Running Form = Running Efficiency


Someone recently remarked that they couldn’t imagine my body running. I could see their point. My figure eschews the angular lines of an elite sportsperson. Yet, I do consider myself an athlete and now a runner. 

Still their words made me wonder. Was the term “runner” reserved for those who look the part? Or could that name be claimed by any body that puts tread to ground at a faster-than-walking pace?

Turns out that many runners do conform to our idealized image thanks in part to genetic disposition and even more to the hours and years spent in the practice of the sport. But there are also many who run competitively and never develop lean limbs and/or lanky bodies. These are athletes with self-proclaimed monikers like: Slow Fat Triathlete, Willie Makit, Thunder Thighs, Over the Hill and Wobbly Man.

Their success stories have made me realize that it is our mental standards that need overhauling and not our shapes. Our bodies can move well despite their size or geometry. It is our concepts that have calcified and need to be broken open to be more inclusive. It is time to cultivate belief in the average body as well as the ideal. It is indeed time to believe any body can run, even our own.


As my running strides begin to accumulate in the thousands per outing, I have begun to meditate on the longevity of my joints and cartilage. Believe me, these flexible connections are in no immediate danger. However, with a hoped for forty to fifty years of jogging path before me, I want to be certain my body goes the distance. 

My cogitations led me to the idea of developing a green running stride, one that literally left the lightest possible footprint upon the earth. A light tread would mean a supported load, diminished stress on the frame, increased endurance and less chance of repetitive use injury. I investigated running styles thinking they would hold the key to running green. But styles vary as widely as the biomechanical workings of our bodies and no one style can claim to be efficient – or even advisable – for all runners.

My sought after prescriptive for running green at last came from an American Medical Association study that claims posture determines efficiency in running and that increased efficiency means running faster, expending less energy and reducing the risk of injury. Their posture advice can be used with any running style and starts from the top down.

Eyes/Head: Eyes should be set on the horizon or 50 feet ahead of where you are to keep the head upright and forward. Relax your jaw and face muscles and avoid the temptation, even on hills, to lower your head. Though it might feel natural, looking down or bending forward wastes energy by throwing off your form.

Shoulders: Shoulders lead the runner’s way and should be kept low and loose. If fatigue makes your shoulders creep up to ear level, consciously relax them down your back and shake them to release tension. Throughout your stride shoulders should remain level and not dip from side to side.

Arms: Arms are part of your running powerhouse as their swing helps drive leg stride. Try to keep a 90-degree bend in your elbows throughout a forward and back swing that rises and falls between chest and waist levels. Try to avoid pumping your arms across your body as it wastes energy by increasing muscle tension and detracting from your leg stride.

Hands: Hands control tension in your upper body. Keeping your hands in an soft, unclenched fist with the thumb upwards will bring the most beneficial relaxation to muscles from the neck through the torso while running. 

Torso: The torso follows the head and shoulders in aligning upright and straight forward for optimal lung capacity and stride length. Slouching is an huge energy drain for runners and should be guarded against, especially as your body tires. 

Hips: Hips are your center of gravity and the rotational connection between your upper and lower body. Hips should be level front to back and side to side as you run. To keep your hips level throughout your stride, imagine them as bowl filled with water that you don’t want to spill.  

Legs/Stride:  A fluid leg stride is the most efficient for endurance running and is accomplished with a slight lift of the knee followed by a rapid leg turnover and a short stride. For your best stride length, the feet should land directly under your body with your knees slightly flexed ready to bend naturally on touch down.

Ankles/Feet: Your feet should make contact with the ground lightly between the heel and the midfoot before quickly rolling forward with the ankle flexed to end your stride by pushing or springing off the ground from your toes.


One thought on “Running Form = Running Efficiency

  1. I haven’t yet discussed running form on my blog, but I definitely agree with most of these things.

    I also think you’re right that people of any shape can participate in running and call themselves runners, it just becomes more important for them to do it properly to avoid pain and injury, allowing them to reap the full enjoyment of their runs.

    I’ll add another important note: being strong allows us to hold good posture throughout a run, and especially so as we tire.

    Good luck on your continued journey!


    – James

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