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.
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 colorful, six-inch acrylic nails, flowing hair, a face fully adorned with makeup, and jazzy, self-designed, avant-garde race outfits.
In reference to her track fashion and style, Flo-Jo is famously quoted as saying, “Dress good to look good. Look good to feel good. And feel 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 hone in on the running prowess of Florence Griffith Joyner, looking at what running form tips we can learn from the fastest woman ever.
We’re going to look at:
- 10 Running Form Lessons from Flo-Jo
- How to Improve Your Sprinting Form to Run Like Florence Griffith Joyner
Let’s get started!
10 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.
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.
Although the video quality isn’t all that good, you can see Florence Griffith Joyner sprinting here.
#1: 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 traveling, increasing coordination, motivation, and maximum velocity.
#2: 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.
#3: 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.
#4: 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.
#5: 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 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 traveled forward so that she could land on her midfoot rather than her heel.
By keeping her foot under her center 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).
#6: 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.
#7: 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 traveled 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.
#8: 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).
#9: 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 traveled 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 favoring 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.
#10: 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.
How to Improve Your Sprinting Form to Run Like Flo-Jo
If you are looking to correct your sprinting form and take running form tips, you might as well take running lessons from the fastest sprinter ever.
It can feel overwhelming to try to change your sprinting form all at once, but it is possible to take a piecemeal approach and make real improvements in your sprinting technique.
Start with one area of the body at a time.
For example, if you tend to look down at your feet, focus just on keeping a neutral head and forward gaze.
Use running form cues like “eyes ahead” or “look to the finish line” and recite your cue in your mind during your workout.
After you’ve mastered one change, move onto the next aspect of your running form you would like to improve upon.
By learning running lessons from Flo-Jo and other notable runners that have passed, we can keep their indomitable spirit alive and learn an incredible amount.
For a variety of running drills to practice to help improve your form, check out our 8 Powerful Running Drills and try them out before your next workout.