man running on trailRunning can be a great form of exercise—not to mention a free form of cardio—but it won’t do anything for you if you aren’t maintaining proper form or practicing the right techniques. Here are some tips to improving your running technique.

Get the right shoes.

Your shoes will take you the many miles you go with your running, so you should be sure to get the right ones. Look for a heel that is snug but not tight, and for an instep that feels snug and secure. You should also choose shoes that leave about a thumb’s width between the toe and the inside tip of the shoe; feet tend to swell and expand when you run, so you’ll need this space when it comes time to run. Consider talking to a specialist at a running shoe store to ensure that you’re getting the right shoes.

Better your stride.

Your legs, of course, are of primary focus when it comes to your running technique. It’s important not to overstride, which is when your feet land in front of you instead of under you. Allow your knees to bend, bringing them to a 90 degree angle once you are running at a good pace.

Maintain good posture.

In addition to your legs, it’s important to think about your back and arms as well. Stay relaxed, maintaining a spine that is relatively straight while still having a little bend. If you slump, your muscles will only have to work harder to hold you upright, and it will restrict blood circulation and oxygen levels going to the brain. As for your arms, keep them bent at such an angle that they become parallel to the ground as you reach your “cruising” speed. In addition, keep your hands soft and avoid clenching your fists.

Better your breathing.

Take advantage of your full lung capacity by breathing from the belly. When you breathe only with the upper part of your lungs, you are restricting the amount of oxygen that your body can use to convert stored fuels into energy.

Strengthen your body.

You should also supplement your running with muscle strengthening exercises to boost your running performance. Include not only functional muscle-joint exercises like squats and lunges but also more simple exercises that will strengthen muscles you aren’t using as much when you’re running. Some great exercises of this type include planks, clams, and push-ups.

Listen to your body.

Most importantly, be sure to listen to what your body is telling you. If you’re getting hungry in the middle of a run, take an energy chew. If your shins are hurting you, check to verify that you’re wearing quality shoes. If you think you need to walk for a moment, do it. Listening to your body will help you to avoid injury and will allow you to keep enjoying running as a form of everyday exercise.