If you're running, great. But you might be running the wrong way, which could slow you down, cause injuries that set you back, or just make you look like a fool.
To master it, keep both arms bent 90 degrees as you stride forward, landing on the midsole (the area right beneath the balls of the foot) as you swing the opposite arm up in line with the shoulder joint.
And avoid these common mistakes, says Debora Warner, founder of Mile High Run Club a fitness studio dedicated to running in New York City:
1. You don't warm up.
A proper warmup prepares your body to work by raising your core temperature and sending oxygenated blood to working muscles, Warner explains. It only takes a few minutes to get the job done: On a treadmill, stand on the band and gradually increase your pace to 3.0 to 3.5 miles per hour for three minutes before increasing your pace. (Outside, you can shoot for a slow shuffle for the same amount of time.) Skip it at your peril: You'll risk cramping, pulling a muscle, and burning out prematurely.
2. You don't stretch before running.
Stretching is the best way to prevent injury, reduce muscle soreness, and help you run more efficiently. Active dynamic stretches are ideal: They simultaneously loosen up the joints and warm you up, so you don't waste any time getting to your workout.
3. You use your treadmill in a super cramped space.
When you fall off a treadmill, you usually don't land on the floor. You land on the moving belt, which catapults you backward, explains Mike Bracko, an exercise physiologist based in Canada who authored the American College of Sports Medicine's treadmill safety guidelines explains. If there's a wall or sharp exercise equipment directly behind your treadmill, you could slam into it or get crushed between the treadmill and the object. It's why there should always be 5 or 6 feet of open space behind a treadmill—NBD at most gyms, but worth looking out for in tiny hotel or home gyms.
4. You totally ignore the treadmill emergency clip.
Most treadmills literally have a lifeline: It's a corded clip that's affixed to the console with a magnet. If you fall, the magnet goes down with you, which stops the machine within seconds and can prevent injuries that occur when you get thrown off the machine, explains Bracko. While you probably use this simple contraption next to never, it's super easy to clip it the center of your shirt, where it won't interfere with your gait in the slightest.
It's worth noting that some runners like Warner don't use the clip—or recommend it. (She worries about accidentally pulling the cord out—that you could get hurt if the band were to stop suddenly.) Your best bet is to assess your surroundings: If there's room to spare behind your treadmill, you can skip the clip. But if the area behind your treadmill is cluttered with sharp stuff, you're way better off clipping in.
5. You strike the ground with your heels.
Also known as heel striking, this running technique promotes knee injuries and slows you down. It increases the amount of time your feet spend on the ground, which makes you a much less efficient runner.
6. Your strides are too long.
While you might think that long, gazelle-like strides get you from point A to point B faster than short strides, the opposite is true. Shorter steps support proper form and increase your efficiency.
7. You swing your arms across your chest.
This isn't just painful to watch—it's a total waste of energy that promotes poor posture and crowds your rib cage to make breathing more difficult. Instead of flailing all over the place, direct all your efforts toward moving forward by keeping your shoulders relaxed and arms in line with the shoulder joints.
8. You extend your arms.
When you extend your elbows on every stride, you create a drag that slows your arms down. Because your legs follow your arms, this can affect your pace. Bend the elbows bent at a 90-degree angle to keep everything compact.
9. You hold your water bottle while you run.
An uneven load forces you to tilt your shoulders to level things out. This can affect your arm swing and gait, ultimately straining your upper back. To protect yourself, place your bottle on the treadmill console when running indoors. Outdoors, plan your running routes around water fountains or wear a hydration belt.
10. You run too close to the console.
Get all up in the console, and you'll limit your arms' range of motion and increase the likelihood of knocking the emergency clip out of place, which can suddenly stop the belt. Position yourself in the middle of the belt to optimize safety and stride.
11. You run too far from the console.
When the console is out of arm's reach, it's difficult to adjust the speed if you get to a point where you feel like you can't keep up, Bracko says. (If you do fall behind and you panic, grab the handrails and jump your feet to the stationary sides of the machine. Then shuffle forward and reduce the speed.)
12. You round your shoulders. This doesn't just look awkward. Hunching your shoulders can affect your ability to breathe properly. Open your chest and focus on keeping your shoulder blades down while you run to promote proper breathing.
13. You prance up and down instead of forward.
Bouncing up and down trampoline-style actually detracts from your body's ability to move forward efficiently. Your body shouldn't travel more than an inch or so up or down.
14. You use other people to pace yourself.
Who knows whether the girl on the next treadmill was a high school track star or whether the guy on the left is training for a tri? Keep your eyes on your own treadmill, and focus on your pace.You won't end up overdoing it or settling for a speed that fails to challenge you.
15. You increase the speed and incline at the same time.
Increase speed before incline. Bracko says this helps your body maintain its center of gravity in a situation that's actually pretty foreign: moving the limbs to keep your body still in a space while the surface moves beneath you. To prevent falls, change one variable at a time instead of increasing both at once.
16. You run at 0 percent incline.
A 1 to 3 percent incline can help simulate outdoor running and ease the transition from treadmill to trails. Even if you have no plans to run outdoors, raising the bar can help you build strength in the quads, glutes, and calves, and increase your intensity, which builds speed and endurance wherever you choose to run.
17. You hold on to the handles.
This limits your range of motion and interferes with your natural stride to make every step more laborious. Let your arms swing instead, and lower the speed or incline if you're having trouble keeping up without the help of your hands.
18. You answer texts and emails on the run.
Fumbling around with your phone on the treadmill is more distracting than watching TV or reading a magazine because it distracts you from running and ties up your hands so you can't grab a handle if you lose your balance, Bracko explains. If you run outdoors, texting or changing the music can put you in danger of tripping over unseen hazards or (god forbid) into traffic. To avoid temptation while you're moving, just put your phone into airplane mode during your workout.
19. You don't cool down.
It's smart to slow things down before hoping off the treadmill or stopping in your tracks after an outdoor run: It helps blood carry lactic acid (the byproduct of intense exercise) away from the muscles, where it could promote muscle soreness, Warner says. So scale back on your speed and walk for at least a minute before calling it quits.
20. You don't stretch when you're done.
A few post-run stretches can help fend off stiff muscles and make you feel A-M-A-Z-I-N-G—which should be reason enough.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.