Running Posture Marathon Running

Improve Running Posture

Improve Running Posture

Running posture is essentially how you hold your body while running…simple! When looking at the running posture of elite runners, there are quite a few similarities: they run tall, have a subtle forward lean while they are running, limit their up/down movement, and limit their side to side movement. Let’s take a look at each of these individually. *This post will focus on endurance running as the mechanics/posture change with other running events.*

Running Posture Marathon Running

Run Tall

Let’s do a quick test…Stand up and relax your body, looking straight forward. Now, while looking straight forward, think about stretching through your body to each your head towards the ceiling. Another way to think of it is a rope is attached to your head and is pulling your body towards the ceiling. You should feel “taller” and more engaged with your muscles around your spine. This helps activate the spine stabilizing muscles to maintain proper posture: head over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over feet.

This spinal stiffness will help us run more efficient and help manage forces traveling through our muscles and joints much easier. In which picture does the runner appear ready to run?


Subtle Lean

Quick test number 2! Stand tall as described above. Now practice moving slightly forward and slightly backward through your ankles; the rest of your body is nice and straight. Good! Now slowly lean forward until you must move one of your legs to “catch” yourself from falling. Practice that a few times. The point where you need to move your leg is roughly where you want to hold yourself while running. This forward lean from the ankles, shifts your center of gravity ever so slightly forward to maintain momentum once you begin running. The faster you run, the more forward lean there is. ********Caution******** Avoid leaning from the waist! When reading about forward lean, runners think “Yea! Lean forward and get my momentum going!”. Leaning from the waist can potentially cause injury particularly at the back, and knees. Don’t do it!

Limit Up and Down Movement

When you think about it, running is a one legged sport; one foot touches the ground, then after a quick transition period of being fully in the air, the other foot touches the ground. This happens very quickly, step after step to keep the body moving forward. What is commonly seen as a runner runs by is a noticeable up and down bounce with their body; this IS a normal movement to an extent but causes issues when it is too great. Two main things frequently occur with beginner and intermediate runners when there is too much up and down movement: 1. There is too long of contact with the foot and the ground allowing the body to “sink” towards the ground due to increased bending at the hip, knee, and ankle, 2. A forceful push off from the toes pushes the body upward and forward.

Ever have extremely sore quads or calves (or both!) following a race? Soreness that lasts days? I have! Why are the legs so sore???? When the leg is in contact with the ground for a longer time, the ankle, knee, and hip bend more while the muscles are contracting. This produces eccentric loading to the muscles (muscles lengthen while contracting) which causes the greatest amount of muscle damage. When does this occur? Late in races when our posture deteriorates, and our cadence slows down. Then we try to keep the pace up and muscle through the rest of the run with a slow cadence, resulting in a more forceful push off with our toes… now our calves hurt! Proper posture and a high cadence will help avoid this sequence from occurring or significantly limit the effects.



Limit Side to Side Movement

When running forward, we want our foot to land closer to our body, and under our hips. Similar to above, if there is too much contact time due to a slow cadence, the hip of the swing leg will drop. Now with the hip dropped down, the leg swings forward more towards mid line and then the foot lands, it is now mid line or has crossed over mid line, referred to as a “crossover running gait” or “tight rope running”. This is the runner you see bounding side to side down the boardwalk. Do you do it? Ever hit your lower leg with your shoe, or see scuff marks on your calf after you run? Those are signs of hip drop; it changes the angle for your leg to move through and literally hits your stance leg.

Too much side to side movement will decrease your efficiency and set you up for potential injury. If your leg is crossing mid line, the inner muscles/tendons/foot are strained more; recurring posterior shin splints is a common ailment with this gait. There should be a small space between where your feet contact the ground. A strong runner may hide this for shorter runs but as fatigue sets in for longer runs, this will become more and more noticeable. Strength training, running more frequently, and specific drills will help avoid this.


