Running Technique: 3 Simple Cues


Running form is a frequently discussed topic among injured runners and runners looking to perform better. How should we run? Is there one ideal way to run? Should we run on the forefoot, mid-foot or heel? Does our core matter? What should our upper body do when we run?

There are many schools of thought in the running world and there doesn’t seem to be any ironclad consensus on any of these questions. If you’re running pain-free and you’re performing as well as you’d like then I don’t believe you should change your running form. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

If, on the other hand, you experience pain when you run or if you’re not as fast as you’d like to be then some technique changes may be in order.

Run tall.

A lot of us run in a hunched type of posture that resembles the way we sit (and sit and sit…) in our work chairs or in our cars. This hunched position may be problematic and may be contributing to running problems. To address this issue:

Imagine a chain is attached to the top of your skull. That chain pulls you up. It lengthens your spine and makes you tall. See if you can feel this long, tall spine as you run. As part of this process, keep your gaze up and out toward the horizon. Don’t stare at the ground directly in front of you. This tall posture should help with some of our other running form considerations.

Tight hip flexors may contribute to a hunched posture. The following stretch sequence may help.

Run light.

The impact of the foot hitting the ground is worth considering as it concerns injuries. Recent evidence suggests runners who hit the ground lightly are injured less than runners who hit the ground hard.

You may run with earphones and you may be unaware that you stomp and pound the ground with each footfall. So to run light, remove the earphones and pay attention to the sound you make.

Imagine you’re weightless. Your strides are feathery light, and energetic. You don’t pound the ground but rather you glide across gossamer.

Another way to run lightly comes through this skipping drill:

Use a short, quick gait.

One way to lighten the impact of running is to drop the foot very nearly under your hips. This should result in your shin being vertical or near-vertical. Look at the picture. Try running like #2. The skipping drill from above can help you feel that foot landing directly below your hips.

Runner #1 is pounding. Runner #2 is running lightly.

Want to run lightly? Run like #2.

Don’t concern yourself with whether or not you’re hitting on the heel, mid-foot or forefoot. Where the foot lands is more important than on what part of the foot hits first.

Quickening your cadence too much can be a problem. There is an obvious point at which gait can becomes too quick and inefficient. An excellent way to work on your cadence is to use a metronome. Kinetic Revolution has a great article that discusses research on cadence as well as how to introduce metronome running into your training. The article also links to a digital metronome that you can download.

Change takes work.

Running may seem like something we should all be able to do. In fact, most of us can execute some version of movement in which we rapidly put one foot in front of the other. Kids learn to run without detailed instruction and without much in the way of typical running injuries. Shouldn’t adults be able to do the same thing? Maybe or maybe not… If we hurt while running or if we think we’re too slow, then some sort of alteration to our running style may make sense.

Changing your gait takes some tinkering, some awareness and mindfulness. It won’t happen automatically. Physical therapist Rick Olderman helped me to change my running gait. He once said that “if it feels normal, then you’re doing it wrong.” He meant that in the early stages of changing how we move, it should feel weird and unnatural to us. Learning any new skill requires some struggle and awkwardness. If you practice frequently and work at it then things should improve at a reasonable rate.

Personally, I never listen to music while running. I pay attention to how I run, where my foot falls, how I move. I don’t want to fall back into bad habits.


I can’t guarantee that any of these changes will result in either a pain-free running experience or a podium finish in a race.Time with a physical therapist, podiatrist, chiropractor and/or a running coach may be what you need.  That said, these cues have helped my running as well as several of my clients’ running experience. I’ve also incorporated things like the short foot drill, ankle dorsiflexion work, and a wide variety of single-leg squats and lunges (here, here, here for instance) to improve my movement competence. Clearly, there are a lot of moving parts to consider when we run!

Techniques to Help You Run Pain Free


I’ve used a few simple techniques to help a few of my clients with their running technique.  These ideas have also helped me overcome a long-term bout of heel and Achilles trouble.

My clients often hurt when they ran so if nothing else, I figured they needed to run differently somehow. There was no guarantee that what I would show them would solve their problems but clearly the way they were running wasn’t quite working.

The following are drills and cues that I’ve used.  Effective cueing can be challenging.  I have in my mind a movement a feeling and an experience that I’d like you to have.  I have to translate what I feel into English and transmit that message to you.  My words may hit the mark or you may have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about!

Hop up and down.

Hop up and down.  How do you land?  On your heels?  Most people land on their toes and to some degree their heels settle to the ground.  It happens naturally.  Your probably don’t need to think about it too much.  In this way, we effectively dissipate the impact forces and avoid too much jarring and banging into the ground.

Run in place.

Now run in place–quickly!  Again, how do you land?  I think most people land similar to the way described above.  It’s a light landing on the toes, not heels first.  This is pretty much one-footed hopping.

Where do your feet land?  Directly under your hips.  That’s about where we want the feet to land.  In contrast, what we don’t want is for your feet to fling out in front and slam into the ground.  To that point…

Quick Pace

Overstriding is a frequent issue in injured runners. By overstriding the foot lands out in front of the runner and he or she slams hard into the ground with every foot fall. This can cause lots of stress to various tissues and joints and it’s likely a cause of pain.

This is a good contrast in foot placement.  The guy in back is overstriding.

This is a good contrast in foot placement. The guy in back is overstriding.

