Common running form mistakes and how to fix them
At Movaia we get to analyze lots of running form videos. There are some key running form mistakes that appear frequently and are relatively easy to fix. Read on to find out what they are and what you might do about them.
Too low cadence
Cadence – also known as step rate – is the number of steps taken during each minute of running and influences the speed you are running at
Velocity = Step rate (cadence) X Step length
While cadence can both be too high (which will decrease your step length and slow you down) a far more common running form mistake is a cadence that is too low.
A low cadence might not be an issue if you are going for an easy jog and experience no pain, however a lower cadence will slow you down and increase impact forces. A low cadence also increases the likelihood that you land with your foot too far in front of your body, potentially with a strong heel strike.
If you are dealing with pain, increasing your step rate/cadence by 5-10% above your preferred or natural cadence may help alleviate symptoms.
What’s a good step rate? While cadence depends on effort level, terrain and other individual factors a good cadence for harder efforts (think 5K race pace) is 180 steps or above.
How to improve your cadence? Download a metronome app and set the metronome to a pace that ist 5-10% higher than your current cadence. Try to match the cadence for short parts of your run, gradually increasing the length of these intervals as your stamina grows.
Insufficient forward lean
Lean is another key factor of good running form. Runners who lean forward slightly from the ankles during the stance phase tend to have a higher cadence, compared with upright runners or those who actually lean backwards. Not leaning forward far enough (or even leaning backward) is one of the most common running form mistakes. Less common is a too pronounced forward lean.
A slight forward lean ensures that propulsive forces applied to the ground during push off are quickly returned upward and forward, i.e. in the direction the runner wants to travel.
Upright runners lose this forward push (forces are directed straight up), and lean-backward runners have the propulsive forces sub-optimally pushing them up and backwards, producing a braking, slowing effect on their running.
A slight forward lean from the ankles can help engage your core and glutes, improving your running efficiency. There is also evidence that a more forward lean reduces impact forces and can help with knee pain.
It takes awareness of the “right amount” of lean, as well as strength to build the proper amount of lean. Exercises to develop strength in your calves and core will help, and are more effective than “forcing” a more forward lean. Avoid a forward lean that comes from the hip with your “butt sticking out”, you want to maintain a tall posture. This is often described as “leaning from the ankle” or “running tall”. The mental running form cue to think of a “rubber band that is attached to the top of your head and pulling you upward” (not forward), helps many runners visualize this.
Note, though, that excessive forward lean will reduce step length and thus harm speed. For most runners, a forward lean of about 5 percent (measured at mid-stance) during a harder effort is optimal.
Not sure how about your forward lean? Check it with the Movaia run form analysis.
Landing too far out from the body (Overstriding running form)
While – contrary to much running advice – it is near impossible to land directly “under your body”, the foot should land reasonably close to the body. To be more exact in a study of elite 5K runners the body of mass of the foot when landing was for both male and female athletes about 13 inch / 33 cm ahead of the body’s center of mass.
The center of mass of a runner moves depending on their posture and lean and for good running form will be close to the navel.
A “close to the body” foot position is achieved with a big sweep and high cadence and leads to a strike angle (also known as shank angle) that is nearly vertical. Again, an easy way to check for your shank angle is Movaia’s online running form analysis.
Common running drills such as A-skips, B-skips or the cadence metronome drills will all help with overstriding.
Arms! Running form is not just about your legs
Arm action should involve a simple, straight-ahead-swinging action of the arms from the shoulders, with the hands above the hips at the end of the arm backswing and the elbows above the hips at the end of forward arm swing.
Common mistakes to look out for include arms moving too far forward or backward, not moving enough (“T-Rex” style), crossing over the centerline or not being flexed enough.
Arm movement also influences running cadence, with arms matching the step rate.
The good news is that arms are one of the more easy aspects of running form to fix quickly.
These are some of the most common running form mistakes in runners. For a more in-depth look at running form make sure to download our running form ebook. If you are looking for a deeper understand of your own running form consider an online running form analysis, such as the one we offer here at Movaia.
Brian Hanley et al, “Spatiotemporal and joint kinematic differences between footstrike patterns in male and female 10,0000 m athletes., Carnegie School of Sport, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds, UK, 2022