Do your neck and shoulders feel tight after running? Do you struggle to feel like your core and glutes work as you’re running? Chances are we need to evaluate your running form in a slightly different view.
Most runners are drilled with the importance of their core and their glutes working. The term “hip drop” is consistently mentioned as a reason for injury. Does your knee go in as you run/walk/squat -- OH NO! Hit more clam shells and planks they say. Still having pain? Do more band walks and planks!
While clam shells, band walks, and planks certainly have their purpose in runners’ strength routines, they are often over-emphasized as the cure. Run form evaluation frequently focuses on the frontal plane - that is how you look and move if you were to see your reflection while facing a mirror. Although we can learn a lot about your biomechanics by looking at you straight on, there are two other planes of movement that are part of our 3 dimensional life.
Today we’re focusing on the sagittal plane -- what you look like from the side. How many runners do you see bent forward at the waist, seemingly falling forward. This only worsens with fatigue and soon the runners look like they can barely stay upright. Another common posture problem is when a runner’s head begins to lean forward in front of their shoulders. They’re using every muscle in their neck to keep their eyes on the road in front of them. Imagine doing that for an hour run; how’s your neck or back going to feel?
Why does this matter?
We can link quite a few common running injuries to poor running posture in the sagittal plane. Things like: neck and back pain, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, knee and hip pain, etc.
Posture is how you positionally hold your body. In any position you are going to use muscles to hold that posture. We know that muscles work best in certain positions. Often muscles do not have an easy time firing if they’re in the wrong position. Think about helping a friend lift a heavy couch. If you stand on one leg and twist your upper body to the side, you will not be very strong and struggle to lift the couch. In the same light, if you square up to the couch, hip hinge, brace your core, lift with your legs, etc - you will be much stronger and you can hold the couch for longer.
When we look at your running form we want to see efficient, strong posture. This way you can run fast for a long time with the least amount of strain on your body.
We know that “neutral position” is the point at which the body uses the least amount of energy to stay upright. As we move we need muscles and joints to work together to pull/push us along. If you put muscles or joints in a weird position and attempt to use them, it may not work so well. So, if you find yourself hinging forward, flexing in your lumbosacral spine, at your waist and attempt to use your core or get your glutes to fire as you run - you’re going to have a rough go of it. Even if you’re able to plank for 10 hours and do band walks with the heaviest resistance, you’re not going to run well if you’re in the wrong posture.
Common postures we see
Neck in front of shoulders - As you run, are your ears above your shoulders? Are your ears out front and your head wanting to fall forward? This is going to cause some serious strain on the upper back and neck.
Hinged forward at the waist - sometimes a forward lean becomes a forward fold. Are your shoulders in front of your waist? This will lead to a strain of lower back and the neck/upper back area.
Sitting in a chair posture - is your chest upright but your butt sitting back behind you? This is going to be really hard to run with your glutes and hamstrings leading to a more quad dominant form.
What is a good running posture in the sagittal plane?
Stand tall, center of gravity is over your feet, your head is over your shoulders which is over your core. As you run tall, your feet can now land under your body, your neck and shoulder muscles can relax, your core and glutes have a chance to work, your hip has a chance to go into extension.
We can certainly get into nuances of what each joint should be doing, but each person is going to have limitations in certain places based on structure and function. Structure being things like muscle tightness and joints not moving while function encompasses things like muscles not firing, muscles being weak, etc.
Come in for evaluation, we will uncover your limitations and make a plan for fixing them.
Until then, be sure to run tall and try to notice run form in other runners as you’re out. Film yourself running from the side and try to see if your joints appear to be more stacked atop each other or are some far in front or behind?
Give your joints and muscles the best chance to work.