Running Form for Beginners – A Simple Guide with Examples

Running form for Beginners

If you are new to running then this guide to running form for beginners will help you to avoid common running form mistakes. Running form simply refers to the way your body moves while running. It includes elements such as posture, arm movement, foot strike, and cadence. Proper running form can help you run more efficiently, reduce your risk of injury and can make running feel more enjoyable.

Does Running Form Matter for Beginners?

Yes, running form matters.  By making small adjustments to your form, you can improve your performance and reduce discomfort while running. (1)

Even though running form tends to somewhat improve ‘automatically’ as runners increase volume, many runners have poor form that puts them at risk of injury and makes it harder for them to run fast.

Paying attention to running form can speed up your development as a runner and avoid developing bad habits.

Differences between Running Form For Beginners vs. Highly Trained Runners

Beginner runners may not have developed proper running form yet, while highly trained runners had more time to finetune their form through practice and coaching. Research showed for example smaller adjustments of cadence are needed for trained runners to achieve “optimal” cadence than beginner runners which have more room for improvement. (2) 

Highly trained runners may also have a stronger cardiovascular system to maintain a higher cadence and more strength to maintain excellent form.

On the other hand, running form for beginners is less ingrained than for experienced runners. Therefore any flaws in running form are easier to fix, compared to veteran runners who may have practiced “bad” habits for years.

Running Form for Beginners vs. Experienced Runners

Beginner runners need to give themselves enough time to slowly build endurance, strength, and flexibility to support good run form. 

A change in running form should always be accompanied by running form drills and strength exercises to prepare the body to accept the new loading pattern.

New runners often present a weaker musculoskeletal system, imbalances, less attuned neuromuscular control and less flexibility. A run form assessment is a good way to establish a baseline and make corrections to running form before they lead to injury.

Important Concepts in Beginner Running Form


Cadence, also known as step rate, refers to the number of steps you take per minute while running. A higher cadence can help reduce the impact on your joints. It also tends to makes your foot land closer to center of mass, which is desirable for running efficiency and injury prevention. Beginners tend to self-select a cadence that is too low, so cadence is a key component to pay attention to in running form for beginners. (3) 

Learn more about ideal cadence at different running speeds here.

Forward Lean

A slight forward lean improves your running efficiency and can help with knee and hip pain. Strength exercises and mental cues can help you to develop the right amount of lean. While most runners don’t lean far enough forward, leaning too far will reduce your step length and impact your running form negatively.

Forward Lean is an important concept in running form for beginners

Foot Strike Pattern

Your foot strike pattern refers to the part of your foot that makes contact with the ground first when you run.

  • Rear foot (Heel Striking)
  • Mid-foot
  • Forefoot

There is no conclusive evidence that any foot strike pattern is inherently superior for running economy, (4,5). However, the type of footstrike  determines which parts of your body will accept higher impact forces. A midfoot or forefoot strike can help reduce impact on your knee and hip, a rearfoot strike tends to stress your lower foot less. 

Pronounced heel strike and forefoot strike patterns are often associated with injury so moving towards (but not necessarily all the way to) a mid-foot strike pattern may be beneficial in these cases.

The type of footstrike determines how impact forces from running are distributed on your body.

Running with Good Posture

Are your running with your hips, center of torso, neck and head stacked in a straight line and your eyes are looking forward (as opposed to down or up into the sky)? If so – then you are running with good posture. Awareness, flexibility and core strength will result in good posture.

If you have a sedentary job or previous injuries you might need to work on these areas to achieve it.  A posture reset exercise before a run is a good way to be mindful of your posture when running.

Good vs. bad Posture is an important concept in running form for beginners

Foot Position Relative to Center of Mass (Overstriding / Understriding)

If your foot lands too far in front of your center of mass you are overstriding. Under-striding, a much rarer running form flaw, occurs when your foot lands too close to your body. Both can negatively impact your running efficiency. One way to determine where your foot lands is to look at the Strike Angle, which is the angle of your shank as the foot makes ground contact. Ideally your shank is near vertical when landing.

Thankfully plenty of exercises to fix overstriding or under-striding suitable for beginners exist.

