Proper Running Form, Explained by Expert Running Coaches

No matter where you do your running workouts — indoors or outdoors — you’ll certainly notice that not everyone is running the way you do. If you compare yourself with the three runners closest to you in your row of treadmills, there’s a decent chance that all of you have different arm swings, foot strikes, and body postures. This prompts the logical question: What is the proper running form?

Before you allow the different running techniques of your peers to convince you that you don’t know how to run properly, you should probably give your own form a proper evaluation. In fact, just because someone else is faster than you at the moment, that doesn’t mean their form is perfect, or that they technically know how to run properly. For practical answers about running form, it’s always best to go to the experts. And that’s exactly what we’re bringing you.

Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.

Introducing the Experts

Lee Whitaker is an elite ultra-distance runner who regularly finishes at the top of the leaderboard at running distances of 100 miles or more. Whitaker is also the head distance coach and cross country coach of Fort Mill High School and has coached both teams to multiple state championships across individual, relay, and team levels. Whitaker is certified as an Elite Coach by USA Track & Field.

Paul Duncan has coached every level of long-distance and endurance athlete all the way up to professional IRONMAN triathletes. He also has several top-five finishes in IRONMAN triathlons under his belt. Duncan is a Level 1 coach for Qt2 Systems, an Expert level coach with Outrival Racing, and is certified as an Elite Coach by USA Track & Field.

6 Tips to Improve Your Running Form

If you search for guidance to optimize your running form, you’ll find advice ranging from how to hold your fists to how to strike the ground with your feet. While this may be sound advice, expert running coaches will give you targeted advice in a few major areas that will help your body autoregulate your running form as much as possible..

Recognize That There Is No One Perfect Running Form

There are several posture notes you’ll note in a pro runner, including a slight forward lean, a natural arm swing, and a relaxed upper body. Aside from that, you’ll find many running coaches aren’t overly concerned with deviations in form as long as a runner’s speed continues to improve, and they remain injury-free.

I don’t think there’s one perfect running form out there.

Lee Whitaker

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“People are different anatomically,” Whitaker explains. “Their biomechanics are slightly different. There are certainly some commonalities that we see in the more efficient, less injury-prone runners, but that has more to do with where their center of gravity is relative to their foot strike versus anything else.”

Don’t Force a Certain Foot Strike

The sense of connection between your brain and your body means that your body is fully aware of your intentions. When you shift from jogging to running, your body will do its best to accommodate you. Therefore, you are likely to find your optimal foot strike naturally at every speed instead of forcing your feet to land differently.

You’ll see every type of foot strike at an elite level, across the board.

Lee Whitaker

“There’s a lot of debate about heel strike — neutral (mid-foot strike) or forefoot strike,” says Whitaker. “[But] sometimes changing running form can actually hinder certain people. Our body tends to self-select what’s good for us very well.” 

Stay Upright and Light

Running with a stooped posture can cause your body weight to work against you. As a result, you can experience pain in your lower back, and put yourself at an increased risk of injury. To counter this, you’re advised to develop core strength to maintain an upright body position, push off the ground fast and light, and not slam your feet down and allow them to linger on the ground.

In essence, think tall, proud posture, arms pumping, and feet landing lightly underneath you. 

— Paul Duncan

“Aim for a light, quick touchdown,” Duncan says. “The less time touching the ground, the better.” 

Count Your Steps

Not everyone has a coach present to assess their strides in person. If you want to try to force your body to choose an ideal running cadence, it’s a common practice to count your steps. Doing so can help you adopt a running technique that is conducive to speed and efficiency.

“Some people will tell you that the magic step count is 180 steps per minute; I don’t think that’s perfect for every person.” — Lee Whitaker

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“Generally speaking, a lot of beginners do stride too slowly,” Whitaker tells BarBend. “They’re overstriding, and their center [of gravity] is behind where their foot strike is. Don’t get fixated on 180 steps, but if you’re 140 or 150, that’s probably not the best you can do.” 

Strength Training Can Help

One of the forces that will naturally dictate your running form is the strength of your lower body. This means that if your glutes or hamstrings are weak, your body may select a sub-optimal running position that reduces the contribution of those muscles to your running effort. Strengthening those muscles with exercises like lunges and squats can cause your body to make natural form adjustments. 

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“One of my elite runners that I coach now at high school, she’s a phenomenal runner, and she’s had some biomechanical inefficiencies, but we never worked on them directly,” says Whitaker. “We never talked about them. We just addressed her imbalances through strength training. We worked on cadence and stuff like that through the drills that we do, and the inefficiencies that she had her body began to leave naturally.”

