Best running form cues to improve your technique

Running form cues are a great tool to improve your running. They are short phrases to repeat to yourself (or hear from your coach) while running to bring a technique focus to your workout or race. 

Good running form cues are easy to visualize so your body knows how to adjust when you use these cues. Over time using mental cues will feel more natural and you will get better at using them to your advantage.

The best mental cues for proper running form are specific to what you’d like to fix in your running form. A running form analysis – such as Movaia’s –  is a great starting point to identify these issues.

Top mental cues to improve your run form

Posture & Lean: “Imagine a rubber band attached to the top of your head pulling you upwards”.

This drill promotes an upright, straight posture with head, thorax, spine and hips in one straight line.

It also naturally leads to good forward lean, rather than a more explicitly “lean forward” instruction, which may lead to leaning from the hip. 

Step rate: “Quick feet”

This mental cue is meant to increase your awareness of step rate, and lead to improved cadence.
For this cue it helps to know what “good cadence” feels like – something best achieved when running with a metronome app.

Refer to our blog post on “How to fix most common running mistakes” for more detail.

Foot strike pattern: “Land on the ball of your feet”

This mental cue can help with changes in your foot strike pattern, e.g. when moving from a pronounced rear strike to a more mid-foot pattern. It’s important to note that when you hear la’nd mid-foot’ this really does not mean the center of your feet, but the ball of your feet. I am glad a runner once asked me to clarify as it would be really awkward to try landing dead-center!

An illustration highlighting the ball of the feet, as a visualization for a drill that emphasizes ball of your feet landing

Touch down: “Sweep or paw your feet down and back under your body”.

This cue is meant to avoid overstriding and landing too far ahead of your body by simply “dropping” the foot, without generating enough “backward sweep”.

Arm movement: “Flex your arms”

This cue is to remind runners to keep their arms flexed at 80-90 degrees or less. A Movaia running form analysis, and the mark ups over video still of your running form, help greatly in visualizing what your current and proper running form look like. Here’s an example from a running form analysis based on footage of elite runner Jakob Ingebrigtsen.

Relaxed & loose: “Smile. Don’t crush that potato chip.”

Being tense wastes energy and does not allow for smooth movements. Avoid tensing your muscles including clenching your fists or raising your shoulders.

Imagine carrying a potato chip between your thumb and fingers without breaking it.

Even smiling when running (popularized by Eliud Kipchoge) reduces perceived effort and increases running economy

A runner with a thought bubble that features a potato chip. This is a representation of the running form cue to "run relaxed", without tense muscles or clenched fists and not crush an imaginary potato chip in your hand.

Arm movement: “Drive your arms forward / backward”

This mental cue is useful for runners that do not engage their arms sufficiently, which also impacts their leg movements.

Sufficient arm swing helps to extend the legs far behind and knees up high enough It also helps avoiding that the arms cross the centerline of the front of body.

The additional cue “Wrist and elbow to chest” can help to generate a mental image of correct but not overdone arm swings where the wrist goes back to the chest’s midline (but not further) during the backward swing and the elbow swings forward to the chest (but no further).

Glute activation “Squeeze the cheeks”

This delicately named cue reminds runners to squeeze the butt cheek when the leg is pushing off on that side. This is intended to address poor glute utilization when running.

Run quietly: Reduce impact forces and develop a smooth gait cycle

This cue is intended to have a runner naturally adjust a lower impact form by reducing the noise made by running.

Runners experimenting with this will find naturally that good running form habits such as shorter, quicker strides and landing closer to the body will “quieten” the run.

A runner with a thought bubble full with an image of a man placing a finger on his mouth to be quiet. This is a representation of the running form cue to "run silently".

How to apply running form cues to your run training?

  • Focus on one cue per run for a while until it has become second nature.
  • When using these mental cues it helps to be aware of what your current running form looks like, so you have a mental reference point for any changes. Video feedback has been shown to be effective in various stuies to produce positive changes in running form. 
  • Movaia’s online running form analysis offers this with snapshots of a runner at critical phases of the running gait and “do / don’t”-style illustrations.
  • If you run with a watch you can set an auto lap – say every mile or kilometer and use that as a reminder for your running form cue.
  • The cue alone might not be effective if the physiological basis to execute it is not there. In order for running form to come together you will need the necessary strength and endurance.
  • Movaia’s running form drills help with strength and neuromuscular connections, a good endurance training program will help with endurance.