What’s the Proper Running Form? To Do or Not to Do

I think at some point in our lives, we’ve all done some running, like running around as kids and playing sports in school, etc. But, now it’s time to bring your a-game.

At this point in your training, you may be asking, “What is the proper running form?” You may be thinking you have no idea how to move your arms, take a stride, etc., and wondering if how you’ve been running is how you’re supposed to be doing it, and if not, then how.

Having the proper running form can make all the difference in your performance and in how you been feeling or will feel on your runs. So without future ado, let’s get started!

What is the proper running form?

We’ll begin from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet.

  • Head: You want to have your head straight and level, not putting your chin down or up. Imagine a string attached to the top of your head to align it to look completely straight ahead.
  • Face: Keep your face nice and relaxed. Tensing up your face can also make you feel more tense, so keep it loose and relaxed.
  • Shoulders: Relax your shoulders, not tensing them upward, but position your shoulders slightly back. This will also open up your chest bringing more air for your lungs.
    • You want to avoid hunching over. This doesn’t help with getting airflow to your lungs either.
    • Don’t get caught accidentally breathing through your chest because of your chest sticking out. This is a common mistake with runners, and they don’t even realize it. It tenses up shoulders, wastes energy, brings less air in, and can alter your form, like your hips pushing back rather than forward, causing injury. I know runners this has happened to, so it’s no joke. You should be breathing through your belly, which I’ll get into more in the Core section.
  • Arms: Continually keep them at a 90-degree angle, using a loose and natural swing, with your hands swinging to about your peck level, and then swinging back down (keeping the 90 degree), with your hands swinging alongside your hips.
  • Elbows need to be tucked into the point where your upper arms are lightly rubbing against your ribcage. If you don’t feel this, your elbows are sticking out too much.
    • You DO NOT want them sticking out, as you want your body to be centered, keeping things in and controlled.
    • A very common mistake is elbows sticking, causing your arm swing to cross the center of your body (midline through your torso). It also causes your hips to rotate left to right, rather than a smoother square position, wasting time and efficiency.
  • Hands: Keep your hands loose. If they’re resting naturally, you’ll be cupping your hands. I like to rest my thumbs on the pointer fingers.
  • Body:  Your body should be slightly slanted forward, helping you point your body to where you’re going, helping support your forward motion.
    • Don’t get caught with your body straight up, which holds you back, not supporting that forward movement.
    • Avoid slanting forward too much. This will cause your center of gravity to move downward rather than forward.
  • Core: Keep your core engaged.
    • At the same time, it’s not something you want to tense up too much, but you do want to make sure you’re spending time strengthening your core which will help improve your strength and body posture.
    • Remember, make sure you’re breathing through your belly, not your chest. I know we all want to look good while running, so you might suck in your gut, but this only brings unnecessary tension, change in your form, and probably is making you breathe through your chest.
    • Belly breathing increases oxygen uptake because it uses your entire lung’s capacity. More oxygen also brings in more oxygen that your muscles need, optimizing your performance.
  • Hips needs to be square, facing forward. 
    • Like I mentioned earlier, you don’t want your hips rotating side-to-side, which probably means you’re sticking your elbows out too much.
    • Don’t let your knees touch. You’re probably allowing your hips to collapse inward. Do your best to keep your hips upright.
    • Hip strength plays a key role, which can determine how everything else below the hips are responding.
  • Legs: The leg cycle is much like the motion of riding a bicycle.Foot landing beneath center of gravity
    • As I was saying, when your foot comes up to make a stride, move it towards the other leg’s knees, giving you drive up through your knees, (or you can focus on driving your knees high), giving you power through your stride. In other words…
    • Imagine that you’re trekking through snow, or you’re sinking through mud or sand while trying to run. The way you’re going to work on getting out of it is driving your legs straight up, lifting up your knee to give you that extra oomph.
    • When you bring your leg back down, as I explained earlier, your leg should land beneath you, just like the leg cycle of riding a bike. Your legs and knees are not extending out in front of you, but below you (below your center of gravity).
    • Don’t get caught shuffling your feet or legs. That’s exactly how you’ll feel if you’re not picking up your feet and legs very much. You’ll feel more energy and power if you’re lifting them high.
  • Feet: When landing on the ground, you want your footstrike to be on the middle to ball of your feet, rolling back to where you’re barely using your heel.
    • You need to put what I like to call a little ” Q.L.S.” in your step, which stands for quick, light and short. Imagine yourself being as light as a feather, with quick and short steps. Increasing your cadence (number of steps you take per minute, with the average being 170-180 steps per minute) is one way to become faster. This is how you want to run in distance running. As you fine-tune your running form and technique, your stride will naturally become longer, the other way to become faster.Bad running form
    • Heel striking should be AVOIDED. It causes you to over-extend your stride (overstriding), landing outside of your center of gravity. It’s like putting on the breaks every time you land, causing harder impact and painful shin splints and other injuries up throughout your legs and body; not something you want to deal with. Gravity and your body’s natural biomechanics should be what springs you forward instead.
    • Your feet should be landing beneath you, not with your leg and knee extended out in front of you, as just said. Remember, Q.L.S.
    • When your foot comes back up, focus on your foot reaching as high as your other leg’s knee, which brings me to the legs.



