Theory & Practice: What is good running form?

In running, more so than in other sports, the opinions on proper technique vary, but there is a more or less unanimous take on what represents good running form. That strange disconnect between these two very connected things promotes erroneous ideas and further confusion since it takes correct technique to produce good form.

Common Descriptions of Good Running Form

What are the normally accepted characteristics of a good running form? How are they described in conventional paradigm and why?

  • Effortless
  • Light
  • Smooth
  • Without muscle tension
  • With quick legs turnover
  • With short support time
  • With almost silent landing
  • With landing on a forefoot or flat foot
  • With landing close to the vertical line going through the GCM
  • With small vertical oscillation of the body
  • With small upper body movement
  • With slight forward lean or erect trunk position
  • Without any vigorous arms or legs movement
  • With a quiet and focused face

“How to DO it” VS “How it LOOKS like”

These kinds of descriptions come primarily from observation of elite runners and are based on some commonly accepted images of movement. What we have there is “this is how it looks like” without the “this is how you do it”.

This scenario is quite familiar to anybody who went through even a short time of training and racing in running. Yes, all characteristics are well known, but nevertheless remain inaccessible to most recreational and age group runners. A common opinion is: “there they are, and here we are”, separating “elites” and “us” as something completely different.

To accept this approach and consider a good running form as predetermined for and belonging just to elite athletes doesn’t make sense, besides, we’ve all seen some pretty terrible technique displayed by elite runners. So, a good running form is the result of learning the skill, but not something inherited from your birth. While we can accept the view that some people have more in their genetic makeup to learn quicker and better, it does not change the fact that everybody could and should learn good running form. Obviously, it’s very difficult to even grasp the idea of what the form actually is by just looking at the list of items described above, to tell nothing of being able to learn it.

A descriptive approach lacks systematic explanation and instruction which is necessary in learning process and doesn’t give any real knowledge as to why it happens in this or that way.

So what is good running form? Yes, we get the idea in general, about a smooth, effortless, light, etc. movement of the runner, but this is what we see, it is not what we understand and can actually reproduce. So where do we start? How do we get there?

What Does “Good” or “Proper” Running Form Mean?

There are things that are a matter of opinion and then there are those that are not. Presence of gravity is a scientific fact. When discussing proper, efficient technique and good form, we must consider gravity and take its effect on our movement into account.

Our form reflects our relationship with the environment where gravity is the leading component, which basically determines everything we perceive.

Good form that is commonly perceived and described as smooth, light and effortless, is just a reflection of how in sync with gravity our movement is. That movement comes by way of proper technique. Proper running technique is technique that takes gravity into account as part of its structure. This is the real meaning of the term ‘proper’. If gravity is considered then heel striking, knee lifting, pushing off, toeing off, lengthening the stride and such are out of the question.

We should learn and teach proper technique to make good form accessible to all regardless of whether they belong to the elite level or not, if only for the purpose of preventing and avoiding injuries.

About the Author

Dr. Nicholas Romanov is the developer of the Pose Method®. A passionate proponent of higher level of education in athletics, Dr. Romanov dedicated his entire career to sports education, scientific research and coaching. An Olympic Coach and a bestselling author, Dr. Romanov has taught on all continents and visited almost every country in the world.
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