Don’t Lean Into Pain

Running injuries are common for several reasons, but some overuse injuries are the result of form flaws that are constantly repeated. If you find that repeating your natural running movements is contributing to increased levels of pain, it’s probably time to reach out to a running coach to help you make some adjustments.

 Listen to any whispers of discomfort before they turn into screams.

— Paul Duncan

“Your body is a snitch; if something feels off— aches, pains, or an overwhelming urge to crawl into a fetal position — it’s probably time to reassess,” Duncan explains.

How to Track Your Running Form

It’s virtually impossible to identify what you can do to adjust your form, improve your running posture, and ultimately run faster if you can’t even spot your flaws.

Fortunately, there are some simple tips to help you identify potential defects in your running form, and set yourself along a path to improvement.

Get a Coach

Sometimes it takes a trained eye to steer you toward the correct running form for your unique body size and shape.

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Certified running coaches have the practical knowledge to identify major flaws in your form, and can turn you into a more efficient runner with less effort.

Record Yourself

Now that you have an understanding of what constitutes good posture for a runner, record yourself on the track or treadmill so you can see how close your running is to its proper form.

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This method can help you identify whether you’re making any common mistakes. It can also help you determine if you’re wearing the best running shoes to accommodate your foot strike.

Count Your Steps

One of the most functional ways to identify if you have good running form without being able to observe yourself is to count the number of steps you take.

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Getting your steps in the neighborhood of 180 per minute is a way of forcing your body to make natural corrections to your stride length in order to achieve that number naturally.

Benefits of Running 

Improved Heart Health: By increasing your heart rate through cardio exercise, you can improve the efficiency of your cardiovascular system. You can also drastically reduce the likelihood that you will be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. In the process, you can also lower your blood pressure and your resting heart rate. (1)

Athletic Preparedness: While running is a standalone sport in both its track-and-field and cross-country applications, it also provides the base level of fitness for so many other activities. If you participate in sports like football, soccer, lacrosse, basketball, and several others, improving your body conditioning through running can drastically increase your effectiveness. (2)

Increased Insulin Sensitivity: Running can increase your insulin sensitivity for up to 16 hours after you complete your workout. This can be of tremendous value if you are at risk for type 2 diabetes and struggle with insulin resistance since it will limit the number of damaging blood sugar spikes you have to contend with. (3)

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

Getting your running form dialed in is important, but you can achieve most of the form improvements by working on other elements of your running. If something is seriously out of whack with your form, it’s probably worth getting advice on how to fix it. Otherwise, you might want to work on getting stronger and faster so that your form can fix itself.


Still have questions about how to achieve the ideal running form for your body? We’ve got the answers below.

What is the proper running form? 

Proper running form is highly individualized, but common traits across the most efficient running forms include upright body posture, a relaxed upper body, and rapid touches of the feet along the ground.

How should your feet hit the ground when running? 

Your ideal foot strike is determined by a combination of your body dimensions and the speed at which you are running. Focusing on the development of strength, speed, and conditioning is a way to encourage your body to naturally find its optimal foot strike for every speed. Whether you are a natural forefoot striker or mid-foot striker, your natural form is often the one to stick with.

How do you know if you are running correctly? 

The simplest ways to identify if you are running correctly are to work with a trained running coach or to record yourself running and evaluate yourself. If you are training without the means to evaluate your form, you can strive to run in the realm of 180 steps per minute, as your body will tend to improve its efficiency to maintain this pace.

How do you improve your running technique?

Focusing on improving endurance, speed, and strength — including engaging in dedicated strength-training workouts — is a way to force your body to naturally improve its running technique.


Pinckard K, Baskin KK, Stanford KI. Effects of Exercise to Improve Cardiovascular Health. Front Cardiovasc Med. 2019 Jun 4;6:69.

Franklin BA, Eijsvogels TMH, Pandey A, Quindry J, Toth PP. Physical activity, cardiorespiratory fitness, and cardiovascular health: A clinical practice statement of the ASPC Part I: Bioenergetics, contemporary physical activity recommendations, benefits, risks, extreme exercise regimens, potential maladaptations. Am J Prev Cardiol. 2022 Oct 13;12:100424.

Venkatasamy VV, Pericherla S, Manthuruthil S, Mishra S, Hanno R. Effect of Physical activity on Insulin Resistance, Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in Diabetes Mellitus. J Clin Diagn Res. 2013 Aug;7(8):1764-6.

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