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  • Writer's pictureJillian Beckham

Perfect Your Running Form with These 11 Running Form Components

Unless you have someone following you with a live camera during every run, you probably don’t have a great idea of what you actually look like while you run. You see pictures of runners in perfect form on Pinterest and Instagram, and you watch all the running mechanics videos on YouTube.

It’s one thing to sit in your living room and understand the theories behind running from. It’s another to actually implement them. But how do you know if you’re actually running with correct form?

By feel and self-checks.

That’s right. You do have the power to assess your own running form. You just have to know what to feel for. You have to know how to self-check your form and make small adjustments along the way.

And like with anything, practice makes perfect. Actually, as I’ve also heard “Practice makes permanent.” Practice correct form enough, though, and that perfect running form will become your new habit.

If you want to know more about why changing your running form is so difficult, and what you can do to optimize that habit change, check out my previous blog post How to Fix Running Form and Why It’s So Hard.

There are 11 Running Form Components that I’ve outlined below. With some of them, you’re probably already a pro. With others, you’ll likely need some work.

Assess yourself on your next few runs and see where your running form could use some improvements. Then, pick one per run over the next 11 or so runs. Use the “self-check mantras” at regular intervals throughout your runs to become mindful of your form and create lasting changes.

Running Form Components:

  1. Look Straight Ahead

  2. Slight Forward Lean

  3. Forward Energy (not up)

  4. Foot Strike

  5. Hip and Pelvis Rotation

  6. Sweep the Feet

  7. HSF Relaxed

  8. Arms From the Shoulders

  9. Short Front Stride

  10. Hip Extension

  11. Neutral Spine

Let's explore these a bit more. Keep reading to learn why each of these running form components is important, how to know if you're doing it correctly, and how to work on it.

Running Form Component #1: Look Straight Ahead

Why It’s Important:

First of all, if you’re looking down, you aren’t going to be able to see upcoming obstacles… and that could be just plain dangerous.

The other reason it’s important to look straight ahead is that your head follows your eyes, and your body follows your head.

Try it out while you’re sitting right now. Sit up and look straight ahead with good posture. Now look down. Notice what happens to your shoulders and back. Now, look up. What happens to your shoulders and back now?

Look down and your shoulders slump. Look up, and your back arches too much. The same thing happens while you’re running.

Ideally, you want to look ahead about 15 feet, or the length of an average car. Obviously, you’ll need to look around at times to observe your surroundings, but you always want to return to that neutral head position.

Self-Check Mantras:

“One Car Ahead”

“Look up”

“Eyes forward”

Demonstrating Proper Running Form - Look straight ahead

Running Form Component #2: Slight Forward Lean

Why It’s Important:

When you’re standing, your weight should be balanced in the center of your body if you don’t want to fall down or have to take a step. Do something like Tree Pose in yoga, and you know just how important this is.

When you’re in forward motion, though, you want your weight centered a little ahead of your body if you want to stay balanced. If you try to maintain the same position as when you’re standing, you’re going to be leaning back as you run.

If you’re leaning back when you run, you’re spending unnecessary energy trying to stay balanced when you could be using this energy to propel you forward. One study even found that 73% of your energy when running is spent just maintaining balance while only 20% of your energy is spent moving you forward [1].

So if you want to become a more efficient runner, you may want to consider making it easier on your body to stay balanced rather than always focusing on how to propel yourself forward more easily.

It’s important to note that the lean should come from the ankles, not from the hips.

Stand up straight and lean forward slightly at the ankles. Before you know it, you’ll be taking a step if you want to avoid falling on your face.

Now stand up and lean forward from your hips. Your center of gravity hasn’t moved. You don’t have to take a step.

Self-Check Mantras:

“Stop leaning back”

“Lean forward”

“Stay balanced”


Running Form Component #3: Forward Energy

Why It’s Important:

By forward energy, I mostly mean not upward energy. Upward energy is mostly wasted energy. Your goal is to move forward, not up into the sky. Having a high bounce while running is a good indicator that you’re wasting energy on moving your body up instead of forward.

