Running and posture

Osteopath Gavin Burt discusses the important of good posture when running


by Gavin Burt
Runners posture
Runner's posture

Along with the start of any training season comes the perennial questions; from seasoned runners “How can I make my running more efficient and achieve a PB”; from first time marathon runners “How can I make this daunting task a little bit easier”.

One secret to achieving better results, particularly over the longer distances, is to repeat the following mantra “Posture, Posture, Posture”.

We all want to have better posture. Standing tall is a sign of confidence, attractiveness, success and indeed prowess for the male of the species. However, that’s really more to do with ‘static’ posture, what we look like when we are standing or sitting still.

Sure this is important to a degree in how we live our lives, after all we spend so much time sitting still in front of a computer, yet for running is this type of posture important? Not so much. What is important to the runner is ‘dynamic’ posture, by which I mean the efficiency of the way we move, and a more efficient runner by definition is a more comfortable, faster and longer lasting runner. 

It’s easy to notice a runner with good posture, they are the ones who run with apparent effortlessness, and who are a joy to watch run by. They are indeed those who find that during a run they are enjoying themselves, and after a run enjoy a bit of stretching and feel good about their bodies. They are also less likely to get injured, as good dynamic posture is achieved by bringing together the collective movements of each joint in the body into a fluid, stress free, coordinated unified chain. Sounds lovely doesn’t it?

So how do we achieve good running posture?

There are so many things that we could think about when running to improve our posture. The list is almost endless, a problem compounded by the fact that no-one can think of everything at once, and the more we have to think about the more confused our running will become.

So I suggest that three major things are enough to think about while you are pounding the streets. These three things are:

1 - Think short, quick strides.

180 foot strikes per minute is fairly well accepted as the optimum cadence for most runners. In fact, up to this figure one can fairly safely say that the higher the cadence is, the better our form becomes. A higher cadence means that we use our hip joints in a more fluid way, which takes away the 'lurching' look and the vertical body bounce that characterises many runners, and which is a surefire way to create injury due to the impact it has on the knees, shins, calves and ITBs.

For those who have never tried to run with shorter but quicker strides, it will feel very odd initially. However perseverance is worthwhile, as you will benefit from the improved flexibility of your joints and muscles.

2 - Think about your arms and knees.

One of the distinctions between us as mammals and reptiles is that reptiles walk using a side-bending motion with their elbows and knees out to the side of their bodies (just look at the way a lizard bends when it walks).

We, however, twist when we walk or run. We achieve this partly by our limb joints bending in a forward-backward motion rather than the reptilian orientation of elbows and knees being orientate sideways.

The most efficient dynamic running posture for the arms and the legs is for the elbows and the knees to move in a flowing forward and backward motion. 

Elbows!

Our elbows should be close to our sides, not far from our bodies, and our hands should not cross over the midline of our chest when we run, better for the forearms to be parallel with each other as they swing backwards and forwards. The natural rotational twist that this induces through the spine and the rest of the body will activate our inherent recoil mechanism that improves momentum, thus helping improve pace at no extra effort.

Caution though. If you find it difficult to run with your elbows close to your sides then it is an indication that you have a postural shoulder problem (the remedy for which will be the subject of my next blog).

Knees!

Regarding our legs. It is commonly thought that it is good form for us to encourage our feet to face forwards when we run. I’d love to know how many runners have tried to do this and have ended up with knee pain. I certainly did, and many of my patients too.

There is a natural twist to the bones below the knee, and if your ‘twist’ is more than the accepted norm, then trying to keep your feet facing forward will cause your knees to move too far out or too far in when you run, a common short term result of which is ligament pain, and a common long term result of which is meniscal damage. 

I would encourage you to ignore your feet completely, and instead concentrate on encouraging your knees to move forwards and backwards in a straight line.

3 - think forward and up. Something my father, a rheumatologist at our local hospital, used to say to me when I was a kid has stayed with me all this time.  He complained that people used to look at the floor while they walked and that this, he believed, led to poor posture, tiredness, low mood and confidence. His advice was to always imagine you were looking up at the first floor of a house that was a hundred yards in front of you. In other words to always have your eyes and therefore your head slightly facing up.

I think what he was trying to say was that we spend far too much time looking inward, and not enough time 'facing out' at the world.

So my final tip for good posture (and a happy disposition!) is to always look ahead and slightly up, perhaps at the trees in the park, or at the first floor of a building, and to keep the intention of moving forward at the forefront of your mind. Intention is a powerful thing, it gives you purpose.


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posture, running, dynamic posture, knees, elbows
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