Running is a spinal activity

One of the most important yet misunderstood concepts in running form is that running is a SPINAL activity. This misconception leads to running against, rather than with, natural biomechanics, locking the hips and shoulders, and moving forward like a brick with legs and arms. Unfortunately, this approach not only works against the body’s natural mechanics, it can set the stage for frustrating runs, pain and, ultimately, injury.

A great way to observe natural running form is to visit a soccer field on a Saturday morning and watch the 4- and 5-year-olds play. They run with ease, effortlessly, intensely focused on the ball, not thinking about their form or how hard it is to run. Watch their shoulder girdle and their pelvic girdle – do they move like a brick with legs? Of course not, they flow, practically glide across the field, using their entire bodies, with movement initiated from their spines, unimpeded by the rest of their body.

Somewhere along the way in life, we stopped running purely for joy, then picked it up again for exercise. And, maybe, we thought about it too much, and when we did we reasoned that the legs propel us forward, and we are to pump our arms for added assistance. We thought that movement of our torso was unnecessary, wasted movement and tried to reduce or eliminate it.

What we need to do instead is to relearn how we ran as children, to get our flow back, to run with ease. And the first step is to understand that running and walking are spinal movements. The spine initiates the movement, which leads to rotation of the pelvic and shoulder girdles, which moves the legs and arms. The legs follow, not lead.

Try this little exercise to experience spinal movement for yourself . Stand, in a balanced position, and take a deep, diaphragmatic breath. Take another, and as you exhale, send a wave of relaxation through your body. Take another and this time, as you exhale, notice any areas of tension and release this tension. Continue taking deep, relaxing, diaphragmatic breaths as you begin to walk. As you are walking, visualize your spine in the lead, hips and shoulders, legs and arms following. Notice the difference in movement, and any attempts by your body to resist the natural rotation and flow of your body and release any tension that interferes with natural flow.

Practice this exercise often, when you’re walking and as you run, until you stop resisting the natural movement and flow of your body.

Run like a child. Run with ease. Run for life.

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