Distance Running Technique

Proper biomechanics for distance running is important maximize the body’s energy and help prevent injury. Teaching proper running form and making technical adjustments are critical factors in developing the highest level of performance.

Keys to Proper Running Form


  • Look straight ahead with the chin slightly down
  • Keep face relaxed and loose


  • Keep tall
  • Square shoulders
  • Keep the body in-line

Arm Action

  • Hands to shoulder height on the forward swing motion
  • Elbows back to the hip
  • Forward and back, avoid any cross body motion
  • Hands cupped but loose


  • Strike the with the middle of the foot
  • Land the foot directly under the body
  • Bring the knee and toe up
  • Lift the heel to the hamstring
  • Be active driving off the ground with each stride

Teaching proper technique early was one of key ingredients to the success of Galen Rupp. Coach Alberto Salazar worked with Galen Rupp for 12 years before he won the silver medal in the 2012 London Olympics in the 10,000m.

Coach Salazar emphasized technique because of his own failures as an elite athlete. “I know that my lack of proper technique and biomechanics caused me to get a lot of injuries and shortened my running career,” said Salazar.

Best Coaching Point

  • Runner’s must focus on running tall, one of coaching points repeated by Bill Bowerman, the legendary coach from the University of Oregon.



Making Changes in Running Technique

Runners that make changes later in their career could be at higher risk for injury, but the long-term benefits can make a significant difference in performance.

Coach Salazar spoke about one of his athletes, “When you start changing an athlete’s form, there’s always a risk,” Salazar said “he’s willing to take that risk, because he doesn’t want to be the guy that’s just trying to get a bronze medal. Not this time. This time, he wants to be the winner.”

Adjusting running technique is a risk-reward proposition for coaches and athletes: possible improvement in performance versus a greater risk for injury as the body adapts to the new style.

Distance Running Like A Sprinter

Top distance runners need to utilize outstanding running mechanics and follow the technical formula for used by sprinters to help with speed development in training and during critical pace changes during a competition.

Watching film of Olympic Champion Haile Gebrselassie, Coach Salazar noticed, “His hips are directly under his body, which is directly above his foot. So all that force is going up through his legs and hips into his upper body, to propel him forward. There’s nothing being lost there.”

The positions of the elite distance runners are very similar to the top sprinters, long strides with a full range of motion from the knee drive to the heel going back to the buttock, then reaching for the ground and striking the foot back under the body.

As Salazar watched tape of top runners like Olympic Record Holder Kenenisa Bekele, he was reminded of world class sprinters, “The more tape we broke down,” he said, “the more it became clear: he was harnessing the same advantages as a sprinter.”

“I thought, is that just coincidence? Or could that perhaps be part of why he’s so good?”

When it comes to distance runners developing speed, biomechanical considerations are vital to the runner’s success.


Overall, proper running mechanics will help improve performance and reduced the risk of injuries. Distance runners cannot run the same as sprinters during long races but distance runners can develop similar mechanics.


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