Still with me? That wraps up running posture. Performing the following drills can help improve your running posture and prevent it from breaking down during long runs and races. Schedule with us at Peak Form Health Center to tailor specific exercises to your needs!


Lumo Run- At our office, we encourage our patients to purchase Lumo Run by Lumo tech. It is a wearable device that gives instant feedback (and post run feedback) on many running variables including all the posture points discussed above. Go to the lumobodytech website using this link Lumorun for $10 off! Check out blog late March 2018 for a full Lumo Run review!


Posture and Lean

Walk with a Purpose– Stand tall as described above. With each step, push your leg back by squeezing your butt muscles. Continue reaching your head towards the ceiling while doing so. Most of the movement should come from the hip, not the lower back or by pushing off from the foot. Start by working on this before runs 1 minute at a time, but eventually incorporate into your normal walking!

Subtle lean– Stand tall. Rock back and forth from your ankles. 10 forward to help build awareness to where you should be leaning from.

Lean and step– Stand tall. Slowly lean forward until you have to take a step to “catch” yourself from falling forward. Helps work on maintaining a forward lean and proper timing of the first step. 10 steps each leg, three times through. IMG_5334.TRIM

Band around waist- Anchor an elastic band around a fence, pole, tree, etc. and then place the band around the front of your hips. Walk until you feel the band start gently pulling you back. Now stand tall, keep your body inline and lean forward through your ankles against the band resistance. Move forward and backward to get a feel for a proper lean. Also, once you are leaning into the band, hold that position while taking slow steps in place.

Excessive Bounce

Up and down visualization– Run on a treadmill. Think about a water line right below your mouth; you have to stand tall to and avoid bouncing to avoid falling below that line or else you will be breathing in water. Alternatively, There is a low ceiling right above your head. You must keep your head still or else you will bang your head (Personally do not like this one as much because it does not reinforce elongating your spine/standing tall.)

Cadence– See our blog on cadence here. There are drills in detail there. The purpose is to increase cadence to decrease the amount of time your foot is on the ground so it does not “sink” down resulting in excessive up and down motion.

Cross over gait

Track line– Run around a track with lane lines (bicycle lane line on the road or other lines with similar width work). Run so the line is right in the middle of your body. Your INNER right foot should hit the right border of the line; your INNER left foot should hit the left border. This will force you to run with a wider stance to avoid side to side movement. Occasionally look down to see where your feet are or run with a partner running behind you to give you feedback.

Increase your Cadence!

Increase Your Cadence!

Increasing running cadence will help reduce your risk for injury, and make you a more efficient runner (potentially faster runner as well)! Now that you know the benefit of increasing cadence, let’s go back and look and some of the main points that go into tweaking this aspect of running.

Break the Injury Cycle

Annually, 37%-52% of runners experience a running injury. That is VERY high injury rate!. Many of the injured runners I treat are new to running, want to manage the symptoms before their upcoming race, and then stop running afterward because of the nagging symptoms they are experiencing. Then the following year, the same cycle occurs: signed up for another half marathon, developed an injury, barely made it through the race, and then stopped running due to the nagging symptoms. Stop it! Make changes to why you are injured and then you will no longer have to worry about dealing with nagging injuries. The BIGGEST change you can make is improving your turn over or in other words, increasing running cadence.

What is Cadence?

Running cadence is the number of times your feet come in contact with the ground, measured in steps per minute (every time either foot touches the ground) or strides per minute (every time the same foot touches the ground). The goal cadence is 170-190 steps per minute or 85-95 strides per minute.

This moment was late in a Half Ironman run, my cadence dropped to 170 (normally run comfortably in mid 180s) and began running with more of a heel strike pattern; you can see the lead leg out in front of the body which will increase shock to the body.

How does this help decrease risk for injury?

