The Mental Game, Part 3: Maintain Good Running Form with Visualization Cues

This month's posts are all about training your mind to improve your running, and today I'm sharing some tips about using visualization that I've found to be both fun and effective.

At some point, most runners start doing research on improving their running form. Whether you're starting to take you're running more seriously or trying to avoid/recover from an injury, it's a very logical and valuable investment. I ran for years thinking I had perfect form before an injury proved otherwise. After transitioning to minimalist running, taking a running workshop and undergoing private training with a physical therapist, I'm now confident that I know which pitfalls to avoid. There's still one problem: it's a lot to remember.

Can you relate?

Head up, back straight, forward lean, arms back, elbows at 90, fist closed lightly, peeling liftoff, midfoot strike, cycling feet, feet straight, land below knees, 180 cadence, breathing pattern...

At some point, this all becomes an automatic habit, but getting to that point can be frustrating. As I worked to improve my form, I found that by the time I correct one (or five) issues, another one would slip from my mind and fall out of whack. Fortunately, I learned that using visualization cues can make the whole process MUCH easier.

The Mental Game, Part 3: Maintain Good Running Form with Visualization Cues
It all depends on how you see yourself.
Here's an example:

Maintaining cadence has always been a challenge for me. I could keep it up if my mind was focused on pushing my feet as fast as possible, but as soon as I focused on something else my pace would invariably slow down. Once I gave up counting and started visualizing what it felt like to step lightly, my cadence not only hit the mark, but stayed there with little effort. Now I just have to picture running across either hot coals or very thin ice and the pace automatically corrects itself. As an added benefit, the images of hot coals or think ice also help me step lightly instead of pounding my foot down with full force.

Now, whenever I have trouble keeping up my form, I find imagery to put me in a helpful mindset. I have to say, it works wonders.

I happened to come across an excellent post from Natural Running Center about this very topic. They not only included my favorite visualization cues, but also included a few new ones that I've found very useful. Here they are:

Illustrations from
  1. LEAN: Fall forward from your ankles in order to enlist gravity.
  2. HEAD BALLOON: Run softly by imagining a helium balloon attached to your head.
  3. EYES: Look where you are going, not at your feet.
  4. ARMS: Swing your arms quickly from relaxed shoulders with your elbows bent at 90 degrees and your thumbs and index fingers touching lightly.
  5. WINCH: Imagine being reeled in on a big fishing line attached at your belly button.
  6. BELLY BALLOON: Expand your lower abdomen like a balloon, then squeeze the air out.
  7. KNEES/LEGS: Keep your knees slightly bent.
  8. MIDFOOT: Land on the middle of your foot to reduce any braking that would occur from crash landing early on your heel.
  9. HOT COALS: Imagine running on hot coals with a quick cadence.
  10. BANANA PEEL: Think of your foot slipping backward on a banana peel.
  11. HEEL BALLOON: Picture helium balloons lifting your heels.
  12. WHEELS: Move your ankles in little circles as if they are wheels.

I hope you'll find these useful, as well. Do you have any visualizations of your own you'd like to share?

Photo Credits: Copyright 123RF Stock Photo


  1. What if you can't afford a physical therapist? Are water shoes ok as minimal wear? I run track for my high school and i want to improve my form, which has been described as " the worst ever" any tips? Thanks .

    1. Hi, sorry for the delayed reply. I know pysical therapists can be pricey... it took me months to pay off my PT bill. Fortunately there are other options out there. Depending on where you live, there may be free running workshops by trained coaches, or a running club where experienced runners may be willing to watch you run and give advice. I've also heard of people filming themselves running in slow motion with their smartphones, then posting it on Youtube and asking for feedback. There are also a wealth of books and online resources with tips for improving your form. One of my favorites is Barefoot Ken Bob's "Barefoot Running Step by Step," mostly for it's simplicity. For more detailed tips on form, check out the Chi Running or Pose Running books. And sorry to say I'm not familiar with running in water shoes. Good luck!