A common lamentation I hear from my patients is that they never were taught how to run. My response is generally, isn’t that the beauty of running? You’ve covered however many miles, seen some awesome trails, had some great memories and all you did was buy a nice pair of shoes and hit the ground running (pun intended).
We all have settled into what our body has determined is the efficient way to achieve the task at hand. However, if you’re battling recurrent injuries, maybe it’s time to look at your running form.
Everyone knows about heel striking and will quickly blame all issues on that alone; however, what causes you to heel strike…..? Your foot is landing too far in front of your center of mass (trunk). There are many running faults that can be improved upon with simply adjusting your trunk positioning.
“Ideal running form” is a trunk lean of 10 degrees. I place that in quotations because of what I mentioned before: the variability of running form is vast even among elite runners. There are many ways to get the job done. That being said…. there are some metrics that are improved upon when you lean forward.
By leaning forward, you are transferring your body and momentum over your feet. This will mitigate over-striding and therefore reduce the braking impulse that occurs due to over-striding. It improves your efficiency and reduces the amount of force your body has to absorb with each stride.
With a forward trunk lean, your pelvis will be positioned such that you can access more of your hip extension for push-off. We utilize triple extension (ankle, knee, and hip) to generate power to push us forward as we run. Our glutes are powerful muscles so we want to maximize their function. If we are unable to properly use our glutes for push-off, this may lead to overuse injuries of our calves or hamstrings
Less Strain on your Back
As we mentioned above, a forward trunk lean positions your pelvis such that you can access more hip extension. A common fault I see with runners who run too upright, is they tend to compensate for hip extension by extension (arching) through their low back. Repetitive extension at your low back can cause pain during and following runs. Additionally, when arching through your back, you are assuming a posture that makes it challenging to utilize your core. Not to mention, this less than ideal posture will impact your ability to breathe efficiently.
Less Strain on the Knees
By shifting your center of mass forward, you are reducing the demand on your quadricep muscles (the muscles in the front of your thigh) to absorb your weight. With less need for energy absorption by your quads, there is less of a strain arriving at your knees.
How do I improve my trunk lean?
Here’s your checklist for a good trunk lean
1. Flexibility through your quads and hip flexor muscles
Stretches for your hip flexors and quads are great. You also want to add in exercises where you are using those muscles in a lengthened position (eccentrics)
2. A strong core
The core we are talking about is your deep core, your transverse abdominis. Exercises that assist with this are bird dogs, bear planks, dead bugs.
3. Strength through the back of your legs (glutes, hamstrings, and calves)
Single leg exercises are great for this because it can bring out some side to side differences. Some personal favorites of mine of hip thrusters, RDL’s, and eccentric calf raises against a wall
4. Good posture
In order to maintain good core engagement with your trunk lean, you want to maintain positioning of your ribs over your pelvis. Meaning the front of your ribs should be in line with the front of your pelvis.
Two of my favorite drills that I give to my patients to help incorporate a good forward trunk lean into their running are below.
You lean your whole body forward (like in the picture), hinging forward from your ankles. Once you reach the limit that you can lean forward without falling, you continue your momentum forward into a jog. Perform this 10 times as a a warm up stride
If you are struggling with recurrent injuries related to running or are curious what your trunk lean look like, it may be helpful to have a gait analysis performed by a physical therapist that is trained in running analysis.