Here’s a video to give a visual to what I’m talking about. You can play it in slow motion when they run to hone in on it better.

What are the benefits?

When we maintain proper form and running technique, we use less energy for efficiency, hence, running faster, longer, and stronger. As you read, I’ve explained advantages along with the proper running form, but here’s more explanation, and a few more to add.

  • Efficiency and Improved Time. When you’re moving with the least amount of effort, you’re saving a lot of energy to become more efficient.  The best part about this is with the proper form all throughout, you are able to improve your time without putting in all the hard training to gain speed. I’m not saying you shouldn’t work on your fast-twitch muscle speed, but just simply correcting your form can cut seconds or even minutes off, depending on the distance.To make it more tangible for you, imagine cutting down your time for each step, just a split of a second. However, average running steps in a mile is anywhere between 1,000 to 2,000 steps. But, what if you’re running a 5k or 10k? Better yet, a half-marathon or marathon? Just think about all the steps you’re taking and how much time you can shave off with the efficiency of your running form.I know when I was training for the Marathon Olympic Trials, one thing I focused on was improving my arm swing. I knew this alone could improve my efficiency, in turn, cutting down my time dramatically. It’s always the little things that can make such a huge difference.
  • Prevents Injuries. You’ll be avoiding a lot of unwanted injuries with proper alignment. You’ve accomplished a lot in your training if you’ve been able to stay injury-free. 

What are the disadvantages of not using proper running form?

The disadvantages were pretty much touched on while explaining the proper running form, but in a nutshell, you’ll have inefficiency, you’ll be injury-prone, and not running at your full potential.

What can I do to correct my form or improve my running technique?

In the beginning, it may feel very awkward correcting your form. You’re so used to running how you were that it’ll feel uncomfortable if you’re altering anything. However, there are certain things to consider first. There could be different reasons why you’re running the way you’ve been running. The first thing to ask is, “why?”

The why could be because that’s how you thought that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Another reason could be there are weak muscles or muscle groups, and there could be some overcompensating for the weaker muscles.

For instance, no matter how much you try, you can’t drive your knees high, or you can’t seem to move your legs fast enough when trying to move faster. That’s an indication of having weak or tight muscles. Some runners will try to manually correct their form, when really the culprit is tight or weak muscles that need loosening and/or strengthening.

Another reason why is some things are moving the way they are is because of the way your body was built, or genetics.

The answers will lie within the source of optimizing your running technique. This is a reason strength training and even cross-training can be vital throughout your training.

The last tip I want to leave you with, don’t overwhelm yourself with trying to correct everything at once. Just pick one or two things at a time to focus on, and slowly make those adjustments. These slow adjustments will build over time and bring lasting results without hurting yourself either, mentally or physically.

Wrapping It Up

Start incorporating these helpful running tips for your form and watch your running improve. To wrap it up, run smarter, not harder, focus on the do’s, not the don’ts, and just focus on one or two proper running forms at a time. I hope this post has helped you for the better.

After reading this, which form(s) have you decided to focus on and what are some changes you’ve noticed? I’d love to hear your feedback on it. Of course, if you have any other comments or questions, please submit it be below. You can also send in an email to liana@myrunningstrong.com.

Run Smart,



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *