Avoid the Burn – Drills and Tips to Prevent Chafing While Running

Chafing is no fun for anybody, and yet so many of us runners (myself included) are intimately familiar with that burning sting of raw skin as you get in the shower post-run. Just wait till you get some soap on it! Instead of grimacing your way through another sufferfest, check out how two of our favorite drills can help prevent chafing while running and save you from the burn!

What Causes Chafing While Running?

You might think the easy way to avoid chafing while running is to slather on some lube. While that step has its place (more on that later), there are some mechanical changes you can make to your running form that can help avoid the rub. 

Friction is the root cause of chafing. Whether it’s skin-on-skin or skin-on-clothing, the repeated friction between the two surfaces is what causes that rash. Runners commonly deal with chafing between their thighs, or between their arm and torso–more or less the armpit area.

These aren’t the only two spots that can chafe. But, it’s a great starting point to discuss how a check-in on your form can reduce the likelihood of it happening. 

2 Drills to Prevent Chafing While Running

The name of the game here is to watch your form and prevent collapsing in on yourself while out on the run. The more you crumple in on yourself while running, the more you provide contact points to rub against one another. If you stay tall and balanced, you increase the distance between your arm and your torso, or between your thighs. More space equals less friction!

We’ve got two drills lined up for you that will help reinforce strong movement patterns to prevent your hips from dropping and your shoulders from slumping. As a bonus, these are great form drills for improving your running overall, not just for preventing chafing while running. Win, win! 

#1 Reverse Plank

Your arms swing back and forth countless times on the run, and each pass means your underarm skin could be getting rubbed by your shirt or pack strap. The reverse plank drill sets out to increase the stability of your thoracic spine (upper back) so that when you get tired, you’re less likely to slump forward. The taller you stand, the less friction is created! 

To open up the chest, back, and shoulders with the reverse plank, find a little spot on the ground and here we go!

Coach Nate performing reverse plank to prevent chafing while running

The Set Up
  • Sitting on your butt, legs extended, place your hands on the ground just behind your hips. Fingers should be facing forward. 
  • Keep your legs and feet together with your toes pointing away from you. 
  • Your quads should be engaged and flexed for support.
  • Once set up, push your hips into the air to create a plank with your body. 
  • Keep your shoulders engaged and your hands screwed into the ground–no slumping!

Your shoulders will feel a BIG stretch here. Keep your quads and glutes engaged to prevent cranking your lower back. 

Your goal is to stay in this reverse plank for 30 seconds and don’t forget to BREATHE while holding!

Modification

If your wrists are the limiting factor for holding this pose for 30 seconds, you can try turning your wrists out 90 degrees so your fingers are perpendicular to your body, rather than pointing backward. 

#2 Stable Arm Drill

Next up, let’s tackle the thigh chafe. There’s lots of surface area here, so the potential for a big red patch of skin is high! You can minimize that chance by performing this drill to practice maintaining stability through your core and hips while running. 

Disclaimer

You might feel a little weird practicing this drill. In our community, it’s affectionately known as the zombie drill. You’ll see why in a minute!

When you’re running, your arms and legs swing opposite of each other. Your right arm and left leg move backward while the left arm and right leg move forward. This isn’t just happenstance–your body moves this way so that your arms provide a counterbalance to your legs to prevent too much rotation through your midline as you move. 

Normally you wouldn’t even think about how your arms and legs move together to stabilize you…until you take away a piece of the combination. By removing your arm swing from your run, you’ll be forced to really notice how easy it is to let your hips either drop side to side or to rotate excessively back and forth.

To practice this stable arm drill, find a little stretch of sidewalk, flat trail, or track where you can run back and forth in 10-20 second stretches. 

