I got a great question from Anne which struck a chord with me. When I first changed my running style, it was core muscles that were the limiting factor. They simply were not upto the job. It has taken quite a while for them to get there. Here is Anne’s question:
How should I be using my core whilst running and how does this relate to posture? To elaborate, I have niggles of my left achilles or my right hip (they
alternate) and I am aware that when the niggles are at their worst, my posture is poor and my core muscles are not working. Sometimes it is hard for me to work out how to get them working. What is the best way to help this?
Does good posture necessitate optimum core activation or should I be consciously pulling in my core muscles (both day to day and whilst running). I do pilates but sometimes it takes quite a while to get my core activated during my lesson.
Very simply Anne, you need to start at the core and learn the skill of running. Work on the posture first and then slowly on the conditioning to build up the strength.
Simply squat little and often throughout the day – whenever and wherever possible. Also add two footed jumps at 180 bpm.
Then add a 2-5kg bar and do overhead jumps and squats.
After you get good at that then start running very short distances (make sure you have upright posture landing on the ball of your foot under your centre of gravity) an make sure the rhythm is 180 bpm – this is important because of the frequency of the elastic recoil of your muscles. A slower rhythm will utilise muscle energy rather than ‘free’ elastic tendon recoil – however this require a lot of strength (gained by lots of squats and jumps).
If you’re not sure: film yourself running this will enable you to know if your posture is ok. Ask somebody to look or use videos of runners with perfect form to compare with. The Barefoot running Coach app is a good choice.
Hope this helps
I’m going to take the simple approach here:
You seem to have already noticed a relationship between your posture and getting injured. That implies that you can feel the difference between your “poor” posture and your “good” posture. If that’s the case, just focus on holding onto your good posture while you run.
Without seeing your body, especially in motion, there’s nothing else that I could add. “Posture” is such a complex interaction of joint alignments, that trying to give you any prescription without more data could send you in the wrong direction.
Now, that said, if you can feel what muscles are being activated when you have “good” posture, you would then be able to find exercises you can do to strengthen those muscles. And for strength, you’ll want to do a combination of heavy work with few reps/sets and a lot of rest, and some high-rep work as well. Also, since you want to be stable when you’re running, focus on exercises that require stability rather than exercises that emphasize flexion/extension (e.g. do a Youtube search for “Paloff Press” and use that rather than crunches).
BTW, you’re onto something when it comes to the relationship between core strength and running — check out what makes Usain Bolt so fast (according to his coach): http://xeroshoes.com/barefoot-running-tips/muscles/
The Balanced Runner – Jae Gruenke
It’s a great question and my favorite thing to talk about because it’s very misunderstood.
The most important thing to remember about running is that “posture” is actually an irrelevant concept and you shouldn’t “hold” anything. Everything moves when you run, including your core, and so the real question is what kind of movement you should be looking for.
Most of us have two legs and neither one is in the middle, so a lateral shift of weight is necessary when you run or you won’t organize your weight over each leg properly, and misery and injury will result. We do this through a counterrotation of our upper and lower body — really a sort of spiraling action that turns the torso into a spring as well as our legs. The better you do this, the better you will use your legs. In fact, if you get this right your legs will entirely take care of themselves — no overstriding, no excess stress. Just lovely, gliding, efficient movement. If you overdo it you’re salsa dancing and you may interfere with the ability to have your legs move straight forward and back, and cause them to start twisting instead. (Underdoing it causes twisting as well, leading to overstriding, overpronation, ITB syndrome, and orthotics.
I wrote an article which you’ll find here explaining this further: http://balancedrunner.com/pdf/12Things-2.pdf
You should also take a look at this YouTube video we made: http://youtu.be/EAXIieLyW9A You’ll be able to see that when Oliver restricts the movement of his pelvis by tightening his core, it actually CAUSES overstriding. And then when he lets his pelvis move his feet land underneath him.
And finally, this is so important that I have an entire set of audio Feldenkrais lessons to help you develop your ability to do it correctly. It’s called the Core Action Collection and you can find it here: www.cdbaby.com/jaegruenkegcfp.
