When I see other runners, I can’t help but notice their running form. In my head I will say things like, “They should relax their shoulders”, “They should swing their arms”, “They should use their hips more, so they get knee lift and aren’t shuffling their feet.”
Running form is critical to optimize your running performance and help minimize the risk of injury. This article is the first of a series of articles related to running form and how to improve it.
So how should you run? I’ve listened to and read advice from different running coaches, exercise physiologists, and biomechansists. I’ve implemented these recommendations myself, and I wanted to share with you what I have found to be the most important aspects of efficient running form.
Here are the key aspects to running form:
- Body position
- Your body should be upright, thus requiring you to engage the core muscles. You should think of “running tall.” To help increase your speed you should have a slight forward lean from the ankles. It is important that this lean not come from the waist.
- Your head, face, shoulders, and arms should be relaxed.
- You should look ahead on the horizon with you chin slightly tipped down
- As soon as your knee comes forward put your foot down underneath you. You should land slightly on the outer portion of the foot and ideally land on your midfoot, close to the center of your body.
- As you land, the ankle should be in the neutral position, not in a flexed or extended (pointed toes) position.
- Allow the heel to settle on the ground.
- Push the big toe down allowing it to act as a locking mechanism before the foot leaves the ground, ensuring the foot acts as one entire unit. Do not try to get any extra propulsion by pushing off with the toes consciously. Instead, forward propulsion should come from hip extension (see below), and the foot should just be along for the ride.
- Allow the foot to come up off the ground on its own, don’t actively contract the calves or hamstrings to pull the foot up towards the buttocks.
- Arm swing
- The arms and legs should work together in a coordinated fashion. When the left leg is forward, the right arm should be forward and vice versa. When the arm stops moving forward and is about to reverse direction, the opposite leg should reach its maximum backward movement before switching directions and coming forward, the opposite leg and hip should be at their maximum extension backwards
- Your shoulders should be relaxed. Your arms should be bent at the elbow to form an angle of slightly less than 90 degrees between your forearm and upper arm. Have your hands lightly cupped like you were holding a fragile object that you didn’t want to drop, but that you didn’t want to crush.
- The arm swing occurs from the shoulders, so that the shoulders don’t turn or sway. It is a simple pendulum-like forward and backward motion without crossing of the arms in front of the body.
- Swing the arms so that the hands brush the top of the hips on the backswing and then swing them forward to the nipple line or slightly above.
- Hip extension
- Your power comes from extending the hips. Think of the hips as pistons that move up and down.
- Focus on extending the hip and then leave it alone until you would extend it again. Do not actively contract the hip and/or hamstrings to bring the foot up behind you. This is a waste of energy. Allow the elastic energy you generated by extending the hip and impacting the ground automatically bring the foot up and forward.
- Once the hip is extended, the recovery phase starts. The recovery cycle of the leg will happen automatically. The lower leg will lift off the ground and fold so that it comes close to your buttocks then pass under your hips with the knee leading. Once the knee has led through, the lower leg will unfold and it is then runner’s job to put it down underneath them. Ideal landing is close to the center of your body and directly underneath the knee. Don’t try to actively move the leg through the recovery phase, this is a waste of energy and slows the recovery phase cycle.
- How close the lower leg comes to the buttocks depends on the amount of hip extension. Ideally, the closer the leg comes to the buttocks the better because the leg will cycle through the recovery phase faster.
- Control your rhythm (or cadence) and speed through arm swing and hip extension.
- Your cadence should be between 160-200 steps per minute.
- Breathing rhythmically
In the next post, I will discuss cues you can use to make any needed changes to your running mechanics.
Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can help in any way.
I do offer running evaluations to assess running form. Please let me know if you are interested or would like more information.
Your friend and coach,
Adam St. Pierre. Running Mechanics presented at USA Triathlon Certification Training, 2015.
Ben Greenfield. Beyond Training. Victory Belt Publishing, Inc. 2014.
Jack Daniels Daniels’ Running Formula Second Edition. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, 2005.
Jay Dicharry. Anatomy of Running.
Road Runners Club of America Coaching Certification Course
Steve Magness. The Science of Running. Origin Press, 2014.
USAT Training DVD Series. The Run with Bobbie McGee.