By running at a quick(er) pace we facilitate the feet landing under us, not out in front.  We create shorter loading times of the bones and joints and thus reduce the stress that may be causing our pain.  It’s difficult to overstride with a quick cadence.

For a most runners this means consciously picking up the pace. This can feel awkward at first and may feel inefficient.  One way to start to adjust your cadence is by using a metronome when you run.  Start at your normal pace and sync the metronome to your pace.  From there you can up the beat and match your pace to the metronome.  This takes time and practice.  If it’s important then you’ll do it.

Again, this all may feel very strange–and it should.  After all, if our current chosen running technique is causing pain, then it stands to reason that a new and better running technique should feel weird.  As with any new skill, it won’t feel strange forever.

Lean forward from the ankles.

chi_postureLearning to lean from the ankles–not the hips!–is important.  By leaning from the ankles we sort of fall forward.  We keep the hips under us, not poked out behind.  When leaning from the ankles it’s difficult to overstride and slam the foot into the ground. Here’s a drill to learn how to lean from the ankles.

Run tall.  Keep eyes on the horizon.

The simple cue to “run tall” seems to work well for a lot of runners.  I’ll keep it simple and leave that phrase as is.

Keep your eyes on the horizon.  This works well to help keep you tall.  Your body tends to go where your eyes go.  If you stare at the ground then you’re likely to slump forward.  You won’t be running tall.  Learn to use your peripheral vision to see the ground. The guys below are running tall and gazing out.

These guys are RUNNING REALLY TALL!!  You should do it too!

These guys are RUNNING REALLY TALL!! You should try it!

Run lightly.  Quick pace.  Lean from the ankles.  Run tall. Eyes on the horizon.

Here’s a good graphic.

I’m not going to say a lot more other than I like the information presented here:



Finally, here’s a skipping drill that may help you get a feel for running tall, running lightly and not pounding your heel into the ground. My hope is that this drill will transfer to your actual running. Skipping involves an exaggerated running gait and you don’t actually want to bound and prance to an extreme degree.

Good Information: Flexion Inspection (Sitting Is The New Smoking), When to Stop Strength Training (Part of Tapering for a Race), Running Technique


There are so many knowledgable people out there putting out good information. Here’s a little bit that I’ve found recently.

Kinetic Revolution: Better hip flexion for better running plus overcoming our sitting habit

If you’re a runner or triathlete then you should definitely check out Kinetic Revolution. The author is James Dunne and he’s a rehab and biomechanics expert. His recent post is Flexion Inspection: How Long Do You Sit Down Each Day? He discusses the perils of setting, namely tight hip flexors that inhibit the glutes and thus limit your hip extension. He makes two suggestions:

1. Record Your Time Spent Sitting For 1 Week

This is Claire’s brilliant idea… I had to share it!

Keep a simple diary. Much like a food diary, but recording the time you spend sitting down every day. Every single form of seated activity, from working at a desk to cycling.

If you’re anything like me, the results will be ALARMING.

2. Offset Time Spent In Flexion With Specific Extension Exercises

I’m a realist. I get that much of 21st century living requires sitting – not to mention the leisure activities we engage in. Cycling for instance.

I usually suggest for every two hours spent in a flexion pattern, athletes should get up, and spend 5mins working on extension exercises such as hip flexor stretches and glute activations.

And he explains a hip flexor stretch progression here

I can’t really resist posting this video so we’ll meander away from running technique for a moment. Nilofer Merchant gives a TED talk on this dreadful sitting habit we have. She even suggests that perhaps walking while talking may drive creative thinking:

Sweat Science: When is the ideal time to cease strength training?

If you’re a runner who strength trains (And if you’re a runner, you should strength train.) then this piece from Alex Hutchinson’s Sweat Science column at Runner’s World is very much up your alley. It’s titled When to Stop Strength Training. He discusses research from the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, Here’s the big rock you should know (emphasis is mine):

What you’re looking at is the change in muscular power after resistance training was halted, based on meta-analysis of 103 studies. Note that power is different from absolute strength — power is your ability to deliver large amounts of force in a short period of time, which is often more relevant to athletic performance than plain strength is. And the interesting thing to note is that, 8 to 14 days after stopping, power appears to be a little higher than it was during training, though it’s not statistically significant. (The graph for strength, which I didn’t show, starts declining immediately.)

Speculation aside, if you’re an endurance athlete who includes resistance training in your regimen, you have to eliminate or reduce it at some point before race day. The graph above suggests that one to two weeks in advance might be an interesting time to stop.

 Running technique & mirror neurons: Watch and learn

Humans are visually-oritented people. We primarily learn by watching and imitating others around us. (Why did you ever decide to walk?  Did someone propose the idea to you? Did you come upon the idea of walking from a book you read? No. You decided to give walking a shot because you looked around and saw a bunch of other people doing it.) Mirror neurons are the specialized structures in our nervous system that enable our learn-by-watching process.

The cool thing is that we can improve our skills by watching other people do things. I’ve watched skiing videos to improve my turns and I’ve watched mountain biking videos to improve my switchback riding. We can improve our running technique the same way.

There are a lot of youtube videos out there on running technique and I’ve found a couple that are fairly informative and somewhat entertaining. These videos are a slightly funny compliation of 80s instructional video, current running analysis and in one clip we see vintage black & white footage of the great Roger Bannister, the man who first broke the 4-minute-mile barrier.