Run Form and Technique: Lifting the Knee/Leg

Earlier this Spring while traveling the country with Chris McDougall and Scott Jurek on the Born To Run Naked Tour, we made a stop in Asheville NC. We had a rare extra day to spend in Asheville so we enlisted local runner and CCUM winner, Will Harlan, to play tour guide for us on a trail run.


Chris had been experiencing some groin issues during the last week or so and during this run he had me look at his run stride and technique.  I noticed that he was getting "lazy" with his leg lift or what I call knee drive.  This was the same leg he was experiencing the groin pain, so I had him visualize or imagine he had to step over a log each time he took a running step.  The faster he ran, the larger the log, the slower he ran, the smaller the log.  We practiced this for the remainder of the run and his groin pain vanished - which was really a hip flexor issue from swinging his leg on each step rather than lifting it (over the log) properly.

More recently, I have been experiencing slight tightness in my upper hamstring attachment and hip flexor of my dominant right leg.  I was writing this off to too much time spent sitting and catching up on my coaching computer work.  But on today's trail run I decided to spend some time focusing on this with my own technique.  Since this is my dominant leg, my good form awareness always shifts to my left leg and I noticed that my left leg was near perfect.  This is pretty common, to have better form with our weaker or less dominant side or limb.  I was a switch hitter in baseball and my left swing was always better than my right, but I had more power on the right side.  So in discovering that I too had gotten lazy with my right leg knee drive, I focused on this during my 30 minute threshold trail run today and what do you know - my tightness released in both the hamstring and hip flexor.

So inspect my video at the 2:00 mark to understand how the knee drive helps promote stance leg stabilization, allowing the hip flexor to do it's job of lifting the leg and NOT act as a stabilizer - that is the job of the glute medius.  If we do not lift that leg, the hip flexor will be recruited to do more work as a stabilizer, over working it, causing tightness.

And then focus on the 3:19 mark of the video to see how imagining stepping over a log might help with proper knee drive.  Keep in mind that your knee drive height is relative to your speed.  The faster you run the higher the knee and the slower you run the lower your knee will be.  BUT the biomechanics and mindset if lifting the leg stay the same.

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  • @ Dale - Slow down to achieve this, as speed will come as you get better and better at foot strike and knee.
  • Don't worry about it, as long as you have a pretty good forefoot strike AND lifting leg/knee in front of you, your posture will fall into place.  If you lean back too far, you will heel strike, if you lean to far forward, you will not be able to lift the leg - so let the feet and knee/leg be your guide.
  • Okay, thanks Eric.

    How should the centre of gravity be controlled?  Maintained slightly forward no matter the slope?

  • Dale - not much should change on the downhills, especially with foot strike. But you still want to have the "mindset" of lifting your leg/knee up and forward. Sometimes it helps to imagine pedaling a bike as you descend - this really helps, try it.
  • Great tips, Eric.  I'm still curious about going down hills... is there less knee drive descending a slope or should it be kept the same and just let the legs move faster?  I find it challenging to minimize impact stress going downhill—it feels like my body wants to resist the speed to maintain my pace/cadence.


    Does anyone else here have similar challenges?




  • So I apparently have hallux rigidus.  My big toe joint has no more cartilage and the bones are against each other.  I have had the problem for years and running exacerbates the problem.  My sports medicine doctor wants to do a joint replacement.  He says that I will have to drastically cut down on my millage and will never be the caliber athlete that I am now.  I average about 35 miles a week.  He had the nerve to tell me "running isn't life"!  He runs marathons and admitted that he had never gone a week without running.  I am opting to avoid the operation by cross training.  Other activities don't hurt as much.  What I am wondering is if there is anything form wise or footwear wise that can allow me to run without as much pain.  It hurts to bend the big toe.  I hate the elliptical!  Anyone?  Help!
  • Does Chi Running use "gravity" while Eric's method focuses more on correct alignment and efficient use of the muscles?

    Have a good weekend!

  • Hey Eric,

    Great video, I was wondering if form problems would have anything to do with my foot going numb when I run? It started a bit ago, but I am not sure what is causing it. It usually happens when I am doing tempo/threshold runs and starts around mile 2-3 into my run, even when I am wearing my Vibrams. I looked it up on the internet (the bane of every doctor and coach) and it said either morton's neuroma, planter fasciitis, or a compressed nerve in the foot. Should I look at my form for a cure or just rest and run as little as possible (RICE) for the next two weeks until my marathon?
  • I'm so glad you posted this. I thought I was hallucinating that my left side had better form than my dominant side. I've also been taking swim lessons and my instructor stopped me and said, "Your right leg is doing nothing for you." Strange how it's carrying over. All the issues I experience and struggle with are on my right side. Again... it's back to form. Thanks for this!
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