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Running Form 101: Part 2

Posture

This is the second article in a three-part series on running form analysis. In this article, I analyze Attain Wellness Head Strength Coach Ben Ilaria’s running form. 

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Although running is the most accessible sport to humans (in some cases, runners don’t even need shoes), it is by no means an easy sport. Proper running form is critical to performance, much like how a golfer’s swing dictates whether the golf ball lands on the green or in the water. 

So what exactly does proper running form look like?

Posture

Running is a forward motion, and your posture plays a critical role in maintaining forward momentum. Thanks to the forces of gravity, a slight forward lean is all it takes to carry your momentum forward. 

In the picture above, Ben demonstrates a good forward lean. The vertical green line indicates the tilt of his torso, while the horizontal green line shows that instead of having anterior tilt, his hips are in a neutral position. So what is causing this forward lean? The answer lies in what’s happening further down the body.

Try this test out. Stand tall somewhere with cushioned space in front of you. Gradually start leaning forward without tilting your hips, and try to keep your whole foot on the ground. If performed correctly, you should start to feel that your forward lean is initiated by a tilt at the ankle joint, not the hips.

Observe the orange circle at the bottom of the image. Notice how the longer leg has an anterior tilt while the foot (inside the orange circle) is still in contact with the ground. When the push-off leg is straightened to begin the next gait cycle, we should be able to draw a straight line (the orange line in the image) from the ankle joint to the shoulders.

An anterior pelvic tilt can be a sign of a weak core and tight hips. Both a weak core and tight hips can negatively impact your running efficiency by causing breakdowns in form. A strong core is needed for stability, while mobile hips allow runners to increase their stride length (which is a component of running speed). 

Below are exercises and stretches you can do to strengthen your core and loosen your hips.

Core Strength (Anti-Flexion): A core-strengthening exercise is the Front-Loaded Walking Lunge. Although the quadriceps are the primary movers, core strength is still required to maintain stability throughout the movement. 

This exercise helps strengthen the core muscles to resist flexion because of how the weight is distributed. Since the weight is towards the front of your body, you have to maintain an upright posture to avoid falling forward. A strong core allows you to keep that upright position.

This exercise is also more accessible than the Front Squat, which requires far more total-body mobility. Either dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell can be used as the load at the front of your body — whichever is most comfortable for you based on your ability. If you cannot perform the exercise with weight, start with bodyweight and focus on keeping an upright posture. 

How to perform the Front-Loaded Walking Lunge:

  1. Grab a dumbbell, kettlebell, or barbell; rack the weight on your shoulders
  2. Take a step forward and get into a lunge position. Make sure that your front foot stays completely on the ground. (Much has been made of how your knee should be positioned in relation to your foot — as long as your whole foot remains on the ground, you will have performed a successful rep. However, always try your best to keep your knee stacked over your ankle or midfoot).
  3. Pushing through your front foot, raise yourself back up and bring your back foot to meet your front foot. (To increase the difficulty of the exercise, instead of bringing the back foot to meet the front foot, go right into the next lunge).
  4. Continue alternating legs for 8-12 reps on each leg. 
  5. Repeat for three sets.

Tight Hips: Tight hips inhibit knee drive when running. Although high knee drives are associated with sprinting, long distance runners should still have the capacity to get their knees up high. After all, speed is a product of stride frequency and stride length, and if you want to increase stride length, you need to increase your knee drive. 

Keeping your hips loose will promote their mobility. Proper warmups and cool downs are a great time to stretch muscle and avoid hip tightness. 

The Quadruped Hip Extension and Pigeon Pose are great exercises for keeping the hips loose. Although the Quadruped Hip Extension actively targets the glutes, it passively stretches the hips throughout the movement, which makes it a great move at the beginning of your dynamic warmup. The Pigeon Pose directly targets the hips and allows you to get a deep stretch.

How to Perform the Quadruped Hip Extension:

  1. Start in a table top position.
  2. Keeping your leg bent at a 90 degree angle, lift one leg at a time up towards the ceiling (or sky if your outside).
  3. Hold this position for two-three seconds, then lower back to the starting position
  4. Repeat steps 2-3 on the opposite leg.
  5. Alternate until you have performed 8-12 reps on each leg.
  6. Repeat for three sets.

How to perform the Pigeon Pose:

  1. Get into a high plank position (yoga plank).
  2. Draw your right knee to your chest and invert your leg so that your right foot comes as close to your left hand as possible.
  3. Sink your hips into the ground. Extend your arms forward to get an even deeper stretch.
  4. Hold for 20-30 seconds).
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 on the opposite leg.
  6. Repeat for 2-3 sets depending on your level of hip tightness. 

Incorporate these exercises into your warmup and cool down routines to promote core strength and hip mobility so that you can maintain a proper forward tilt. 

