The beauty of running is that it’s simple, but years of pounding the pavement can sideline you indefinitely if you don’t fix imbalances and movement restrictions. In my time as a collegiate runner, I saw all types of strides: Fast midfoot and heel strikers, people with long, loping gaits and short, quick turnover. I also learned what happens when you neglect your form.

The fittest I’ve ever been was the spring of my sophomore year at University of Missouri. I was running 80-90 miles per week, crushing hard workouts twice a week, and knocking out Sunday long runs of 16-18 miles. I felt invincible and I trained like it. I shirked strengthening and mobility drills to pursue a few more miles. I ignored my tight calves until it was too late. Before I could put my peak fitness on display that outdoor track season, I ruined my Achilles with a tendinosis injury that follows me to this day.

Since then, I’ve had to completely revamp my stride in order to continue running, let alone to compete. Any time an imbalance creeps up, my Achilles tells me about it. The kinetic chain is a law of nature: Problems high up on your legs tend to manifest down low. So I now deliberately incorporate a few key exercises into my routine that have strengthened my stride and—knock on wood—kept me injury free.

Opening up my hips with leg swings and skips allowed me to engage my glutes, which became even stronger with glute bridges. Using big muscles like the glutes takes the brunt of the footstrike impact off the smaller muscles down the chain like my calves, which I’ve also strengthened with heel and toe walks. When my calves aren’t tight, my Achilles doesn’t hurt, and I can keep doing what I love. These principles apply to anyone with lower leg issues, but it’s never a bad idea for anyone to make sure the most powerful muscles are engaged and firing as they should.

Run Stronger, Longer with the Brooks Ghost 12

Improving your form takes time. A well-cushioned shoe that feels soft but also puts some extra spring in your step can buy you some of that time by helping you stay fresh long enough to work out any issues. However, cushioning is all about balance. The sensation of that first step in a cloud-like shoe is unmistakable, but some folks don't like too soft a ride. Brooks's signature DNA Loft cushioning, found in the Editor's Choice-winning Ghost, adapts to your stride while protecting your feet and legs from shock. And the new, lighter upper is made from an engineered mesh and 3D Fit Print material for a combination of flexibility and support.

Jeff Allen for Runner's World
Brooks Ghost 12

Try doing three sets of 10 of each of these exercises a few times a week and see if you notice a difference after a month or two. Remember, practicing form drills causes your body to make adaptations that improve your biomechanics, but those adaptations don't occur overnight. As you work out your restrictions and imbalances, it's also helpful to have a well-cushioned shoe that protects you from the impact forces of hard-surface running. A shoe with the ideal combination of plushness and support can set you up for success as you continuously improve your form.

1. If your hips don’t stay tucked underneath you

Try these: Glute bridges with single-leg raises

Why it works: This movement activates your glutes to give you extension from your hips, which helps keep your footstrike directly beneath you. As opposed to bending your lower back and striding in front of you, which can lead to injury.

2. If your tight, inflexible hips lead to injury

Try these: Leg swings

Why it works: Putting motion into your legs from various angles opens up the hip flexors. Making the hip flexors pliable before you start running helps you maintain a non-restricted, fluid stride.

3. If you can't shake those painful shin splints

Try these: Heel/toe walks

Why it works: Strengthening the muscles around the shins can prevent them from becoming inflamed and painful the next time you run. Heel walks in particular can improve ankle mobility, which can take pressure off the tibialis anterior (the muscle adjacent to the shin).

4. If you want to sprint faster

Try these: Skips

Why it works: Practicing form drills that isolate parts of your stride, like A-skips (pictured), butt kicks, and high knees, can open up your stride, helping you maintain proper sprint form that doesn’t degenerate as you get tired.