What is Correct Running Form?

Correct running form is not something that comes naturally to most of us, but by learning to apply techniques that work with the laws of nature, anyone can make much more of what they were born with.

Correct form is the application of techniques through a combination of movements that work with the laws of nature. Simply put, maximizing running efficiency by working with gravity. If running form is so important, why haven't you heard more about it up until now? As briefly discussed in the running form page, there is very strong emphasis in the running community placed upon running shoes and training programs. While these are both critical training tools, pursuing a running goal without taking the time to learn basic proper running techniques can be likened to starting any new sport such as tennis without ever taking a lesson to learn how to hit the ball effectively and without hurting yourself.

Let's move on to discussing correct running form by first having a look at what is very common, and bad, running form. We'll do this by observing and then analyzing a video. Following this, we’ll explore the various aspects of correct running form as well as what those elements look like in action so that you can see the difference. We’ll then explore some practical drills that you can apply to help you improve your running form! So have a quick peek at the following video:

Running Form Video 1

What is it that you see? If you answered ‘nothing unusual’ you would be right, since the vast majority of the running community, new and veteran runners alike run very much this way!

Taking a closer look, here is a break down of what can be observed:

  • Observation #1: Head bobbing up and down (excessive vertical movement)

    Cause: Body weight is pushed upwards against gravity by trailing leg

    Effect: Mucho wasted energy, excessive achilles and calf strain

    Observation #2: Legs trailing behind body

    Cause: Foot not brought up under body

    Effect: Unnecessary time and energy required to bring trailing foot forward to next ground contact, quad and hip flexor strain

    Observation #3: Leaning forward at the waist

    Cause: Skewed perception of falling forward with good posture masked by forward momentum

    Effect: Unnecessary lower and upper back strain, minimal advantage taken from law of gravity

    Observation #4: Leading foot lands ahead of body, heel striking (landing on heels), cadence is 160 steps/minute

    Cause: Over-striding

    Effect: Braking/stopping of forward momentum, increased impact to body (ouch)

    Observation #5: Hands crossing centre line of body

    Cause: Improper movement and control of arms, tightness in shoulders

    Effect: Loss of forward momentum due to side to side movement

    So what is the lesson from all this? Simple - bad running form hurts your body and slows you down! So while one can argue that running form comes down to individual physiology which in turn determines your bio-mechanics, this does not mean that you can’t improve the way in which you work with what you’ve been given! By applying good technique anyone can become a more efficient runner. Efficiency brings two great benefits: minimal impact and maximal running speed!

    Correct running form really comes down to aligning your body position and movements with natural laws. Without exception, the various components of correct running form include the following:

    1. Chest up/standing up straight
    2. Head directly aligned with hips – rather than leaning forward
    3. Relaxed shoulders
    4. Bent elbows – 45 to 90 degrees
    5. Fists not clenched but relaxed
    6. Falling forward by leaning at the ankles not the waist
    7. Feet landing directly under body
    8. Upon ground contact, feet brought immediately and directly up towards buttocks
    9. Feet fall back down with gravity rather than driven down
    10. Running cadence is 180 or greater

    The next video shows 3 runners with slightly different running styles from each other, but who collectively display many more of the attributes of correct running form as listed above:

    Running Form Video 2

    Running Drills to Improve Form

    One of the most effective drills you can implement that will naturally contribute to improving your running form, is working on your running cadence. There are many ways to make this fun and motivating – my choice is through the use of running music. When you are running with the right cadence, many other things fall into place. For example, you will find it very difficult to over-stride and heel strike when your cadence goes up over 180 steps per minute (90 steps per foot). While this is not the whole picture, this is a huge step in the right direction.

    The second very effective drill to improve your running form is running hill repeats. In addition to providing a plethora of training benefits, hill repeats promote good form, particularly the way that your feet touch the ground. Running hills with bad form is actually a little difficult. One exception to this however, is leaning forward from the waist and tight shoulders when running up hills. These tend to be things you have to pay more attention to as you are tackling an incline.

    I really can't emphasize enough that if you want to become a faster, stronger and more economical runner, no training program is complete without regular hill repeats!!!

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