Have you recently been out running and, as tiredness crept up on you, you noticed your posture and technique completely crumbled? In a recent undulating 10K, where I set off too fast and was hanging on for what felt like miles, my head started bobbing from side to side and I just couldn’t pick up my knees; it felt like I was dragging my feet along the ground. I wasn’t as fit as I thought!
‘Don’t accept that running should feel painful,’ says Mike Antoniades, founder and performance director of The Running School (www.runningschool.co.uk). ‘If it hurts, you are doing something wrong: movement dysfunction and running technique are the two primary causes of injury.’
The more you run, the more you realise promoting good posture is paramount to injury-free running. It’s quite simple. ‘After all running is nothing more than a sequence of alternate hops from one leg to the other while trying your utmost to stop your head (being the weight of a pinball) from falling off your shoulders!’ says Mitchell Phillips, a running technique analyst (www.strideuk.com).
‘Good posture is the ability to maintain a straight line running through your ears, shoulders, hip joint and ankles while in a standing stance or during the support phase of your running stride,’ says Danny Dreyer, founder and CEO of Chi Running (www.chirunning.com). ‘When you’re running, or just standing, it’s important to allow your structure (bones, ligaments and tendons) to support your body and not have your muscles doing this work,’ states Danny. Dreyer says that if you’re trying to run economically, your biggest concern should be using the least amount of muscle to move you forward. ‘If your muscles are working to support your body weight during each support stance, you’re overworking them and you’ll have less strength to do the actual act of running,’ he explains.
‘To help good posture, I think it’s important to understand what contributes to bad posture,’ believes Mitch, ‘and the chances are the problem is right beneath you! Most of us spend the best part of ten hours a day sitting, either in front of a computer or driving a car. Prolonged periods of sitting causes the hip flexors (iliopsoas) to become short and tight, reducing your optimum stride length (leg rotation) and causing tightness in the calves and lower back. While you’re sitting, your arms are likely to be stretched out in front of you to operate a keyboard or a steering wheel. This makes your chest muscles become short and tight and can make your shoulders rounded, which in turn can restrict your rib cage/diaphragm and lungs – affecting respiratory performance when you run.’
If you look at elite and experienced runners you see that they have an “elasticity” to their running motion. This is a learned process that comes with correct running technique and years of practice. Mike says many recreational runners don’t think about their technique: ‘This can cause inefficiencies in landing, cause runners to spend longer on the ground, which then leads to overuse of certain muscle groups (normally the quads and the hip flexors) and puts stress through the lower body. Running posture then becomes a leaning mechanical shuffle rather than an elastic movement.’
To change your running posture you need to go through a retraining process. ‘We call it movement re-patterning,’ states Mike. ‘The most efficient running motion is when the body has very little up and down movement (minimising bouncing) the arms are relaxed as they move, but like mini pistons backwards and forwards and the legs are cycling with the heel coming up above your knee when it’s off the ground.’ His advice is:
1. Don’t over-stride
Your feet should land under your body (centre of gravity) not ahead of it (over-striding).
2. You should land lightly on your feet.
The most efficient way is on the balls of your feet. If you are a heel-to-toe runner then practise landing lighter and minimise the time you are on the ground. To change to running on the balls of the feet (without touching the heel down first) practise ten minutes at a time so you can get used to it gradually.
3. Lower leg cycling motion
When your foot leaves the ground bring your heel up to towards your backside to contract the hamstring (the back of your leg) and your gluteus maximus (your bum muscles). This creates a cycling motion and will shorten your stride length.
Coordination of the arms with the legs will eliminate bounce and get you moving forward rather than upwards. The arms should be bent at the elbow at 90 degrees and should move back and forward.
‘These are not instant fixes,’ stresses Mike, ‘and it may take five 45-minute sessions to change your technique. Do short runs of 20-30 seconds and incorporate one change at a time.’
Do we fall foul of bad posture over longer distances, increasing our injury risks? Mitch says yes: ‘Promoting a good upright frame when running may not feel like it makes much difference over a couple of kilometres every other day, but if training for distance, the accumulative effect of running greater than ten miles bent over, with rounded shoulders and your neck protruding forwards is highly likely to deliver negative consequences… you’d be amazed how many people we treat with neck and shoulder problems the Monday after a marathon!’ ‘If you don’t feel your core is engaged with every step you take, then it’s not,’ adds Danny, ‘and your posture will degrade accordingly. Imagine you’re being pulled upward and forward by a thin cable attached to a huge parasail.’ ‘Look ahead of you, not at your feet. Think light and think stealth and relax your hands,’ concludes Mitch.
‘When you’re standing in good posture you should be able to look down and see your shoe laces,’ says Danny. ‘If you’re overweight or large breasted you can check your posture line looking at a side view of your body in a full-length mirror. Your shoulders, hips and ankles should always line up. A sign of bad posture can be back pain (lower or higher), if you hold tension in your glutes, calves, ankles or feet, or if you have posterior neck pain.’
Sitting at a desk shortens your hamstrings, adds too much curve in your thoracic vertebrae, too much tension on the back of your neck and restricts your circulation. What can you do to counteract this? ‘If you are desk-bound stand up, shake out and move around at least once per hour,’ advises Danny. ‘Don’t lean against the back of your chair unless against a lumbar support cushion. Never slouch. Stay on your sitting bones. Lift at the crown of your head. Set your computer monitor higher. Keep both feet firmly on the ground and knees bent at 90º.’ ‘The hip flexor stretch (45-60 seconds), and the chest stretch (45-60 seconds) will counteract the “foetal” position we adopt when awake,’ says Mitch.