If you've already carved out time in your busy day to go for a run and you've got your shoes laced up, you've already won half the battle. But that doesn't mean you can completely rely on autopilot to get you through your running session. Just because you're working up a sweat doesn't mean you can forget about correct form. Because if your run form is all wrong, you won't get lasting results from your hard work . . . and you won't achieve your fitness or weight-loss goals.
Michael Olzinski, MSc, Purplepatch endurance coach and Equinox run coach, has worked with countless runners of all fitness levels, and this is what he told POPSUGAR: "The most common thing that I seem to point out every week to runners is simply the way they position their upper body, namely their shoulders, arms, and upper torso." Yes, you read that right. Your upper body plays a huge role in your running, yet it's the one factor that's neglected the most.
"Running is an incredible mode of exercise that requires a balance between being rigid and being relaxed," Mike explained. "When runners are rigid in places they are supposed to be relaxed, it really can throw off the entire running form and make running feel unpleasant or even painful."
It may sound strange at first, but the more relaxed your arms and shoulders are during your run, the longer and faster you'll be able to go in the end. "Generally, the upper body tells a story about how the rest of your body will handle the run," Mike noted. That's why his "first goal is to simply allow [people] to relax and move with a nice, fluid upper body." This is a holistic way of approaching your run, which will, in turn, allow you to squeeze in some highly effective cardio sessions.
If this sounds familiar, don't worry, because these problems are easily fixed with a little TLC. Mike told POPSUGAR that there are two major components to addressing upper-body tension: the physical and the mental.
When it comes to the physical component, Mike advised, "I find it very important to do a running warmup that incorporates your upper body. Simple jumping jacks are great for this because they start to loosen you up a bit. Then, as you are running, try to have a nice, relaxed arm swing, where your arms are generally at your side near your ribcage or pushing behind you." Also, try not to let your hands spend a lot of time in front of your body. This indicates that your shoulders are really tense "and your arms are crunched up into your chest."
As for the mental aspect, any runner will tell you that the mind can be your greatest obstacle. That's why Mike recommended this: "As you go into your run, just try to relax your mind a bit. Think some thoughts that would make you feel like you are floating in space or relaxing in some water. Your brain is very connected to your neck, shoulders, and arms, so I try to coach people to visualize something very calming and soothing." The harder your run gets, the more important it is to draw on "those mental cues," Mike said.
At the end of the day, remember that just because your body is working hard doesn't mean everything has to be tensed up. You might be surprised to learn how much better you can run when you give your upper body some much-deserved attention.