You’ll always have a bit of bounce, of course. You aren’t ice skating, you’re running. But you’re also not bounding across a trampoline.

Having a long stride can also be a sign that you’re bouncing too much. Stand up with your feet together. Now jump about 2 feet forward. How high did you have to jump to make it 2 feet? Now do the same thing but jump five feet forward (the width of a queen-sized mattress). How high did you have to jump now?

You probably had to exert a lot more upward energy to jump that further distance. The same thing happens when you’re running. If every stride length is too long, you’re exerting a lot more energy propelling your body upward than your buddy running next to you that has a shorter stride. Can you guess who’s going to tire out more quickly?

Self-Check Mantras:

“Shorten the stride”

“Am I bouncing?”

“Smooth running”

Running Form Component #4: Foot Strike

Why It’s Important:

Your foot should strike slightly ahead of, or directly under, your hips. If your foot strikes too far ahead of your body, you’ll be putting stress on your hamstrings.

It also creates an inefficiency. Your body has to catch up to your foot before making forward progress. You’re using precious energy to catch up that could otherwise be used to power you forward. If the foot strikes directly under your body, the muscles are immediately able to push down and rearward… which is what propels you forward.

Self-Check Mantras:

“Land Underneath”

“Feet underneath”

“Foot strike”

“Foot fall”

Proper Running Form: Foot striking in my Xero Shoe Mesa Trail's

Running Form Component #5: Hip and Pelvis Rotation

Why It’s Important:

When you run with correct rotation of your hips and pelvis, the power comes from the hips and the glutes. The legs just follow and balance you. If you aren’t rotating your hips and pelvis, your hamstrings are going to do more of the work, which could lead to injury.

You’ll also be pounding the ground more than necessary. The impact of your foot hitting the ground is partially absorbed by your hip rotation. Without a hip rotation, you’re putting unnecessary stress on your tendons and joints. Too much of this, and you’re more likely to find yourself injured!

If you’re rotating your hips too much, and you’re twisting and putting pressure on your LPHC muscles, which includes your diaphragm. Your diaphragm is a huge part of your breathing. Rotate too much and you’re not only using precious energy to overly rotate, but you’re also going to limit your breathing capacity… not exactly what you want when you’re running up that hill.

An indicator that you’re over rotating is that you have a long stride. The longer the stride, the greater the rotation.

Another indicator of how much you’re rotating your hips is how much you’re rotating your shoulders. If you run with stiff shoulders, you’re likely running with stiff hips.

Self-Check Mantras:


“Rotate the shoulders”

“Power from the hips”

Running Form Component #6: Sweep the Feet

Why It’s Important:

Instead of seeing your feet as “hitting” the ground, it can be helpful to think of your feet as “sweeping” the ground. It’s a long, continuous movement, and doesn’t have that start and stop effect. Other people compare the motion to pawing the ground like a cat.

Sweeping the feet prevents pounding and encourages hip rotation. You’ll be putting less stress on your legs, and all movement will be used for moving you forward.

Also, if you’re pawing the ground, it’ll prevent you from overstriding. In turn, this will prevent inefficiencies in your stride.

Self-Check Mantras:

“Sweep the feet”

“Paw the ground”

“Be a cat”

Running Form Component #7: HSF Relaxed

Why It’s Important:

HSF = Hands, Shoulders, Face

We’ve been talking a lot about using your energy wisely. If you use your energy to tense up your hands, shoulders, or face, that’s less energy you have to dedicate to your running muscles.

Also, if you have your shoulders tensed, you’re likely running with stiff shoulders. Stiff shoulders means stiff hips. Stiff hips means inefficient running and increased injury risk.

Just relax, okay? 😌

Self-Check Mantras:

“Shake out the hands”

“Roll the shoulders”

“Relax the shoulders”

“Am I frowning?”

Running with Hands, Shoulders, Face Relaxed

Running Form Component #8: Arms from the Shoulders

Why It’s Important:

First of all, any arm movement that comes from elbow movement is a waste of energy. It doesn’t help your running, and you’re taking energy away from other muscles in your body that actually help you run!

