The Anatomy of Proper Running Form

running form

Make sure your running form isn’t setting you up for injury

“Anatomy and Physiology” was my FAVORITE class in high school. I loved learning how the body works. I loved learning about bones, ligaments, tendons and how the human body works. We dissected all kind of species but spent most of the time dissecting a cat that Jamie (my lab partner and BFF) named Smelly Ben (after the boy at the lab table next to us who always thought he was smarter than us, but we knew better).

My other favorite class in high school? Cross Country. It shaped me into the person I am today more than almost anything in high school. I know I’ve talked about my coaches before – they left a lasting impression on me and I still carry the lessons Mrs. Black taught me to my daily life. Anyway – turns out Crazy Mrs. Black knew what she is talking about when it comes to proper running form. While she was busy taunting us from different areas of the cross-country course (we never knew where she was. All we heard were her “Mrs. Black-isms” being yelled to everyone during the race in her southern Kentucky accent), we were all just trying to figure out how the heck she knew we weren’t breathing right.

All she was trying to teach us was to be our best. In high school, we thought she was crazy,  but now I’m learning that she was maybe only half crazy. Applying basic anatomy to your running form can help increase your capability, but also prevent injury. Read on to find out what I mean by that.

running form


Keeping your eyes up and looking forward is key. It’s easy to look down, especially if you are running on a trail or a sidewalk, but when you look down, you tend to lean forward at your neck – which is a no-no. Keeping your eyes AND chin up also will help improve your running posture.

Mrs. Black-ism: “Why are you looking down? Your shoes aren’t untied! Even if they were, you know there is nothing wrong with running barefoot! Just take them off and keep your head UP!”


Speaking of keeping your chin up, also try to relax your jaw. I find myself having to correct this quite often. It’s easy to clench your jaw and focus, but what you really want to do is relax your jaw and actually keep your mouth open for proper breathing. Why would anyone want to run with an open mouth? When you are doing aerobic exercise, you are exhaling CO2 and inhaling O2 at a faster rate, meaning it needs to exit/enter your body faster. Keeping your mouth even slightly open will help with the exchange.

Mrs. Black-ism: “This isn’t a beauty contest, ladies. Open your mouth and BREATHE! I don’t care if you look like a freak. BREATHE! I need to hear it!”


Keeping your shoulders relaxed and pushed back is something I try to work on a lot, especially during longer runs. When we tense up, we tend to bring our shoulders up and guess what? Tensing your shoulders and bringing them up and forward effects your breathing! We want to open up our chest and give those lungs room to breathe. Try to bring those shoulders down every so often to help avoid expending energy that is not needed. I was taught to bring your hands down to your sides and shake out your arms.

Mrs. Black-ism: “You look like a T-rex with those arms and shoulders up like that. SHAKE IT OUT! GET THOSE ARMS DOWN and SHAKE IT OUTTTTTTT”


One easy way to keep your arms down while running is to “put a penny in your pocket”. Hold your hands in a cupping form (like you are holding a baton) and pretend there is a penny in between your thumb and pointer finger. And while running, put that penny in your pocket. With every stride, take your thumb and make it touch your hip bone. When we tend to tense up, your arms go up, which again, effects your breathing.

Mrs. Black-ism: “GET YOUR ARMS DOWN! You should have hundreds of dollars with all those pennies getting put into your pockets. GET RICH!!!!”


Focusing more on your cadence than how your feet hit the ground is key. Research has shown that there is no real “right” way for your feet to hit the ground – what is most important is your rhythm or your rate. Getting into a rhythmic pattern of your feet hitting the ground is best to avoid injury. Also, make sure your feet hit the ground under your knee, and not before. Last, use the ground to your advantage. Push off the pavement/treadmill/trail with every step to gain speed and stability. Running downhill? Don’t let the ground move you – use the hill and keep running at the same pace instead of putting on the breaks (you can pass so many people on a downhill doing this!). Injuries are common going down hill because people tend to slow down and let the hill do the work which puts a lot of pressure on your hips/knees/ankles.  On an uphill – lean INTO the hill using your ankles. Leaning forward at your ankles will help dig in and get you up that hill faster.

Mrs. Black-ism: “LEAN INTO THE HILL” “Don’t you dare slow down on that downhill. I see #1304 and I need you to pass her on that hill” “RUNNNNNN”

So next time you are going for a run, keep Mrs. Black in mind – she knows a thing or two about running form, even if it sounds like she is insulting you. We can all use a little Mrs. Black in our lives 🙂