Overstriding, or landing too far in front of your body, is a common runnnig form mistake for beginners

Arm Flexion

Bend your arms at an angle of 80 degrees or less and avoid exaggerated forward or backward arm movements, This will make it easier to achieve a higher cadence, and help with balance and efficiency while running. 

Keep in mind that this is true for endurance runners only. For short distances below a mile a larger arm angle can be beneficial. (6)

Arm Flexion is one of the most easy to fix running form elements for beginners.

These are some of the key concepts of running form, paying attention to them will give you a lot of ‘bang for your buck’. 

How To Check Your Running Form

Now that you know key running form components it’s time to check how your run form measures up. Most runners have relatively poor understanding of their own form and are surprised when seeing themselves run.

The classic way of checking your running form is to go to a physio or coach to have your running form checked. These are great options if you find some specialized in running form and have the time and money to do so.

A cutting edge option is to use the web app at to check your running form. To do this you upload videos of yourself running to the website for analysis by computer vision and AI. 

You’ll get back a science-based but easy to understand report of your running form. It includes improvement options and exercises and drills that prepare your mind and body for a safe transition to improved running form.

You might also want to check this in-depth guide to running form analysis  for the pro’s and con’s of various options.

Foundational Running Form Drills And Strength Exercises

Running form drills help to focus on specific elements of your gait so you can build “muscle memory” and correct running form. The foundational exercises below work various muscles in your body that are involved in running. These running form drills and exercises for beginners are a great starting point to prepare your body for running with better form. 

High knees, butt kicks, and A-Skips work your hip flexors and quads to improve knee drive and foot placement. Single-leg deadlifts challenge your hamstrings and glutes to improve leg extension. Glute bridges train your glutes to improve hip extension. Planks and side planks work your core to improve posture and stability.

Swings and sweeps

The “swings and sweeps” exercise reinforces the two key movements of the gait cycle – swinging and sweeping.

  • Stand with your weight on one leg only and move the other leg through the alternating pattern of swinging and sweeping.
  • With your active foot, at the end of the sweep, strike the ground a little in front of the body and “paw” the foot along the ground until you achieve hip extension.
  • Then flex the knee of the moving leg and begin swinging the leg forward.
  • Initially, a chair, fence, or other object may be used for balance. 

High Knees

The high knees exercise works the whole gamut of running muscles including abs, core,  quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, glutes and calves. This drill promotes proper running form as it encourages high cadence and improves stability, balance and foot placement.

  • Stand upright
  • Lift one knee towards your chest as high as you can
  • Alternate legs quickly
  • Make sure to keep good posture throughout without hunching over or leaning backwards
  • Keep your toes pointing forward, with your feet parallel to the ground
  • This is an aerobically demanding exercise. Start with sets of 30 seconds (or shorter if needed) and build from there.
  • High knees can be performed stationary or while slightly moving forward with very small steps

Butt kicks

This exercise will strengthen your glutes and hamstrings and help your hamstrings contract faster, which is important for an efficient stride.

  • Stand upright
  • Kick one heel towards your buttocks
  • Make sure to keep good posture with a slight forward lean from the ankles
  • Alternate legs quickly.
  • Start with sets of 30 seconds and build from there.
  • Stay relaxed, this will make it easier for your heels to touch your buttocks

A skips

A-Skips are another explosive drill great for your running form. This drill builds on the high knees exercise with an extra skip. A-Skips promote knee lift followed by an efficient footstrike. 

  • Lift your left knee quickly up to waist level and keep your right leg straight as you come off your toe in a skip. 
  • Drop your left foot to the ground
  • Drive your right knee forward
  • Skip with the left foot. 
  • Continue and move forward by alternating legs.
  • Strike the ground with your mid-foot or forefoot
  • Keep you arms in sync, i.e. swing the right arm forward as you more your left knee forward (and vice versa).
  • Start with 30 meters of A-Skips before “running it out” (i.e. transition to a quick paced run for another 30 to 60 meters focusing on good form). Build from there.

Once you master the movement pattern of A-Skips and Swings and sweeps to perfection you can build on these skills by proceeding to the B-Skips exercise.

Single-Leg Deadlifts

Single leg deadlifts work hamstrings, glutes, ankles, and the core – all muscles essential for good running form. They also require you to balance on a single leg which you also need to do when running.