I hope that’s helpful to you!
Hi Anne – You should certainly be using your core when running and it is indeed integral to good posture. Firstly it’s important to understand what the core is. Basically if you chop off your moving parts (not recommended!) you are left with your core – a great definition of it’s functional role is “The ability of your trunk to support the effort and forces from your arms and legs, so that muscles and joints can perform in their safest, strongest and most effective positions” (Elphinstone and Pook, 1998). Often we don’t fully understand what the core is, focussing solely on the stomach muscles. We think that by pulling in at the belly button we are engaging the core. However, more often than not I find when people do this they push out the chest too much and try to flatten the stomach. This restricts breathing and puts tension in the upper body.
In Chi Running (as in T’ai Chi) the focus point for engaging core muscles is the dantien, an energy centre three finger-widths down from the belly button and two inches into the spine – the body’s center of mass. If you engage this point there should be no sucking in or pushing out, just a feeling of being strong, grounded and centered.
Good posture (vertical alignment) is when your body weight is supported by your structure – bones, ligaments, tendons and fascia. Whether this be on both legs when standing or one leg (support phase) when running. If you are out of alignment vertically (eg bent at the waist), directionally (eg feet turning out, knee twisting in), symmetrically (eg hips dropping on landing or imbalanced arm swing) then muscles and joints are over used and put under unnecessary stress. A strong and stable core is essential for runners. In Chi Running the focus is on bringing the workload to the core. When running, core muscles should keep the spine in a neutral position with pelvis level allowing hips to extend and no hyperextension in the lower back. Neck muscles should be relaxed so arms can swing freely from stable shoulders.
There are lots of good core exercises but it is important to know why you are doing them and what muscles you are working on. I would say this but it is always good to have a professional demonstrate and watch you doing the exercises to make sure you have the right technique and understanding. I see too many bad planks, sit-ups, squats and lunges etc. It is also important to know of any muscular imbalances you might have – tight hip flexors, weak glutes is common due to too much sitting. Almost certainly misalignment and / or muscular imbalance with be causing the achilles and hip problem and it could be very obvious from watching you run.
The good thing is that you are identifying that your niggles are worst when posture is poor so you should stop running when you get to this point otherwise you will be susceptible to injury. Continuously practice posture and core exercises and gradually build the distance / time on feet you can running with good posture. Practice makes perfect as your body learns by repetition but make sure it is perfect practice then you’ll be able to go on and enjoy your running for years to come. Best of luck!
PS Have a read of my article on posture here at http://www.barefootbeginner.com/2013/04/23/the-key-to-good-running-form/
Hi Anne – It’s probably worth trying to figure out why your posture feels worse on certain days. Perhaps you’re doing something in your daily life that exacerbates your imbalances? Or it might not be something physical, but perhaps that you’ve been more stressed on certain days than others which may have affected how you breathe and therefore affected your posture.
Balancing exercises are useful to get your core working in a more functional way.
Remember also that if you have any tightness or restriction in your body it will affect the flow of movement when you run. If the flow is getting ‘stuck’ somewhere, you’ll develop niggles as the run progresses.
Posture is fluid, it’s not about one single position, so try not to force anything. I think (if you’re the same Anne!) we’ve talked about the use of imagery to encourage a more gentle lengthening, rather than forcing your spine straight, so maybe focus on using this approach a bit more. Identify areas that are tight and try to loosen them. May throw some yoga into the mix. There’s sometimes too much emphasis on the core and core exercises.
Are you still doing all your running drills? It’s often just a case of getting stronger in your own body by using different drills, rather than trying to have perfect posture.
Most important: relax, breathe, smile.
Many thanks once again to the coaches for being so generous with their time and advice. You can find their answers to other Barefoot FAQ here.
The Barefoot Beginner facebook group is growing all the time and a great place to hang out nd discuss all things barefoot/minimal realted. We are a friendly bunch and you would be made very welcome.