Posture awareness & single leg work can take your running to the next level

Next time you go out for a run, picture a snapshot of you running along, in that split second your foot connects with the ground you are balancing on one leg. 

How stable and supported is your body in that moment? What is happening to your posture, your form when that photo is taken?

Running is basically a quick succession of one legged balancing acts moving forward, one after the other, after the other, after the other….you get the picture? 

If we were to observe ourselves running in slow motion it would give us another series of snapshots into our running form.

Have you ever looked at your race photos through your fingers thinking..”Well that’s not a pretty sight”? I know I have..too many times to count! But once you get over the cringe factor these photos are really good indicators of our running form when our awareness may be at its lowest. We are more focused on getting to the finish line than worrying if the race photographer gets our “good” side.

So…how do we work on improving these snapshots?

When I am observing running technique I am looking for, among other things, posture and alignment issues. I am looking at how the foot lands and supports the whole body before it swings out behind and the other foot continues the cycle. How does the foot, the ankle, the knee, the hip react with each stride? Some runners may be leaning from the waist, the hips may collapse slightly on one side or both, the knees may drop in or the head could be leaning to one side, the arms and legs may not be helping each other out by moving contralaterally, in sync with each other and so on.

How can we address these issues?

POSTURE:

Well, first up it might be a simple case of being more aware of our posture in our everyday life as well as when we are running. Our posture is so important when we run, we want to run tall, balanced, relaxed and aligned. There is no perfect posture out there, we are all unique in how we hold ourselves, but it can help to bring our awareness to standing, sitting, walking and running well. It helps to feel comfortable, relaxed and stable in our bodies. This will, in turn, improve how we feel when we run. 

As a chi running technique coach I believe before you look at any strength work or changing your current running form the most important thing is to check in with your posture. Unfortunately we spend hours and hours hunched in front of our phones and laptops. We are moving less and less and sitting more and more. 

Posture is the base point for all efficient movement.

So, let’s take a moment to think about our posture. Stand up!

Yep up you get!

How do you feel in your body right now?

Ideally, when you get the chance look at how you stand in front of a full length mirror, from the front and the side.

But for now take a few mental notes on your current standing posture, then follow my standing posture tips, repeat the process and see if it feels any different. Here we go!

  • First of all…RELAX…and keep your breath in a nice rhythmic pattern throughout this postural focus!
  • Stand with your feet parallel to each other and ideally pointing forward. Arms relaxed down by your sides.
  • Feel your feet underneath you, feel them connecting you to the ground. 
  • Ensure your shoulders, ribcage and hips are balanced over your ankles and knees.
  • Your lower legs, ankles, feet especially your toes are relaxed and not gripping the ground.
  • Feel how all joints are relaxed throughout the body, your knees are soft. 
  • Now visualise a string attached to the crown of your head lengthening your spine and the back of your neck. Feel like you are being gently lifted up out of your hips! Keep your chin in a neutral position, looking straight ahead. Your shoulders are soft and relaxed.
  • Soften your jaw, allowing your tongue to rest on the roof of your mouth. Keep your breath quiet, calm, relaxed. Inhale slowly into your the bottom of your ribcage, feel it open up laterally and as you exhale feel your shoulders releasing down from your ears.
  • Sense your head centred on top of your spine, allowing shoulders and rib cage to relax.
  • Keep your glutes and leg muscles relaxed. 
  • Connect the dots and feel an imaginary line on each side connecting your ear, shoulder, hip and ankle.
  • Now imagine another line down the centre of your body, both sides are the mirror image of each other.
  • You are standing tall, your spine is active with a feeling of energy swirling up through the top of your head.
  • Your shoulders are relaxing down into your hands, you feel relaxed and balanced and strong, stable and grounded on both feet! 

How does this feel? Take a few mental notes and shake it out.

It may feel uncomfortable or unnatural when you follow these steps initially but over time your posture will hopefully adapt to feeling more aligned and balanced.

You should check in with your posture regularly, especially before you head out on your runs. Your aim is to bring this standing form into your running form. Of course you will be releasing one leg at a time in running motion.

Single leg strength & stability exercises:

Next up, introducing single leg exercises into your weekly routine can be a game changer for runners.  It can strengthen your feet, your ankles, glutes, hips depending on the focus of  each exercise. It can also help with your overall balance and stability.

Single leg exercises can help you build a strong, stable foundation to improve running technique and reduce the risk of injury. These exercises are best as standing exercises but single leg work can also be on the mat (using loop bands if you want to add extra resistance). Examples of these would be side planks with lateral leg lifts, clamshells, leg lifts, fire hydrants, donkey kicks on all fours. I incorporate these exercises into all my Pilates classes. It helps me as a runner and it helps everyone in my classes to strengthen and stabilise for all forms of movement. 

So going back to our snapshots, when you feel you are standing well, see how it feels to simply release one foot off the ground, feel your core muscles gently helping you to stabilise and balance (See photo 1 below)

Then switch sides..are you more stable on one leg than the other?

Once you feel your are stable and balanced holding this for ten seconds or so, the next step would be to progress onto single leg variations (loopbands above the knees can be added) deadlifts and standing clams are just two examples (See photos 2 and 3 below) Also check out the link below to a snippet of one of my  Youtube video. I am demonstrating a slo-mo forward and reverse lunge. 

When practicing these exercises always be aware of your ability to stabilise and balance. Maintain good posture and always feel in control, keeping the knees soft and shoulders relaxed. And of course maintaining a relaxed rhythmical breath throughout. If you feel you are struggling to hold at any stage simply rest out. Your ankles may need to strengthen and these exercises are a great way to do just that.

So guys, I hope you found these tips helpful. The key to success is to progress gradually and always be aware of your limitations and don’t push the boundaries until your body allows you to do so.

I hope I can help you to run taller, stronger, more balanced and aligned.

My goal is to help you move better and feel better..and look better for the return of those race day snapshots!

If you would like to sign up to one of my running programmes I would love to work with you and help you to reach your goals

https://fitnesswithemer.ie/services/running-programmes/

You can contact me at info@fitnesswithemer.ie or on my Facebook page or Instagram account.

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