Top Ten Characteristics of Good Running Form

By Rick Morris

Running mechanics are one of the most critical components of your running and training. Everyone’s running form is slightly different but most successful runners have some good running form similarities. Here are our top ten characteristics of good running form.

Foot Strike Under Your Center of Gravity

Did you ever try to drive your car while pressing on both the gas and the brakes at the same time? Probably not. If you did you would be slowing yourself down and wasting a lot of energy. Running with your foot strike in front of your body is the same thing. When you plant your foot in front of your body you’re putting on the brakes with each step you take. You’re slowing down and wasting valuable energy. You’re making it harder to run. Your foot should strike the ground directly under your center of gravity. That way you will avoid the “braking” effect and will take full advantage of your forward momentum.

Flat Footed Touchdown

You have four choices for your foot angle at touchdown. Heel first, toes first, ball of your foot first or flat footed. Forget toes first, that puts way to much stress on your calf muscles and uses too much energy. Heel first landings cause the dreaded braking effect as well as increasing the impact stress on your ankles, knees and hips. Landing on the ball of your foot isn’t a bad technique expect for two things. You are still putting some unnecessary stress on your calf muscles and your foot both absorbs and wastes energy as it flattens out. That leaves your best choice – flat footed touchdown. Landing on a flat foot helps avoid over striding, eliminates the braking effect and doesn’t waste any energy.

High Cadence

One of the most noticeable differences between recreational runners and world class competitive runners is cadence. Top level runners use a cadence of around 90 to 100 full strides per minute, compared to a rather sluggish 75 to 85 strides per minute for recreational runners. A higher stride rate encourages a shorter more efficient stride. Low stride rates are usually associated with over striding and spending too much time on the ground. Try to maintain a stride rate of at least 90 strides per minute at all running velocities. You’ll run easier and more efficiently.

Dorsiflexed Foot

What is the first stride key you think about during the drive phase of your running stride? You probably think of either lifting, driving or pulling your knee up and through. That is a good stride key but there may be a beter one. How about first raising your toes? When you raise your toes you are dorsiflexing your foot at your ankle. If you concentrate on dorsiflexing your foot you are putting your foot in the proper position for a flat footed touchdown, pre stretching your calf to maximize energy return and are also encouraging a “triple response” in which your knee and hip flex into proper running stride position.

Low Ground Contact Time

A great deal of your running efficiency and running velocity does not come from active muscle contraction, Instead, it comes from the elastic recoil of your leg muscles. Your muscles will store and return energy much like a rubber band when you stretch it and let it fly. In order to maximize the energy return from your elastic muscles you need to reduce ground contact time. The more time you spend on the ground, the more energy the ground absorbs. To decrease your ground contact time you should dorsiflex your foot and land with your foot directly under your center of gravity. Strong powerful muscles will also decrease your ground contact time. Include a properly designed strength training program with both running specific strength exercises and plyometrics.

High Heel Kick

It’s been a long time since I took my beginning physics class in school, but I still remember the lessons about lever length. It takes less energy to move a short lever than a long lever. That lesson can be applied to running mechanics. If your heel kick is high your leg forms a short lever that you can move faster using relatively little energy. In contract, if your heel is kept low, your leg is straighter and forms a longer lever. That type of lever moves more slowly and takes more energy to move. You don’t need to artificially pull your heel high. Just stay very loose and relaxed. Let the natural motion and momentum of your stride pull your heel high to improve your good running form.

Backward Arm Drive

Good running form involves more that just your legs. You also need to pay attention to your arms. Contrary to popular belief, I think that the most efficient arm drive for a distance runner is a very relaxed backward arm drive, not a powerful forward arm drive. Driving your arms forward tends to encourage a reaching out with your legs – over striding. In addition, a powerful forward arm drive wastes a lot of energy. Instead drive your arms backwards with relaxed compact motion. Drive them back to the limit of your natural range of motion and let the elastic recoil of your shoulder and pectoral muscles bounce them forward. This type of arm drive puts allows both your upper and lower body to assume the proper position for an efficient stride.

Bent Knees

A common mistake many runners make, especially when trying to increase their speed is to reach out with a straight leg. A straight leg will cause the braking effect as well as drastically increasing the amount of impact stress on your knees and hips. Keep your knees soft and slightly bent. That will encourage a smooth, fluid and easy stride that will minimize stress and take full advantage of your forward momentum. It will also help keep your foot touchdown under your center of gravity, where it belongs.

Slight Forward Lean

Running totally upright can cause a number of form flaws such as over striding and “sitting in the bucket” in which you run with a lot of vertical motion, which wastes energy. A slight whole body forward lean will take advantage of the forward momentum you have built up and keep all of your energy moving forward, not up and down. Your forward lean should involve your entire body, beginning at your ankles. Don’t lean forward at the waist. An upper body lean only can cause a stumbling, high impact stride with a lot of wasted vertical motion.

Run Easy

You’ve seen world class distance runners at running events. Despite the blistering paces they are running they seen like they are running easy – almost effortless. They look that way because they are running easy. They are completely relaxed and they are allowing the elastic energy of their muscles do most of the work. They are using the full potential of their forward momentum. How can you run easy? First of all stay completely relaxed. Any tension will work to destroy the ability of your muscles to automatically return energy. Next, take full advantage of your forward momentum. Don’t allow over striding to cause a braking effect. Maintain an efficient, compact stride with a high cadence. Just allow your body to fly forward with as little effort as possible.