3 Simple Tips On Form That Every Runner Should Know

Most beginner runners that I speak to are dumbfounded when I tell them that there is such a thing as proper running technique.

I was the same way.

I mean, it’s just like walking but faster, right? You don’t have to think about walking, so why do you have to think about running?

Boy was I wrong.

As all serious runners eventually learn, there are three main benefits of good running form:

  1. Faster times
  2. Greater efficiency
  3. Lesser chance of injury

In this video, ultramarathoner Sage Canaday and Olympic Trials qualifier Allie Kieffer share 3 simple tips and drills to help you perfect your running form.

Tip #1 - Practice Proper Foot Strike

On the heel strike vs midfoot strike debate, Sage advocates a midfoot strike to prevent jarring of the legs normally associated with heel strike.

According to him, the ideal foot strike has you landing on the midfoot to forefoot, with the contact point directly under your center of gravity (hips). Your legs should be turning over quickly and your step should be nice and light (as if you are walking on eggshells).

While practicing your midfoot strike, be careful not to force landing on the toes. Running forward on your toes is the natural form for sprinters. However, distance runners who make a habit of running this way will eventually pay the price.

Although Vibrams are commonly associated with forefoot strike, Sage points out that they are not required to run this way. A good neutral and flexible shoe with low heel drop like these will allow you to achieve perfect form while still offering protection for your feet.

Note: If you are an established heel-strike runner without a history of injury, it may be best if you maintain your current strike pattern. If you do have a history of injury, however, changing your strike pattern may allow you to continue running. This is because different body parts are stressed for each foot strike pattern.

Drill: Marching High Knee Step

This drill will help you find your ideal foot strike. Every runner will have a different optimal foot strike, so the only way to find out what’s best for you is to practice!

Doing this drill will also get you used to the feeling of landing with your center of gravity directly over the contact point.

Here is how you perform the Marching High Knee Step:

  1. ​Lift your knees until your thighs are at parallel
  2. Drive your foot into ground and land midfoot to forefoot, wherever feels most natural
  3. Ensure your hips are over the contact point
  4. Pop off the ground to develop quicker turnover and cadance

Warning: Make sure you are not overstriding or reaching too far in front.

Tip #2 - Run With A Slight Forward Lean

The idea behind this tip is to use natural body mechanics to propel you forward. You want to run with your body, instead of against it.

To do this, your upper body should be erect with good posture. Your chest should be forward, leaning at the ankles.

Let your arms swing naturally and at your sides, even if it is low.

Lead with your chest, and let the momentum of your arms and shifting body weight propel you into the next step.

Your lower leg motion will be more difficult to master, so Sage shares a drill to help you with the mechanics.

Drill: Quick Step Overs (Butt Kicks)

For this drill, think of your legs turning over like a wheel. You want to visualize that your shin is stepping over a wall that is at the height of your other knee. As Allie demonstrates, you should be literally kicking yourself in the butt.

To perform Quick Step Overs, begin by running at a slow pace. On alternating strides, do a quick step. The horizontal of your shin should be above your other knee, and your heel should be touching your butt.

Tip #3 - Increase Your Stride Rate

Your stride rate is measured by the number of steps you take per minute. As Sage points out, many beginners have too low of a stride rate.

To find your stride rate, simply get up to your normal running speed and count the number of times your right foot hits the ground in a minute. Multiply this number by two and you have your stride rate.

Runner’s World highlights the benefits of a higher stride rate as such:

“... with the right training, you can develop a faster stride rate, which leads to faster times. Increasing your stride frequency will also lessen your vertical bounce, because the quicker steps force your body to stay closer to the ground. This lighter touchdown not only makes you faster but will also reduce impact, which is a major cause of running injuries.”

Sage suggests a stride rate of at least 180 steps per minute (SPM). This number is commonly cited as the minimum stride rate to aim for after a study conducted by Jack Daniels during the 1984 Olympics found that only one runner had a stride rate under 180 SPM.

Drill: 3 Steps Per Second

Matt from www.nomeatathlete.com shares a simple drill to get used to the feeling of running at 180 SPM:

  1. Get on a treadmill.
  2. Set it to a brisk but comfortable speed (running really slowly for this is actually harder than running fast, at first).
  3. Start running, and time your steps so that each time a second ticks, your third step impacts the ground.