an over-exaggerated lean where you end up jutting your chin out and hunching forward,” says Gonser, adding that you should never round your back. “Hinging forward at your hips will protect your spine and place your glutes in a better position to fire—a great thing for runners.”

All this sound familiar? Chances are you’ve got a few bad running habits. Now you’ve got the intel you need to break them.