This article is intended to make the following conclusions:

  1. Optimal running form is the form that a runner feels most comfortable with.  It varies from person to person.  For the same person it is determined by his/her fitness level that can be changed by training.
  2. Running form is important in training.
  3. Running form is important for running performance (i.e. good running form leads to good performance).

Running form, a vague term, usually includes posture, cadence, stride length.  Thanks to the amazing and still mystical body, the natural form adopted by an individual is usually the most economical one.  Stride length is the most studied parameter.  Running performance is highly correlated with running economy. There are many research works that show the natural stride length is the most economical one (e.g. Cavanagh and Williams, 1982, Morgan and Martin, 1986).  For a review on running economy, please see Anderson (1996).  If you look at the present and past world class runners.  They possess a variety of running forms although most of their forms have some common features such as long stride, high cadence, straight torso, etc.  Therefore runners do not need to force themselves to adopt any particular running form.  Hard and appropriate training will naturally shape their form to the optimal one.  

Martin and Coe have a very interesting section about running and improving running mechanics in their book (Martin and Coe, 1999, p24-30).  It is an enlightening summary of good biomechanics and worth reading for any serious runners.

Daniels observed that elite runners tend to have the same high cadence (180 or more steps/min) and suggest to ask athletes to intentionally increase their cadences to this level (Daniels, 1998). The authors suspects that runners can increase their own natural comfortable cadence to this level by doing speed workout with gradual increase of intensity.

Should runners pay attention to good form at all during training?  The author's speculative answer is YES.  Every experienced runner knows what strong form means because this is the form he/she has when the body is fresh and running fast.  All runners are also familiar with the phrase "losing form" because this is what happens when sever  fatigue occurs and they just drag the body forward.  When running in strong form, the runner recruits more muscles and their corresponding nerves and it is believed the running economy is good.  The trained muscles will naturally play their roles in racing even the race speed is slower than training speed. This is why speed workout even helps the performance of marathon that is run at much slower speed than that of speed workout.  This is easy to understand because if more muscles are trained and utilized in running, for the same work output (e.g. running 26.2 miles), each muscle fiber will do less work, hence will sustain its normal function longer before the fatigue has its toll.  It has been shown that distance running performance is highly related to peak running velocity (Scott and Houmard, 1994).  When speaking about her historic victory - new world record of 2:18:17 at 2001 Chicago marathon, Catherine Ndereba said: "This world record came because this year I concentrated so much on speedwork.  I wanted to run the 10,000 meters at the World Champioships, so I spent much of my training working on my speed. I missed the Kenyan qualifying standard by 5 seconds, so I couldn't go to the Worlds, but all that speed training along with my long runs helped me run the world record in Chicago."

During a race, a runner usually starts with a good form. In the later stage of race when the fatigue occurs, it takes some extra effort to maintain a good form.  This is worth it.  Sometimes it seems the extra effort to maintain a good form decreases the perceived running speed.  It is the author's experience that the running is actually faster if an effort is made to maintain a good form than if the effort goes to maintaining the perceived speed.  


Anderson T. (1996) Biomechanics and running economy. Sports Med 22(2):76-89

Cavanagh PR, Kram R (1989). Stride length in distance running: velocity, body dimensions, and added mass effects. Med Sci Sports Exerc 21(4):467-79. 

Cavanagh PR, Williams KR (1982) The effect of stride length variation on oxygen uptake during distance running. Med Sci Sports Exerc 14(1):30-5

Conley DL and  Krahenbuhl GS (1980) Running economy and distance running performance of highly trained athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc 12(5):357-60

Daniels JT. (1998) Daniels' Running Formula. Human Kinetics, Champaign Illinois. 

Martin DE, Coe PN. (1999). Better Training for Distance Runners. Human Kinetics, Champaign Illinois. 

Morgan DW, Martin PE (1986) Effects of stride length alteration on racewalking economy. Can J Appl Sport Sci 11(4):211-7

Scott BK, Houmard JA (1994) Peak running velocity is highly related to distance running performance. Int J Sports Med 15(8):504-7

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