5 Steps to Better Running Form

And the feeling of complete ease

Agnese Zimele
Runner's Life
6 min readJan 10, 2023

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Photo by Serghei Trofimov on Unsplash

Once upon a time, I believed there was no easier sport in the world than running. You just lace up your shoes, head out the door, and run in whatever way it feels good. Because we are all born to do it.

But running, just like any other sport, has its specific technique. The way we lean forward, swing our arms, and land on our feet determine how fast and efficiently we can run.

Some athletes may have a knack for running and can easily get a picture-perfect posture and stride. But most of us need to work hard to get a running form that feels natural, comfortable, and effective.

“Learn it wrong, and you'll never know how good it can feel,” said Eric Orton in the world-famous book Born to Run. And yes, the running technique is indeed something we often have to rework and polish. Because…who doesn't want to feel good?

Achieving proper running form is probably not the first thing on most people's minds when they take up running. All they think about is speed, mileage, and sometimes also weight loss.

However, running technique should be given a lot more credit than it usually is. In fact, a sloppy form is often the number one reason for common running injuries, and it hinders athletes from going faster.

Therefore, assessing and working on improving your running technique is among the first things to do when you decide to get serious about running. And there are a few tools you could implement right away.

1. Drills — a runner's best friend

When I first got into athletics, I had no idea what drills are or what benefits they provide. I was simply told to do high heels, butt-kicks, and a few other exercises as part of a warm-up every single time. And I did.

It was only when I was going through my coach certification that I learned the true meaning behind drills. That they, first and foremost, help reinforce proper running mechanics, such as landing beneath your hips or pulling your toes up.

When done on a regular basis, drills also help strengthen the muscles used most extensively in the running motion. It applies to the glutes (the running powerhouse) and feet (the absorber of all the weight) in particular.

You don't have to do drills every day but adding 3–5 exercises to your warm-up before speed sessions or easy runs (if you're just getting started) can make a great difference.

Image by Freepik

2. Sprints — because it's difficult to run poorly and fast at the same time

Another fundamental asset to a long-distance runner's training regime is sprints. And it's not just because they fast-track us to better cardio or fuel our desire to feel the speed.

Sprints also play a big role in defining a more efficient running form. Just think about it. It's almost impossible to run fast if you barely lift your feet off the ground or lean backward.

When sprinting, it comes naturally for us to drive our knees up, land on the balls of our feet, and push forward with our chest. Hill sprints let us accentuate this motion even more. And just like that, we can achieve all the elements of an effective running technique.

Exposing oneself to close-to-max speed repeats for up to 10 seconds throughout the training period can help transfer these improved running form patterns to longer distances. That eventually translates into faster times in tempo workouts or races.

Long-distance runners certainly shouldn't train like sprinters but we sure can learn to run like them for our own benefit.

3. Where there's strength, there's also efficiency

Cross-training and especially strength workouts have long been praised as key elements of a successful running program. And there are more reasons for it than just injury prevention or increased power.

Runner-specific exercises, such as single-leg deadlifts, rotational planks, dead bugs, and others tackle the muscle groups that are most involved in running activity.

The stronger the core and glutes, the more stable and forceful every stride is, whereas arm and shoulder strength is directly tied to ensuring upright posture and high leg turnover throughout the run.

That all adds up to a better running technique, which essentially limits unnecessary movements, and excessive energy expenditure, as well as leaves more fuel for the muscles.

Runners don't have to lift like bodybuilders. In fact, bodyweight exercises a couple of times a week and some plyometrics every now and then will be just enough.

As long as total body strength work is in your routine, you will be able to capitalize on the gains sooner or later, and your running form will improve.

Image by Freepik

4. Cadence — because it's not about the stride length

The ultimate goal in running is to get from point A to point B. And there are only two ways how you can get there faster than the others — either your stride is longer or you hit the ground more frequently.

Stride length is something that Mother Nature determines for us, and we can't change much about it. Taller people will automatically have longer strides whereas aiming to land further than what feels comfortable may lead to overstriding and lower leg injuries.

Stride frequency, or cadence, is a metric that we can actively adjust through training. More steps per minute mean shorter ground time and fewer seconds spent up in the air, which turns into greater speed.

A higher cadence also makes your foot land right underneath your center of gravity, thus reducing your chances of a heel strike and decreasing stress when landing.

Many coaches suggest that running at 180 strides per minute ensures optimal running efficiency and form. However, it's all individual and should be tailored to specific goals and baselines.

One thing is clear, however, — there's no such thing as an overly high cadence. We can all improve in that aspect and running to the desired rhythm is one of the most common ways how to get there.

5. Stretching- because a stiff runner is a less efficient runner

There are a lot of things to consider when trying to perfect your running form. Yet there's one aspect that's often overlooked in particular, and that's stretching.

It may, at first, be difficult to see how a pigeon stretch or downward-facing dog can lead to a more efficient run. But flexibility is directly tied to the range of motion and helps release the built-up tension in muscles.

Regular stretching after workouts not only promotes recovery but also helps maintain optimal muscle length and reduces tightness. That eventually allows you to feel more relaxed, run tall, and keep your muscles in balance.

All it takes is a few minutes after a run. But a well-stretched body is like a well-oiled machine — the joints, tendons, and muscles are set to do their job, and, if everything else is in place, the right running form will come along.

As Chris McDougall, the author of Born to Run, once said, “Let’s run well and then run long.” So yes, let's focus on improving our technique, and then, achieving speed or greater mileage will seem a lot more effortless.

Get more training tips and running inspiration on my Instagram account and here on Medium.

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Agnese Zimele
Runner's Life

Marketing specialist and running coach who's been passionate about writing since childhood.