Coach Nate performing stable arm drill to prevent chafing while running

The Set Up
  • Start by jogging in place, moving your arms normally. 
  • Then, bring your arms out straight in front of you, hands apart, still running in place to get a feel for it. 
  • Next, run 10-20 seconds with your arms still straight out. Focus on staying tall and stable while running. 
  • Jog back to your starting point, swinging your arms normally. 
  • For the second pass, keep your arms out, but bring your hands together. They’ll bounce a little on the run, but that’s okay. 
  • Run back to your starting point, swinging your arms normally. 
  • For the third pass, your arms will be out with hands together, but this time try to minimize any bouncing or side-to-side movement in your arms and hands. This will require A LOT of core engagement to stay as stable as possible. 
  • Jog back to your starting point, swinging your arms normally.

This drill should make you notice how you might need to tighten up your core and keep your feet moving quickly directly under your hips to prevent any rotation or dropping from happening. Certainly, we wouldn’t want you running like this all the time, but that’s the purpose of a drill. We want to bring your attention to a certain form aspect temporarily, so you can remember to check in on it during your run. 

Special Considerations

Now, the caveat here is that the two drills we just walked you through are great for bringing awareness to your form and trying to prevent the friction that causes chafing. That being said, they aren’t the end-all, be-all. There are times where chafing may be unavoidable, even if you diligently practice the drills. 

Weight and body mass: Some of us runners will have to deal with potential thigh chafing regardless of how stable our hips are. Carrying extra mass, whether in the form of muscle or fat, may mean that your thighs will rub together no matter what, and you’ll need to take extra precautions to prevent that friction from causing a run rash.

The same goes for your underarm chafing – bigger biceps and triceps increases the chance of brushing against your torso with every arm swing. 

If you fall into this category, you might consider how clothing or lubricant can help prevent raw skin while out on a run. 

Snug Clothing

Compression or liner shorts can make a world of difference here! With a longer inseam, these under-shorts tend to provide a barrier between your legs, so instead of one thigh rubbing against the other, they just rub against the cloth of the shorts. These shorts also tend to fit more snuggly than regular running shorts, so they’re less lifely to ride up and expose your skin. 

If you’re not a fan of wearing tight-fitting shorts by themselves, just throw a pair of regular shorts over them to keep your booty covered. 

Lubricant

There are a plethora of lubricants out there specific to runners. Their purpose is to prevent dry skin from rubbing against dry skin. Instead, the lubricants provide a slickness that, while it won’t completely stop the friction, it will reduce the chances of abrading the skin to the point of developing that chafe rash.

It might take some trial and error to find the right lubricant for you, but once you do, you can try applying it to your thighs and underarms to decrease your chances of rubbing your skin raw. 

Gentlemen

Unless your shirt is very tight-fitting, it’s possible that it will move and bounce enough during your run that your nipples get their share of friction. Too much of this and the next thing you know, you’ve got the tell-tale double blood trail down the front of your shirt!

The easiest way to prevent this is either slather some lube on them before you head out or tape a band-aid over each nipple to protect them. An even easier solution? Skip the shirt all together if you’re comfortable, especially in hot weather. 

Ladies

I don’t know about you, but my biggest chafe issue is when the straps of my sports bra rub over my collarbones. Similar to the gents and their nipple chafing, form drills aren’t going to do much here.

Instead, try to find a lubricant to reduce the inevitable friction, or make sure that your sports bra fits well enough that there isn’t enough slack to allow for the fabric to move too much from stride to stride. If all else fails, some band-aids can be helpful under the straps, as well. 

Walkers Should Practice Drills, Too

Al the information above applies to walkers, too! Whether you’re a power walker, a regular walker, or you like to throw in a walk break on your long runs, the drills, form reminders, and extra considerations all apply to you, too.

When walking, think about how you can keep your upper back engaged to strength your arm swing. Don’t let yourself slump as you get tired, especially if your walk break is in the middle of running efforts. 

You can also practice the stable arm drill while walking. Keep the same pattern of hands apart, hands together with bounce, and hands together without bounce to illuminate how, even when not running, your core engages to keep you steady. 

Keep up with even more training tips and programs within our app!