Increasing running cadence to 170-190 steps per minute, decreases the vertical loading rate during the gait cycle. Basically, you run with less bounce and less impact to your legs reducing the amount of force traveling through the body. Running with a slower cadence (< 170) allows your foot to travel further away from the body before initial contact, and results in more of a “braking” force once contact is initiated (see photo). Your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints absorb that extra shock and remain under load longer due to the foot being further away from the body.  Increased load + increased time under load = increased strain to muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints which will eventually lead to failure once enough strain has accumulated. Main take away, increasing running cadence decreases the vertical loading rate, loading time, and overall strain in the body.

How do I measure cadence?

Easy! If you have a GPS watch, there is a setting for cadence (most watches these days) that you can select to show on your display screen while running.

If you do not have a GPS watch with that function, then use a timer and count your steps to get your cadence as follows: count the number of steps you take for 20 seconds. Take that number and multiply by 3 to get your steps per minute. To make the math easier, count every time the same foot touches the ground to get the number of strides you take. Multiply by 3 to get strides per minute (85-95 strides is the goal).

How long will it take to run naturally with a faster cadence?

It can take 3-6 months before you are able to run at that range effortlessly. We recommend doing cadence drills twice a week. Do not over think your cadence and force yourself to run with a faster cadence every run. Increasing running cadence takes time and patience. Every 6 weeks, run 3 miles and try to keep the cadence elevated the entire run; remember what the average cadence was and try to increase it the next test run.

The only way I can get my cadence up is to run faster, is that normal?

That is very normal initially. However, with practice you will learn how to run with a faster cadence at all speeds! Technically you can “run” with a 170-190 cadence while not moving. What changes is the width of the steps when changing speed but the cadence should still fall into that range. Our advanced cadence drills help with this.

Beginning Drills


Garmin Fenix with cadence option

No GPS watch- Run 20 seconds as you normally would, count your steps (or strides) for the next 20 seconds, then go back to your normal running for the last 20 seconds. Repeat 5 times

GPS watch- Set the display to show cadence, run for 1 minute working on getting your stride turn over quicker. Look at the watch periodically to see the cadence. Repeat 5 times.

RunTempo- Application for smartphones. It is a metronome that you can set a specific cadence. Every time you hear a “beep” your foot should hit the ground. If you know your cadence is let’s say 155, set RunTempo to 165 and run for 1 minute. Once you can easily match the cadence, bump up the cadence by 5 until you are in range. Once in the proper range, experiment by working at the different cadences 170-190 to see where you “feel” the best.



Advanced Drills

Cadence Test- Every 6 weeks, run a 5k and try to keep your cadence high the entire time. Make note of the average cadence after the run. Use that average cadence as your new benchmark for cadence drills. If you averaged 165, perform drills with the goal of 170 or 175. Repeat test and check again 6 weeks later.

Treadmill Roller Coaster– Once you can easily run in the 170-190 steps per minute range, now is the time to work on maintaining the cadence at different speeds. Set up a treadmill for 2 minute intervals. The first two minutes, set the treadmill to the slowest pace you can maintain your elevated cadence. For the next two minutes, bump up the pace to a tempo effort. The goal is to maintain the same cadence when switching from the slower pace to the quicker pace. What changes is the step width, but cadence should be the same! Repeat for 5-10 rounds.

Super Cadence Drills– Find a long gradual downhill. Run with a “as fast as possible” cadence on the way down for 1 minute. The goal is to get your cadence as fast as possible often reaching above 200 steps per minute. Repeat 5-10 times. I recommend this drill for triathletes to get there legs used to having a very quick turn over so when they run off the bike and their legs feel sluggish, what feels “slow” is actually still in the recommended cadence range due to the practice at running with an extremely high cadence.

There you have it, one of the easiest yet best ways to correct running form is increasing running cadence. If you are dealing with an injury, please get evaluated by a sports minded healthcare provider. Changing cadence while injured may result in worsening of symptoms so it is important to have a proper evaluation before making any significant changes to your workouts.

Peak Form Health Center

Please call 619-818-4306 or visit to schedule!
2635 Camino del Rio South #200
San Diego, CA 92108