Running Form


Runner’s come in many shapes, sizes and styles. We often talk about the perfect running form as if it where the panacea for injury prevention and the key to faster performance. I agree that improvements can be made that will enhance your running experience; however there are limitations.


As a physical therapist I have treated several runners that have excellent form. Yet, every week I watch my neighbor happily jog down the road with what would be considered horrible form – she’s never injured.


Running Form

Meb Keflezighi (world champion marathon runner) glides like a gazelle thru the streets mastering the marathon, while Paula Radcliffe (world’s best female marathoner) bobs her head side to side or Joan Benoit (first female Olympic gold medalist) runs with a classic shuffle step (very fast shuffle). That heel strike would make the folks with Chi Running and Pose Method cringe. Each of these great athletes has been injured. Yes, even Meb.


Use the principles presented here to guide you but remember that it is most important to have fun and work with the way your body is wired (it has worked for some of the worlds best).


For best results read thru this entire article then choose one or two areas to focus on during your next run. Having a friend videotape you while running can also be quite enlightening.


Head Orientation

Your head should tilt slightly forward with your eyes focused 10-20 feet ahead. Keep your eyes and jaws relaxed.


Arms / Hands

Maintain a 90 degree bend at your elbows while you swing forward and back.

On the back swing your wrist should be next to the side of your pelvis. Let your arm fall back to the forward position

Avoid letting your hands cross the midline of your body as you swing forward.

Keep your hands relaxed with your thumb and index finger lightly touching.



As you become tense, your shoulders will tend to shrug - keep them down.


Center of Gravity

Stand with your feet together and body straight (upright). Sense the pressure on your feet. Do you feel more pressure on your heels, or is it equally distributed between your heels and toes? Now, while keeping your body straight, pivot forward one inch. You should feel the pressure on the bottom of your feet shift toward the front of your feet (balls of your feet). Only lean forward to where you feel the shift, your heels should not lift. Remember to keep your entire body straight as you lean forward. This should be the general orientation of your center of gravity while running.



form drill

Drill 1:

Step one - Stand with your feet together and body straight (upright) – while keeping your body straight tighten your abs slightly and pivot forward one inch. Sense the pressure move to the balls of your feet but not lifting your heels.


Step two – From the “step one” position gently swing your arms back and forth as if running (elbows 90 degrees, hands relaxed with index finger and thumb lightly touching). Keep your shoulders, jaws and eyes relaxed with your gaze 10-20 feet ahead.


Tip: If you have a Wii Fit, the balance exercises will give you great sense of “center of gravity” and posture.



Your knees should be aligned with your feet thru your entire stride. Avoid letting your knees deviate inward or your feet to whip outward.



Stand with your feet 4 inches apart and legs straight. By rotating your legs inward and outward - flatten and arch your feet. Now, try to find a middle position between flat and arched. This position should feel comfortable to you. This is the neutral position of your foot. Try to maintain this neutral position while running. As you fatigue, your knees will tend to roll in a bit and your arch will flatten. You can correct this by focusing on your knee / foot alignment as well as tensing your foot a bit when you land. It is normal for your foot to roll inward or flatten (pronation) when it contacts the ground, but try to minimize this rolling or flattening.


Drill 2:

Step one - Stand with your feet 4 inches apart and legs straight. Rotate your legs inward and outward to flatten and arch your feet.

Step two – Stand on one leg and perform ten shallow squats while maintaining your foot in the neutral position – knee aligned with foot.


Stride / Rhythm

Your stide or rhythm puts all of the above together. Visualize yourself like a wheel rolling down the road / trail. If you are leaning forward slightly you will tend to land with your foot relatively flat (as opposed to contacting on your heel) - this helps to keep the wheel rolling smoothly. Also, with the wheel image, you don't have to push off. Lift your foot up quickly and bring the other forward. Slightly tensing your abs will help tighten your wheel and limit side to side wobbling. You will likely be taking quicker / shorter steps to maintain the same pace. This will feel awkward at first but hang in there and work with it.


Drill 3:

Run barefoot on a level grass field focusing on the wheel image. Start with only 30 - 50 meters at a moderate pace and repeat 5 times.For best results, have a friend video tape you running on pavement with your shoes on and then with your shoes off on the grass.

Related Article: Barefoot running.

Tip: Place a 1inch strip of masking tape on the heel of your shoe (were it contacts the ground) before you head out for a run and see if you can avoid wearing it off.



Bryan Whitesides MPT, OCS

Physical Therapist

This article may be reproduced with appropriate reference.