Fix Your Form, Drop Your Shoulder: The ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ runners should clean-up their form (ie: get faster)

“Drop your flipping shoulders!” is pretty much what I had to yell to myself as I was running for years. Add to that list, “Stand up tall,” “Right elbow, tuck in that right elbow, idiot!” Oh the beautiful language of a runner’s inner-monolague when trying to fix their form.

finish line face man running

Technically running with a relaxed face would be more efficient, but the homestretch go ahead and let your face look wonky!


Form is a tricky issue to deal with, mostly because however a runner naturally takes to the action is, well, natural. It’s without thought and it FEELS normal to them, no matter how wonky or biomechanically wrong it ends up being.

Fixing your form is also difficult because you can’t SEE yourself; you need an outsider to tell you 1) You’re doing this whole running thing wrong and then 2) To accurately tell you if what you’re doing to FIX your form is working. It goes without saying that you need to ensure that this outside person knows what they are talking about…lol.

I just wrote an article for Competitor.com: “Fixing Your Form a Half Mile at a Time” which discusses the four biggest culprits for form flaws in runners and then how to begin fixing your own form. Read the article and I’ll add a bit more over here.

* Constant Thought: In the article I explain that as you start to correct your form you need to do it SLOWLY, but that for the time you do think about your form it needs to be constant. Ideally pick the last 1/2 mile of each run where you literally THINK of your form flaw correction the whole time. Chant whatever you need to in your head (“Drop your shoulders!”), watch your shadow, chant some more.

tired runner

She really just drove herself insane from chanting, “Drop your shoulders!” ;)


* Reteach Muscle Memory: The reason you need to be so diligent is that changing an ingrained habit, like form, is a process of reteaching your muscles and nerves how to fire. You are essentially changing what feels completely normal and natural to your body; to make it CHANGE to what is correct will feel unnatural, if you don’t keep tabs on yourself it will ‘naturally’ slip back to what feels ‘right’ (but it’s wrong…got it…hehe).

* Outside of Running Work: Lots of form issues need work done from two sources: 1) Running implementation, as is thinking about running biomechanically correct as you’re running, and 2) Drills, core, weights, stretching etc. Lots of form flaws stem from other weaknesses, so strength moves and ‘extras’ need to be supplemented. Example: A weak core causes runners to hunch over.

* CAREFUL…Watch for Compensation Injuries! The reason you need to be so gradual in fixing your form is that your body has been running the ‘wrong’ way for years. It is used to running that way, usually it is caused because of weaknesses elsewhere, and with weaknesses that means other muscles have had to adjust to pick up the slack. Bottom line is if you try changing too many things too fast you will wind up with over-compensation injuries because you’re body isn’t used to running correctly.

* Repetition, repetition, repetition: I’ll say it again…form work is constant and yes, a pain in the butt. BUT it is worth it in the end. Make sure you’ve got an informed coach/person/expert to watch you as you shift your form and have them continually check-in on your progress. It can also be helpful to have someone video you running every couple of weeks to make sure you’re going in the right direction.

* End Result = Worth It: “This sounds like a lot of work,” you think. Yea, to be honest it probably is…but read the article and I’ll explain why it’s worth it. Hey, running itself isn’t easy but the end reward is worth it, right? Here is some simple runner math for you: bad/sloppy form = inefficient = wasted energy = lost time. By contrast: better/improved form = more efficient = more energy can be spent running forward = faster times.

So, because I was thinking this on my run, “Tuck in your stupid right elbow already!” until I wanted to lop off said elbow, I will bid you adieu with some fitting parting words…

“Fix your form already.” ;)

1) By now we know running with better form will make us more efficient (read as: faster) but do you tend to avoid doing any kind of form work? Or are you doing form work, and what do you do?

2) How do you keep tabs on your form? (ie: look at shadow, ask others, see yourself on video/pictures, etc.)

3) What’s something you did that made the biggest difference in cleaning up your form?
Truthfully, a coach who would keep on me and help me. If you don’t have a coach, I’d suggest finding a fellow runner to REALLY stay on you; you can return the favor of course…sort of partners in stopping form atrocities.
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16 Comments

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16 Responses to Fix Your Form, Drop Your Shoulder: The ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ runners should clean-up their form (ie: get faster)

  1. Kim

    When I first started running (a 100 years ago!) I used to have this tiny little stride. I had a coach who would literally scream – “Baby steps” every time I was running. It helped though – I would work on using side-walk cracks to stretch my stride length. It took the better part of a track season to make it a habit.

    Now, even when I walk, I have a long stride!

  2. I never knew my form was so bad until I started running with the club here, some of them are real sticklers on form. My problem is crossing my arms over my body and yeah, relaxing my shoulders… and according to some, heel striking (but I really feel like footstrike varies per person). I’m off to read your article now… but you’re right about form “feeling” right even when it’s wrong. Your body just gets used to doing something, especially after years of running and most people not starting out really focused on form.

    • it’s funny, we all in our minds think we look ‘normal’…it wasn’t until i joined a group that someone finally said, “umm, u look like a freak…just so u kno.” hehe

  3. Ugh, form! I’ve definitely needed to give myself constant reminders to keep my body in check, especially on long and/or tiring runs. I’ve incorporated core workout into my repertoire lately which will hopefully help. I’m excited to read your article!

  4. Sam

    I’m working on really driving my arms, especially up hills, and making sure my knees land properly over my feet instead of collapsing inwards… my collapsing knees are so embarrassing!
    My coach gives me feedback on my arms, with the knees I look at race photos and do this forward hop/lunge thing in front of a mirror. If I land properly without having to concentrate too much I know I’m getting better.
    Pilates has really helped with my knees as it’s mostly due to weak hips and glutes, and not being used to firing them instead of my leg muscles. With the arms I’ve found it helps to really ‘exaggerate’ the movement. It FEELS like I’m exaggerating it, but I’m pretty that’s only because I’m not used to it.

    • great job for sticking to that form work! and u’re right, i’ve got a friend who is a pilates instructor and she works with lots of runners with various problems all tied to the weak hips/glutes…it is always so crazy how something totally ‘random’ would stem from a weak bum. keep up the pilates and let me know how those knees progress. :)

  5. Such great tips Cait – thank you :) I do find dropping my shoulder a good start to improving my form all over, but running with a water bottle (just can’t cope without one!) doesn’t help sometimes. As you say, slow and steady and practice makes a world of difference though!

  6. Amy

    I really concentrate on not twisting too much from side to side while I run, and I make sure that I take a deep breath and roll my shoulders back when I feel myself starting to resemble the Hunchback of Notre Dame :)
    I don’t really do any specific form work, but perhaps I need to!

  7. Ohhhh I would lurrrrrve to work with a coach. One day!!! For now though I just have to yell at myself. I don’t really do much beside try and lift myself up with an invisible string in my head when I am getting tired and fatigued… and chant “light as a feather”. It all helps but I know there is a bucket load of things I would need to work on if ever I was assessed properly :S

    • we’ll get u with a coach one of these days! but u’ve been doing SO well by urself…great job remembering to stand tall! how about add to the “light as a feather…fast as a mofo!” ;)

  8. Pingback: Running is Repetitive, So Avoid Reinforcing Bad Habits |

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