10 Components of Proper Running Form

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Is it possible to improve your running form?

Some people, even many doctors, believe that people are born with a given way of moving which they cannot change much, if at all. These same people say that some people are “designed” from birth to be good athletes or not to be particularly athletic at all. I happen to believe you can make substantial changes in your body and how you move, no matter what kind of a body you were given at birth.

With practice, you can achieve proper running form and change your running forever. (Notice that talent is not one of the items on this list!)

10 Components of Proper Running Form

1. Flexibility

You need to have flexibility first and foremost to achieve proper running form, not only in your muscles, but in your tendons, ligaments, and joints. They all work better when they move with flexibility. Any restrictions in your muscles, ligaments, or tendons will limit your range of motion, period. As we get older we tend to become less active. A good axiom that best describes this is: “Use it or lose it.” If you don’t use your muscles and joints they will begin to stiffen and then, if you still don’t do anything, atrophy. Flexibility doesn’t just happen, you have to work at it. Even stretching a few minutes a day is enough for most people to maintain a good range of motion and decrease their chances of injury due to muscle pulls.

2. Good posture

Woman checking the straightness of her posture

The efficiency of your running form is totally dependent on the quality of your posture. Good posture, according to Yoga teachers, and many other mainstream body movement disciplines, involves having a reasonably straight spine with not too much straightness and not too much bend. The more you slump, the more your body’s muscles need to work to hold you upright. Poor posture not only restricts the circulation of blood to your muscles and organs but also inhibits the oxygen supply to your brain.

For correct posture, your shoulders, hips and ankles should be in alignment.

3. Good leg motion

Over-striding is a major cause of both hamstring and knee injuries. This is when you land with your feet in front of you instead of under you. The most efficient running stride involves the use of your core muscles for propulsion and not your lower legs (where the majority of running injuries occur). Most running injuries come from impact and over-use, and having proper leg motion can eliminate both.

4. Cadence

Most people have a low cadence (the number of strides you take per minute). When you run, you want to spend the least amount of time on your legs as possible. The longer you take with each stride, the more time your foot spends on the ground, and the more energy your legs have to expend to support your body weight. Even if it’s a split second during each stride, it adds up quickly when you average 1200 steps per mile. Ideal running cadence is 170-180 strides per minute. Running with a metronome is a great way to regulate your cadence – try it and you’ll be amazed. It can truly transform your running.

5. Body Sensing

Listening to your body is key to preventing injuries. ChiRunning helps you understand why you’re feeling sore, tight, or in pain and teaches you how to solve the problem. Body sensing can tell you when you’re running with too much effort, landing with too much impact or running low on fuel. It’s the best way in the world to monitor yourself so you can make necessary adjustments to your running form in the moment, and be optimally  responsive to any running situation.

6. Good mental focus

If you want to run faster, farther, and injury-free, you’ll need to focus your mind to monitor and re-educate your body. When you determine the right adjustments to make to your running form, your mind can tell your body what to do until it becomes part of your muscle memory. Not only can this save you some pain (and a few trips to the physiotherapist), it can also be meditative and relaxing to become deeply attuned to your body’s sensations.

7. Good upper body/lower body coordination

The general rule is that your upper body and lower body should be doing equal amounts of work. For most runners, this 50/50 ratio is tilted one way or the other. When your upper body and lower body are working in unison rather than against each other, it spreads the work of running over the whole body and takes the load off of any single muscle group. It’s based on the old adage, “Many hands make easy work.”

Diagram showing a runner's upper body and lower body working in sync with each other
The physics of Balance: Everything above the runner’s center moves forward; everything below the runner’s center movies rearward.
8. Good breathing habits

Watch a baby breathing sometime. You won’t see his chest rise and fall with each breath. You’ll see his abdominal area expand and contract like someone breathing in and out of a balloon. It’s called “belly breathing”, and it’s how we should breathe all the time. When your breath is shallow, you only use the very upper part of your lungs and don’t take advantage of your total lung capacity. Oxygen is what your muscles use to convert stored fuels into usable energy, and any reduction in your oxygen uptake will effect your ability to burn glycogen.

9. Proper bend in your knees and elbows

Any pendulum will swing faster if you shorten it. Your arms and legs swing as pendulums. So, the more you bend your arms and legs, while running, the less muscle it requires to swing them. As you approach your “cruising” speed, your elbows and knees should both be well-bent so they can swing faster and easier.

10. Staying relaxed

This includes having a good sense of humor, observing what’s going on within you and around you, and responding wisely to those observations. When your run relaxed you reduce your chances of straining a tight muscle. Tense muscles restrict the range of motion in your arms and legs, making it hard to run faster. A relaxed runner spends less time recovering from a race than an inefficient runner who is burning more fuel for the same amount of distance. The Kenyans consistently win more races because they are the most relaxed runners out there.

Running doesn’t have to be hard, and it doesn’t have to hurt. Everyone can learn proper running form, from beginners to seasoned marathoners to performance runners. These 10 components of proper running form are deeply embedded in all aspects of the ChiRunning technique. It’s what we’ve been teaching since day one.


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"Running doesn't hurt your body. It's the way you run that causes pain" -Danny Dreyer, author and founder of ChiRunning

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