Florence Griffith Joyner: Running Tips From The Fastest Woman Of All Time

Running is an absolutely fabulous sport. It’s relatively cheap, it doesn’t require learning a set of rules or other people to do it, and it’s proven to boost your physical and mental health in all sorts of ways.

However, all those benefits can be easily forgotten a couple of kilometres into your first run, when you’re gasping for breath and wondering how long it will take to walk home.

If you were alive in the 1980s, you might have memories of being inspired by the incredible Florence Griffith Joyner, better known by her nickname, “Flo-Jo”. In the summer of 1988, Flo-Jo set blazing running world records of 10.49 for the 100 meters and 21.34 for the 200 meters. 

Despite the evolution in training techniques and the advancements in running shoe technology and gear, these incredible world records still stand, some 35 years later.

In addition to being known as the fastest female runner ever to grace the track, Flo-Jo is remembered as being an icon of style and beauty, often charging down the track with colourful, six-inch acrylic nails, flowing hair, a face fully adorned with makeup, and jazzy, self-designed, avant-garde race outfits.

About her track fashion and style, Flo-Jo is famously quoted as saying, “Dress well to look good. Look good to feel good. And it feels good to run fast!”

Indeed, one of the many lessons from Florence Griffith Joyner for other women who run is that you can embrace your femininity—whatever that means to you in terms of your personal style—and run fast; you don’t have to pick one or the other.

In this guide, we will also hone in on the running prowess of Florence Griffith Joyner, looking at what running form tips we can learn from the fastest woman ever.

Running Form Lessons From Flo-Jo

If you’re going to take running form tips from other runners, you might as well go to the best of the best. As the fastest woman runner to ever sprint down the track, by default, the Flo Jo running form was obviously highly effective.

If you watch old video footage of Flo-Jo running, you can analyze each aspect of Flo-Jo running form and take away various tips for improving your sprinting technique.

Let’s examine some of the key aspects that made Florence Griffith Joyner’s sprinting technique and running form effective enough to earn her two world records.

Use a Forward Gaze

Flo-Jo ran with a neutral head position (no tilting of her chin up or down) and a relaxed posture with her neck. She didn’t waste energy by holding tension in her face or neck, and her neutral head position kept her spine elongated, helping her capitalize on a patent airway.

Rather than staring down at her feet, she kept her gaze straight down the track towards the finish line. This kept her momentum and sprinting drive completely forward towards the direction she was travelling, increasing coordination, motivation, and maximum velocity.

Keep Your Shoulder Relaxed

Moving down to the shoulders, Florence Griffith Joyner’s running form was characterized by a strong arm swing, beginning with a powerful pump from her shoulders. She wastes little energy with excessive side-to-side motion, keeping the momentum moving forward with a front-to-back arm drive.

Her shoulders remained steady and relatively relaxed, despite the huge power they were generating. Most importantly, she kept them down and back away from her ears, resisting the common tendency to hike up the shoulders while running fast. Holding tension in your shoulders zaps energy and reduces the efficiency of your arm carriage.

Keep Your Hips Squared

Flo-Jo ran with her hips squared, facing forward so that they were in line with her head and shoulders. As with her shoulders, Florence Griffith Joyner kept her hips relatively stable, without tons of excessive rotation. Again, this maximized her forward momentum and reduced joint stress.

Focus On an Upright Posture

After accelerating out of the starting blocks, Florence Griffith Joyner quickly lifted her torso to run with an erect posture. Her core was engaged and tight, and her chest was up and facing forward.

Maximize Your Leg Extension

One of the most noteworthy aspects of Flo Jo’s running form was the tremendous extension and pull-down she could achieve in her legs, which made for an incredible stride. 

She was able to capitalize on her long legs because she had such powerful quad strength, enabling her to fully extend her knee out when reaching forward with her leg for each step.

If you watch a video recording of Flo Jo’s running form, you can also see that she displayed an excellent range of motion in her hamstrings. 

Despite her beautiful, long stride, Florence Griffith Joyner was able to keep her shin fairly vertical in the swing leg as her body travelled forward so that she could land on her midfoot rather than her heel.

By keeping her foot under her centre of gravity, she reduced the braking force applied to her leading leg, maximizing her forward momentum and minimizing negative energy (energy lost to the ground).

Don’t Underestimate the Knee Drive

As she sprinted down the track, Flo-Jo pushed her knees forward, driving them as high as possible by generating explosive power through her glutes and hamstrings.

This helped her get a longer stride because her shin could strike out forward a great distance in much the same way that a cheetah’s body flattens and elongates as the legs and arms stretch forward when they run.

A strong knee drive allows your leg to act like a pendulum to swing all the way forward without requiring additional energy.

Land Lightly On Your Feet

Flo-Jo ran light on her feet as if grazing over hot coals. She minimized her ground contact time and increased her flight time, a strategy shown to increase maximum velocity when sprinting.

If you watch her land, she typically landed on her midfoot or forefoot, which helped her maintain forward momentum and have a spring in her step to push off powerfully.

