The Good, The Bad and The Basics of Running Form

Tanya Boyer, publisher of Rocky Mountain Running & Triathlon Magazine, breaks down the basics of running form.

Running is one of the best cardiovascular exercises, and many people believe they can just throw on a pair of running shoes and hit the road or trail. Running is running, right? Wrong. Most people would probably not jump into a swim routine without first seeking help and advice in swim form. As with swimming, good running form is the basis of a good running experience.
Good form is essentially the best and most efficient posture, which reduces aches, pains and injuries. It allows for more energy, thus more miles. While running form could be the topic of a large and in-depth discussion, three key positions are summarized here.


Believe it or not, your head is key to your overall running form and determines how efficiently you run. Many people prefer to look down or tilt their head forward while running. A bent neck actually restricts lung capacity, making it harder to breathe and increase speed. Look ahead to open your diaphragm and straighten out your neck and back; being careful not to push the chin out. Looking ahead also allows for more leg lift, and thus more power. To illustrate, try this demonstration. Look down and do 10 knee-ups. Now do 10 more knee-ups while looking straight ahead. Notice the knee lift was higher with the head looking forward.


Your arms are not just coming along for the ride either; they play an important role in keeping your upper body in an efficient position. Keep your hands low and your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle, and never let your fists go higher than mid-chest during your arm swing. To see a good demonstration of this rule, stand tall and push your arms forward and fists high in the air. What happens to the upper body? It is thrust back; something you don’t want to happen during a run. Now, this time stand tall and push your elbows back. You can feel with the backward elbow push that your body naturally wants to fall forward. While running, use your arms to assist gravity in carrying you forward rather than be a brake action.

Keep your hands and fingers loose – do not clench your first – as you swing your arms from mid-chest and back. Keeping your arms close to your body will help prevent side-to-side swinging. I have heard a few coaches tell their athletes to imagine they are holding a potato chip between their fingers and palm, which they don’t want to crush. If your hands are tight, your shoulders will also be tight.

You may have heard someone shout, “pump your arms.” This means drive them hard and fast to the rear. As you do this, your legs will turn over in direct proportion to your arm drive.


For most recreational runners, the goal is to achieve that quick leg turnover, which comes from a short stride (the distance covered by a step). With a short stride the foot should land directly under the body, or center of gravity, on each step. The knee should be slightly flexed so that it can bend naturally on impact. Too long of a stride length will cause the foot to land in front of the body, on the heel. This heel-strike will push the upper body backward for another braking action, not to mention it puts stress on your knees, hips, and back. A good stride should be quick, springy, and light not loud and slapping and ground.

Running form has especially been a hot topic lately, and there are many methods of running instruction that cover more than just the head, arms, and legs (see or Correct form for the hips, shoulders, and ankles are also a key to efficient running. The key to remember is that no two runners are exactly alike, and the perfect stride and form for one runner will be different from the perfect stride and form of another runner. To analyze your own running form, ask a friend or family member to videotape you while running, study the video, and identify areas you could improve.

Tanya Boyer is the publisher of Rocky Mountain Running & Triathlon Magazine. Her main job, however, is that of mommy to three young children and wife to the most patient man in the world. Running and triathlon are her way of staying young and mobile.

Rocky Mountain Running & Triathlon Magazine is an information source for runners and triathletes in the Mountain States. To subscribe for home or office delivery, visit and enter the coupon code STUDIO5.

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