Back to Basics: 6 Key Elements of Efficient Running Form

6 Keys Efficient Running Form

During the first few weeks of our training program, we usually assess our runners form while they are completing some of the workouts. Some of the things we look at are below. Keeping these things in the back of your mind while you’re out on a run can help you practice efficient running form.

Legs/Stride – Cadence of around 180 BPM, and slight lifting of your knee

Legs and Stride are (obviously) the most important part of your running form, and also play a large role in running efficiency, and preventing or causing injuries.   

Cadence - The optimal cadence for a runner is around 180 beats per minute, or the tempo of Santeria by Sublime.  Running at 180 bpm cadence will be more efficient than increasing your stride angle and puts less strain on the body. Because of the gains in efficiency and reduced body strain focus on cadence before you work on stride angle.  

Stride Angle - Focus on opening up your legs as wide as possible.

Stride Angle is the angle between your legs at the widest point in your stride.  As a runner's stride angle increases so will the distance they cover during each stride and they will decrease contact time with the ground.  A runner with a larger stride angle will be able to cover more distance more efficiently at the same pace as other runners. As a runner you can improve your stride angle by stretching your hamstrings and glutes or through drills such as high knees.

Ankles/Feet - Imagine you are flicking sand with your feet as you push off with your mid-foot.

This will probably be the most controversial section of the article… Most coaches and online articles you read will talk about trying to strike on your mid-foot and that heel striking leads to injuries.  However, current research published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science on June 2017 states that there is no benefit to changing foot strike and could lead to additional injuries.

“Research conducted on the efficacy of changing one's foot-strike from a rear foot to a mid- or forefoot strike suggests that there is no obvious benefit to such a change for the majority of runners. In fact, it may be that the change in foot-strike may result in stressing tissue that is not normally stressed when running with one's habitual pattern, thus leading to the possibility of incurring a secondary injury. “

Journal of Sport and Health Science

Volume 6, Issue 2, June 2017, Pages 146-153

So we recommend to not be too concentrated on where your foot is striking the ground and instead focus on keeping your shin as close to perpendicular as possible to the road when your foot hits the ground.  By landing with your shin at a 90 degree angle to the ground this allows your hip, knee, and ankle to work in conjunction to absorb impact and propel yourself forwards. This can be affected by changing your stride angle, so be cautious of over-striding when trying to make corrections. Look forwards towards the horizon as you are running, you should not be able to see the tips of your toes in your peripheral vision. If you can see them you are probably over-striding.   

Have a friend video tape your stride on a track to see where you are striking, or have Perfect Pace perform an online form assessment.

Arms - Swing forward and back, elbows bent at 90 degrees

One of the most common things we see as coaches, especially in new runners, is the classic body cross with your arm.  When you run your arms should be swinging from front to back and not across your body. When your arms cross your body you are losing forward momentum and wasting energy, which over long distance races can add up to seconds or minutes off your time. Luckily, it is a pretty easy posture fix, but just takes a little practice to adjust yourself. To fix this, imagine pulling yourself forward on ropes or poles as you run to keep your arms from crossing your body.  Your arms should be relaxed as they swing, with your elbows at hip level, and forearms bent around 90 degrees. Lastly, as you run your hands should not pass more than an inch or two behind your back. Fixing body crossing is the first step to an efficient stride. One more thing to keep in mind has you run is to unclench your fists, you should have a relaxed grip with fingers slightly cupped. Think about lightly grasping a roll of quarters.

Head Tilt - Looking Straight Out

As you run your head should be looking straight out and forward. Your eyes should be scanning the course ahead of you, especially for trail races where you should be thinking about 3-5 foot strikes ahead.  This will help prevent falls and sprained ankles. As you run, you should not see your feet below you, if you can, you may be over-striding. Lastly, keeping your head forward will help with your posture by straightening your back and neck, which will help with running efficiency.

Shoulders – Keep Them Relaxed and Low

It's very common for runners to shrug their shoulders as they run. You may not start out running with them shrugged but they can creep up during long runs as you get tired.  As you increase your distance this can become a fairly painful problem, leading to lots a neck, upper back and shoulder pain. The key here is to remain relaxed, and occasionally shake your arms out to relieve any tension.

Chest – Run Proud

You are a runner…you got up early this morning to put in all that hard work to achieve your goal…be proud of what you are doing and run proud too. Try not to let yourself sink forward or arch backwards, concentrate on keeping yourself straight with your chest forward.  As you run your body should have a slight forward lean, with your chest out. You should feel like you are about to fall over if you were standing still.

Don’t Forget

Train Hard Run Strong!

Ultimate Runners Guide