Her legs travelled in a sweeping arc, with her feet trailing up behind her but then cycling forward to land under her body so that she could make ground contact with her midfoot rather than her heel.

Pump Your Arms Efficiently

Flo-Jo’s strong arm swing was marked by a good 90-degree angle in her elbows with her fists pumping up to above even the level of her forehead.

She swung her arms back and forth right alongside her torso, without excessively flaring her elbows out to the side, which can eat up energy from wasted tension in the upper body.

Her arms were fluid and relaxed as they were pumped back and forth, creating a smooth, reciprocal pattern with her legs. On the downswing, her fists grazed past her hips, without crossing in front of her body (swinging too much from side to side).

Strive for an Even Stride

When you watch Flo-Jo run from a side perspective, you can see how perfectly even and balanced her stride was between her two legs. Each leg travelled in a parallel movement path, both in terms of location in space and time duration.

Her even, reciprocal running stride meant that she wasn’t favouring either leg, reducing the risk of injury and ensuring that she wasn’t deviating to one side or the other while sprinting down her lane on the track. In this way, Flo-Jo almost always had a perfectly rhythmic running stride with each side of her body a mirror image of the other.

Explode Through the Acceleration

Although Flo-Jo wasn’t necessarily the fastest sprinter out of the blocks, she was a powerful accelerator and used her explosive speed to blast through the acceleration phase, getting her torso upright into a vertical posture as quickly as possible.

This helped her run more efficiently and reach her maximum velocity quicker, allowing her to run a greater portion of the race at her top speed.

8 Running Tips To Help You Become A Better Runner

1. Get An MOT

Before embarking on your plan it can be worth getting a once-over to correct any minor niggles or running technique flaws that could develop into major problems, especially if you have a history of injuries.

If you’re going to start running seriously, it’s essential you identify and correct poor habits as early as possible, which will make training much more beneficial and pleasurable.

Schedule an appointment with a physio or sports masseur who will be able to highlight any weaknesses, stiffness or imbalances. Having an expert evaluate how you run will bring to light any weaknesses or idiosyncrasies that, if left unchecked, could end in pain or injury down the road.

2. Consider A Club

Running solo can be one of life’s great joys but if you’re knocking out several runs a week as part of a training plan, doing some of them with other people is a great way to stay motivated, make friends, and discover new places to run.

You’ll find free running groups in most cities around the UK now – many specialist running stores stage several groups runs each week – or you can look into joining your local running club. Rest assured that you don’t need to be a speedster to join – they cater for all abilities.

The first item on your shopping list should be a good-quality pair of running shoes. That doesn’t necessarily mean spending a huge amount of money, but it does mean spending some time working out what the right pair for you is. 

3. Get a Gait Analysis

A free gait analysis service is offered at many specialist running stores, including every Runners Need store. You’ll be videoed while running on a treadmill for a couple of minutes and the footage is then played back (in freeze-frame if necessary) to assess your foot plant, stride and running pattern.

This information is then used to find the best shoe for you, though it should be said that you shouldn’t value your gait analysis results over and above what your feet are telling you. Generally, the best rule to follow is that if you really like how a shoe feels on a trial run, that’s the shoe for you.

4. Choose The Right Type Of Shoe

First, consider where you’re going to be running and buy shoes that will be suitable for the terrain. If most of your training is off-road, then road shoes with built-up heels are unsuitable because you will be more unstable and could turn an ankle.

Similarly, a pair of trail-running shoes with deeply studded outsoles will be very uncomfortable on paved roads, because the studs will press into the soles of your feet.

The two main types of road running shoes are neutral and stability shoes, with the latter designed for runners who overpronate (roll their foot excessively inwards on landing). If you’re not sure if you overpronate, it might be worth getting your gait analyzed.

5. Go For A Trial Run

Buying your running shoes is a big investment – so you should always test any shoes properly before buying them. Padding around on a carpet in the shop certainly won’t replicate how the shoes will feel when you’re running in them. Instead, you should “road test” them on an in-store treadmill. 

6. Run Your Routine

The key to becoming a better runner, whatever your distance, is consistency. The more regularly you run, the sooner you’ll see an improvement in your cardiovascular fitness, an increase in both your sustainable pace and your all-out speed, and better recovery before adding a slight caveat.

This only applies if you follow a sensible, realistic and progressive training plan, and be smart with how you execute it. Schedule long runs on days when you are most likely to be able to fit them in. You need to be consistent, but you also need to be realistic.”

7. Get Stronger

If you want to be speedy, first get stronger. Build strength in your glutes, legs and core, as well as improve your hip, knee and ankle strength and mobility, and work towards better flexibility. Start to think like an athlete and you’ll start to perform like one.

8. Mix Up Your Runs

The more you run, the better you tend to get at it – but after a while, you will need to vary the type of runs you do to continue improving. If you go hell for leather every time you’ll burn out or get injured, and if you stick to relaxed plods you’re unlikely to get any faster or fitter.

In general, a good training plan will be mostly easy runs, interspersed with one speedy interval or hills session, one tempo run, and perhaps one long run each week.


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