  • Stand on your left leg with a slightly bent knee
  • Hinge forward at the hips until your waist is parallel to the floor. While hinging forward keep push your leg back and extend it until it forms a straight line with your upper body. 
  • Take care to keep your back straight and your arms perpendicular to the floor. Point your toes towards the floor (not outwards) to avoid your hip rotating.
  • Hold for a short moment once your waist is parallel to the floor and return to the starting position.
  • Start with 3 sets of 12 reps and work your way up to 20 reps for muscular endurance. Take a break of 30 to 60 seconds in between sets. 
  • You can progress this exercise by adding weights in both your hands. Another variation starts and ends with your knee raised to hip level for greater range of motion.

Glute Bridges

Glute Bridges target your glutes, core and hamstrings helping you to stabilize your body as you progress through the gait cycle. 

  • Lie on your back
  • Bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the ground.
  • Lift your hips towards the ceiling while squeezing your glutes until you form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. 
  • Slowly lower yourself back to the ground.


Planks build muscular endurance in your hips, lower back and abdomen and are therefore great for your running posture.

  • Get into a push-up position but instead of resting on your hands rest on your forearms, with your elbows below your shoulders.
  • This is an isometric exercise, i.e. your muscles are contracted but do not change length. Tighten your abs and squeeze your glutes to keep your head, hips and heels in a straight line.
  • Hold the position for a certain amount of time without moving.
  • Start with 3 sets of 30 seconds and build up by 10 second intervals as you become stronger and can maintain the position without shaking.
  • To progress this exercise and add upper body strength, rest on your hands with your arms nearly straight instead of resting on your forearms.

Side Planks 

Side Planks target obliques, quadriceps, glutes, hip abductors and stabilizer muscles throughout your upper body. By strengthening the gluteus medius and hip abductors it also provides stability during the early stance phase of the  run and prevents the hip from dropping.

As runners we typically train our body to go forward, however lateral, side-to-side movements are an important part of running. Building lateral strength provides stability and improves speed even when going straight and helps with coordination and responsiveness especially when running on uneven terrain or changing directions quickly. 

  • Lie on one side with your legs extended and stacked on top of each other
  • Place one forearm directly under your shoulder and prop yourself up.
  • Lift your hips towards the ceiling while keeping your feet, hips and shoulders in a straight line.
  • Your only contact points with the ground are now your elbow and forearm and the side of your lower foot, which you push into the ground. 
  • Start with 3 sets of 30 seconds on each side and build up by 10 second intervals as you become stronger and can maintain the position without shaking.

Side Plank Variations

  • You can start with an easier version of this exercise where you bend your knees by 90 degrees and raise yourself from your hips instead of your feet. You can progress from there by placing your left and right foot next to each other (instead of stacking them on top of each other), before moving on to the “standard” side plank. 
  • If the standard side plank becomes to  easy you can start incorporating side leg raises. Start as for the standard side plank, then raise your leg, shortly hold it and gently lower it down before repeating leg lifts for the duration of the set. Make sure to keep your toes pointed forward as you lift your leg. 

If you are looking for even more running form drills, the Movaia running form analyses provide running form drills for beginners as well as advanced, plyometric drills for seasoned athletes, illustrated with videos. 

In addition to running form drills, mental cues help with visualizing and adjusting your running form

How to level up your running form

There are many good reasons to work on proper running form for beginners:  reducing the risk of injury, improving efficiency and feeling better while running.

Analyze your current running form and focus on key elements such as cadence, forward lean, footstrike pattern, posture, foot position relative to center of mass, and arm flexion. Then make small adjustments supported by running form drills and exercises.

Give yourself time to make these adjustments so your body can build the strength and flexibility to enable improved running form.

Starting out with running form exercises as a warm-up and only gradually implementing changes for short parts of your regular runs is a good way to proceed.

Avoid changing your running form just before an important race as it can actually make you less efficient before you adjust to new muscle patterns.

For more information on improving your running form, including an in-depth guide running form analysis, check out or consult with a coach or physiotherapist.

To understanding your current run form and receive a roadmap to improve – why not upload your running form videos to today?


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