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Run and Walk Biomechanics: Tips for Optimal Efficiency

Runners and walkers have individual styles, yet besides enhanced movement economy, improving your form helps to prevent injuries.  The basic principles of good form apply to everyone, fast or slow. Here are several ways to develop good biomechanical form while still being relaxed and efficient.

Drive and Cadence:

  1. Proper arm drive helps you to gain speed, maintain balance, and conserve energy. 

  2. Hold arms slightly away from your body with elbows at around 90 degrees.

  3. Drive from the forearm (Think of pushing yourself along a trail with cross-country ski poles…You lead first with your hands, wrists, and forearms).

  4. Keep your hands loose and cupped, since hands control the tension in your entire upper torso. (As if you’re holding a potato chip between your thumb and forefinger that you want to keep intact).

  5. Your leg turnover speed correlates to your arm drive, so if you pump your arms faster, your leg turnover and speed increases as well.  (How cool is that?)

  6. Your arm swing should remain in a forward/back arc at around waist level, vs. swinging your arms across your torso.  (Think ‘Arms move Forward for Forward Motion’).

Foot strike:

  1. To minimize impact, land lightly between your heel and mid-foot, and then quickly roll forward through to your toes.  Keep your ankle flexed as your foot rolls forward to create more force for push-off.

  2. Aim to minimize your foot strike angle. Excessive heel strike, with the sole of your foot angled upward at 30 to 45 degrees can cause a braking effect which forces you to run or walk with a short, choppy stride. If you’re an excessive toe striker and land high on your toes, also consider that this form minimizes cushioning, increases the strain on the lower leg and can result in excessive bouncing which translates to wasted energy.

Stride Rate and Stride Length:

  1. Running or walking speed is the product of stride length (The distance covered between foot strikes) and stride rate (The total number of steps taken per foot per minute). For most runners 180 steps per minute or 90 stride cycles) is considered a productive stride rate.

  2. Stride length is quite unique to the individual and is one that’s comfortable, doesn’t break your posture chain, and allows you to have a soft, unlocked knee. A very long leaping stride (over-striding) however is inefficient as you spend too much time in the air. A very short stride (under-striding) is wasteful as well as you spend too much energy to advance a short distance.

Body Posture:

  1. Body posture is a simple but valuable part of a smooth and efficient running or walking form. Keeping your chin up, your head level and your gaze forward will keep the greatest majority of body weight over the point of ground support and minimize the strain on postural muscles.

Form Drills and Cues:

Here are a few images and cues that you can use as reminders to keep your form sharp, especially when you’re fatigued. “Fall Forward” This cue can help to address over-striding because when you run with a slight forward tilt from the ankle, your feet will naturally land closer to your center of gravity. “Running on Water” Imagine that you’re running on water and want to exert minimum contact time, like a skipping stone.  This cue can help to remind you to cover ground quickly, lightly and rhythmically. “Lay Low” Think about moving your body forward instead of up and down.  Imagine that you’re running beneath a ceiling just 2 inches above your head. This cue can remind you to run with greater stability by reducing vertical impact forces. I encourage you to pay attention and discover more of the many wonderful things that your body can do for you on a daily basis… After all…

“The Body Never Lies”

– Martha Graham American Dancer and Choreographer


By Pam Landry

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