Have you ever seen runners fly by you and think, “Wow, their form is beautiful!”? I certainly have seen my fair share of runners with beautiful and not so beautiful running form. Beautiful running form looks effortless, and those that have it often look like they are floating or gliding by. Running posture is the building block for beautiful form and is crucial for injury prevention and performance.
Ideally, you want your posture to be relaxed but intentional. If you are gripping and holding everything too tightly, you won’t be able to breathe, which will ultimately affect your overall strength and performance. Make sure your rib cage is stacked over your pelvis and your buttocks are not tucked under. This will allow the natural diaphragm-pelvic floor piston to function properly.
Your running posture and how you forward lean go hand in hand. You will not have a good lean if your posture is trash and vice versa. Leaning forward during running is often misinterpreted. In the field of running medicine, there are two schools of thought. One is that leaning from the hips is okay because it decreases the impact on the knee. However, more often than not, it causes hip and back pain, increases tension in the nervous system and may even cause inhibition in the glute muscles.
The second school of thought is that leaning from the ankles is more appropriate. I belong to the “leaning from the ankles” camp. Clinically, I have found that leaning from the ankles:
1. Allows you to land with your foot closer to your center of mass (COM),decreasing the breaking impulse. If you have pain in the hamstring, lower back or knee, landing with your foot closer to the COM can be a useful way to decrease your pain.
2. improves your ability to extend your hip and utilize more of posterior (or back) aspect of the pendulum. In running, your leg moves through an arc of motion like a pendulum. Runners often favor the anterior (or front) part of the pendulum.
3. Decreases stress on lower back because you are less likely to extend from the lower back when your hip is moving through its full range of motion.
4. Improves your ability to breathe and engage your deep core musclesbecause the diaphragm-pelvic floor piston is in a better position.
Determining how you are leaning forward can be difficult. A simple way to check is to stand with you head, back, hips and heels against the wall and lean forward. If your butt hits the wall, even though your shoulders came forward, you are probably leaning from the hips. If your shoulders and hips came off the wall at the same time, you are likely leaning from the ankles.
How do I improve my forward lean?
1. Be aware of your posture and breathing. Make sure you are sitting, standing, walking and running with your rib cage generally stacked over the rib cage, not tucked in or flared out. Breathe through your diaphragm.
2. Strengthen your posterior chain by incorporating exercises focused on strengthening your hamstrings, back extensors, hip extensors and calf muscles.
3. Stretch your anterior chain by performing hip flexor and quadriceps stretching.
4. Perform forward leaning drills, such as the butt kick drill or practicing your forward lean on the wall, as described above.
Remember, don’t try to change more than one thing about your running form at a time. If you change too many things at once, you won’t know what has helped or hurt you, and you may injure yourself. When you make any change to your running form, you will notice that running may be more difficult initially, but stick with it. Once your body has figured out what is going on, it will get easier again. Good luck, and please reach out if you have any questions!
Dr. Kate Mihevc Edwards is a board certified orthopedic specialist, a specialist is running and endurance medicine and the owner/CEO of Precision Performance & Physical Therapy.