Arm movement should come from the shoulders and should come naturally. You don’t want to force the arm movement, and you don’t want to stop it either. The main purpose of arm movement is to counterbalance the momentum of the legs.

We learned earlier that 73% of your energy while running goes toward balancing your body so you don’t topple over. Let your arms do their thing. Let them balance you, so your body doesn’t have to work extra hard to keep you upright.

A lot of people like to highlight the importance of not crossing over the body with your arms. As a result of that, a lot of runners have started moving their arms with no rotation at all. Their arms move forward and back only, and don’t have any side to side motion.

The problem with not having any cross over is that if you’re truly moving your arms naturally, and if you’re actually rotating your hips and shoulders, then your arms will have slight rotating and sideways motion as well.

If you fight this cross over, you’re wasting energy and fighting that natural counterbalance effect. You’re likely also stopping your shoulders from rotating, which as we know, is stopping your hips from rotating.

Self-Check Mantras:

“Relax the arms”

“Rotate the shoulders”

“Stop boxing”

“Free arms”

Running Form Component #9: Short Front Stride

Why It’s Important:

Aiming for a short front stride is usually what people are trying to avoid when they tell you not to heel strike. It’s not the actual landing on the heel of your foot that’s the problem. It’s the overextended front stride. A heel strike is just a good indicator that your turnover is too slow and you have room for improvement in the efficiency of your stride.

If you’re overstriding, your body has to use energy to get your leg from out in front of you and into your center of gravity. Only then can your body use its muscles and energy to propel you forward.

If you were to just land with your foot in the midline, your body wouldn’t have to use precious energy to bring your leg to its activation point. It’s already there.

Another indicator that you’re overstriding is that you have a slower leg turnover. You are spending more time with your leg out in front of you, so you have a slower turnover.

Self-Check Mantras:

“Land in the middle”

“Quick legs”

“Shorten the stride”

Running Form Tip: Run with a short front stride

Running Form Component #10: Hip Extension

Why It’s Important:

Don’t confuse Hip Extension with Hip Rotation, which we’ve already covered. With Hip Extension I’m talking about what is happening when your leg is behind your body, in the kickback.

There’s a lot of buzz out there about runners with tight hip flexors. During Hip Extension is when tight hip flexors become an issue. There’s also a lot of buzz about activating the glutes while running. The glutes become most important during this phase of the stride as well, which has a huge impact on the power to propel you forward. If you have poor hip extension, the glutes can’t do their job.

With minimal hip extension, you’re also not allowing the ever-important elastic effect of your running stride to be optimized. It’s the extension of the hips that then allows your leg to “spring” forward like a rubber band. You don’t need to use a lot of muscular energy to bring your leg forward if you’re extending your hips.

Self-Check Mantras:

“Activate the glutes”

“Activate the spring”

“Push through the stride”

“Extend the hips”

Running Form Component #11: Neutral Spine

Why It’s Important:

The most common mistake when it comes to not running with a neutral spine is runners arching their backs. When you arch your back, you’re putting tension on your hamstrings. If your hamstrings are stretched and tense when your foot strikes, you’re opening yourself up to injury.

It also means your core is disengaged, which will decrease your efficiency to propel you forward.

If you’re rounding your back, you’re probably also hunching your shoulders and looking down. Run with a neutral spine and let your body do its job!

Self-Check Mantras

“How’s my posture?”

“Keep it neutral”

“Neutral spine”

There you have it! Get these 11 running form components right, and you’ll be running with optimal efficiency and reducing your risk for injury in no time!

Which ones do you need to work on? Let me know in the comments!

If you’re looking for a quick reference of these 11 Running Form Components to bring on your run, download and print my free checklist “Running Form Checklist”. It’s conveniently the size of a business card, so will fit into any running pocket or phone case! Just sign up here for our newsletter to get this checklist as well as other checklists, guides, and workouts.

And finally, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out!

As always, Happy Running! ✌️😊

Jillian Beckham is wife to Brent, and hates getting running form advice from him despite probably needing it. 😉 She’s also a Health and Wellness Copywriter. If you’re looking for someone to help you out with your own blog posts, e-newsletters, or website copy, check out her site


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