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Relax your abdominal muscles when you run. Yes, that’s right, relax them.

As I was running with a friend this morning, she shared that she was concerned about how her feet were landing and her lack of a forward lean, both important aspects of running form. However, after watching her run for a bit, I asked her if her if she was contracting her abdominal muscles. She replied that she was.

The reason I asked her about her abs rather than directly answering her concerns was that if your spine and torso can’t move properly it will not help to make modifications elsewhere. First the spine, then the torso (including the abs), the pelvic and shoulder girdle, and then the arms and legs.

If your spine and torso aren’t able to move naturally, as is the case when you run with tight abdominals, any changes you make in your form will have to be counteracted somewhere else in your body. For example, if your abdominals are contracted when you run, this pulls the pelvis upward (tilts it back, or retroverts, to be specific), pulls the rib cage downward, and creates a center of tension in your body. Your spine will not be able to move freely, nor will your hips. All of this then impacts the forward lean and, to a lesser extent, footfall.

This is why I’m often reluctant to giving running ‘tips’, but would rather help someone to rebuild their form. You can’t separate the legs from the body (nor would you want to, I suspect), and as western humans, most of us have been out of balance, posturally speaking, for so long that we essentially need to relearn how to run.

For a great example of beautiful running form, head out to the soccer fields one Saturday morning and watch the younger children run. They don’t have to think about their running form because it hasn’t gotten out of balance yet. For adults, we have to relearn the form we were born with.

But first, we have to relax our abdominals.

Running with ease

No pain, no gain.

Motivational? Maybe. Sound mechanical running theory? No.

This whole 80’s approach of ‘no pain, no gain’ has led us down a path to injury, overtraining, and, well, pain. And, given the choice between running with ease, as the body is designed, with ‘flow’, and running with force, against human dynamics, pushing through pain, who among us would choose the latter?

It’s simply inaccurate to believe that running must be painful to be beneficial. In fact, when we run as our bodies are designed, with ease and in keeping with the flow of our natural mechanics, and with sensible training, we can enjoy running and even perform at a higher – and faster! – level.

Take, for example, the spine. Many of us were taught to believe that we should keep our shoulders and hips squared when we run. We’re told that movement of our arms and pelvis is unnecessary movement that requires extra energy. What actually happens when we run in this manner is that by counteracting the natural rotation of the spine during running, we have to exert extra effort to work against our natural mechanics.

There are many benefits of running with ease, including:

  • more enjoyable running
  • the feeling of ‘flow’ as you run
  • lower injury rate due to proper mechanics
  • faster running times with less effort
  • a longer running career

So, the next time you go out for a run, focus on running with ease, with flow. Take deep breaths using your diaphragm muscles instead of pulling and pushing air in and out. Allow your spine to take the lead, the shoulder and pelvic girdles following along, the arms and legs along for the ride.

Enjoy your run. Run like a child. Run with ease.

Runners: Use your legs as shock absorbers.

Running Tip of the Week: Think of your legs as shock absorbers. As you land, use each body segment to dampen the impact of your body reconnecting with the earth. First the forefoot, then the heel, then the legs, with knees and hips bent and relaxed, all contribute to a ‘soft landing’.

Running Imagery: Your Spine as Washing Machine

A strong image can often be helpful when learning a new skill or modifying one, and running is no exception. So, the next time you go for a run, think of your spine as a washing machine!

Envision your spine as the center of your running form. It is long, tall and straight, from the tail bone to the top of the head. This pelvis-to-head segment leans forward from the hip joint, and is the source of propulsion for your run.

One of the many misconceptions about running that I encounter is that the torso should move through space like a brick – shoulders and hips held square, with little rotation of the shoulder and pelvic girdles. However, this approach actually blocks the natural movement of the spine and the natural mechanics of running.

Instead, think of your spine and your torso as a washing machine. The spine is the agitator, long and tall and the center of activity. The water and clothes follow along with the movement of the agitator, passively moving back and forth with the current initiated by the central source of power and movement.

The movement of the spine when running is similar – the spine at the center, vertebrae rotating left and right moving the shoulder and pelvic girdle, the contents of the torso following along with movement initiated by the spine.

So, the next time you go for a run, think of your spine and your torso as a washing machine. The spine is at the center, the central power source of your run. And remember, the spine moves the pelvic and shoulder girdles, which move the legs and the arms.

Don’t resist natural running form, relax and let your body do what it is beautifully designed to do.

To improve your running form, first address your everyday posture

Many people come to me and say things like, “I have tight quads,” or shortened hamstrings or a tight piriformis. Then they ask what they should do to correct it. They often expect me to show them a stretch or a compensatory strengthening exercise and are often surprised at my response.

Rather than addressing the isolated muscle, it is important to follow with another question: “Why?” Why is the muscle tight, what is the source of the tightness? People are not generally born with one muscle or muscle group atypically tight, rather, it is likely that the way that they are moving is contributing to the tightness. The true origin often has little or even nothing to do with their running, though it likely affects their runs.

For example, if a person sits most of the day in a slumped posture, their hamstring muscles may become tight. Then, when they go out for their weekend run, the tight hamstrings have an effect on their running form. Further, if they attempt to run with proper form, they may be unable to because of the tight hamstrings.

This is why teaching participants how to balance their postures when they stand, sit, walk, move – even sleep – is a part of every Long May U Run clinic. The body that we run in is the same body we live in when not running. And what we do when we’re not running must affect our runs.

So, the next time you hear someone saying something like, “Running injuries are due to the prevalence of tight iliopsoas muscles,” remember to ask the follow-up question – “Why?” Why do so many people have tight iliopsoas muscles? The answer to the second question leads to the solution that will help your running. Chances are that the source is a daily posture that is out of balance.

Then, learn to balance your posture in your daily activities and to run with balanced running form so that you can enjoy a lifetime of running.

And please continue to stop by the Long May U Run website and Facebook page for continued information on running form and future events.

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