Remember: your forward lean should be initiated at the ankle joint. Tilting at the hips can be a sign of a weak core and tight hips, and negatively impact running performance.

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This was Part 2 of our Running Form 101 series. Keep an eye out for Part 3 to find more ways to improve running form and become a more efficient runner!

Running Form 101: Part 1

Toe Out

This is the first article in a three-part series on running form analysis. In this article, I analyze Attain Wellness Head Strength Coach Ben Ilaria’s and my running form.


Although running is the most accessible sport to humans (in some cases, runners don’t even need shoes), it is by no means an easy sport. Proper running form is critical to performance, much like how a golfer’s swing dictates whether the golf ball lands on the green or in the water.

So what exactly does proper running form look like?

Leg Positioning

After reading this sentence, stand up and walk around, looking down at your feet the entire time.

Were your feet pointing forward? Out? In?

Your knee wants to point in the direction that you’re moving. Your feet, ideally, should be pointing in the same direction. That said, walking is an activity that produces minor impact forces; force exerted on the knee will be minimal.

Running, on the other hand, produces higher impact forces. If your knee and foot are pointing in separate directions, it will produce too much external rotation of the lower leg, causing tears in the medial meniscus tendon (referred to as “runner’s knee”). (Breakwater) To prevent this injury when running, it is important to make sure that your knee and foot are pointed forward.

Ben
Paul

Examine the pictures above. What do you notice?

The pictures above show Ben (left) and I (right) immediately after the toe-off phase of the gait cycle. Ben’s right foot is toeing out, whereas mine is straight. If Ben’s foot positioning were to stay the same throughout the gait cycle, he might start to develop runner’s knee.

Upon further observation, however, we notice that Ben actually strikes the ground with a forward-facing foot. Additionally, his knee and foot are pointed in the same direction. So what’s happening?

The answer lies in the hips: either hip tightness (which can cause tibia torsion), or Ben has retroverted hips. (Gonser)

Hip Tightness: Hip extensor muscles (muscles activated by the back leg in both pictures) are made up of the semimembranosous, semitedinosus, bicep femoris, and gluteus maximus. If your job requires you to sit for long periods of time, your hamstrings can become tight.  The standing hamstring stretch can help the hamstrings return to a lengthened position, promoting internal rotation of the leg back to center.

How to perform the standing hamstring stretch:

  1. Find an elevated surface; place one foot on the elevated surface
  2. Maintain a straight back and elevate your chest by rotating your shoulders backward
  3. Tilting at the hips, reach towards the elevated foot
  4. Hold for 30 seconds; repeat on opposite leg

Standing Hamstring Stretch

If performed correctly, you will feel a stretch in the back of your thigh.

Retroverted Hips: Some people are born with retroverted hips. Retroverted hips refers to a phenomenon where the thigh bone or pelvis are naturally rotated backwards. (Gonser) To ask someone to turn in their foot can cause more harm than good. Instead, it is recommended to promote a midfoot or forefoot strike and strengthen the muscles throughout the core to promote stability. The pawback drill and plank variations are great exercises to help improve in these areas.

How to perform the pawback drill:

  1. Stand tall next to a fence, wall, or other support
  2. Raise your inside leg up so that your thigh is parallel to the ground
    1. Your leg should be bent at a 90 degree angle at the knee
  3. Lower your leg towards the ground, extending it throughout so that it is straight when it makes contact with the ground
    1. As your foot strikes the ground, drag it back it along the ground to stimulate glute and hamstring activation
  4. Begin the next rep by contracting your hamstring and raising your leg back to the starting position

How to perform a plank:

  1. Get into a pushup position with grounded feet and hands underneath your shoulders
  2. Engage the muscles of the “core,” which include the glutes, abdominals, and obliques
  3. Hold for 30-45 seconds
  4. If this variation is easy to perform, move support from the hands to the elbows
    1. Additionally, the side plank variation targets the obliques
Yoga Plank
Forearm Plank

Incorporate these exercises in your pre and/or post-workout routines. Additionally, if you work a desk job perform the standing hamstring stretch at least two times a day to counteract the shortening effects of sitting and to promote internal rotation of the leg back to the center position.


This was Part 1 of our Running Form 101 series. Keep an eye out for Parts 2 and 3 to find more ways to improve running form and become a more efficient runner!

Citations:

Gonser, Steve. “Why Do I Toe Out When I Run?” RunSmart Online, 3 Apr. 2016, runsmartonline.com/articles/efficiency/why-do-i-toe-out-when-i-run/.

Fork on the left, phone on the right.

I was recently at a restaurant for my sister’s birthday when I noticed something immediately after walking in. We were in a small little place called Jack’s Wife Freda (excellent food by the way) and we were all waiting for our table. After taking a quick glance around the restaurant I noticed that almost every single couple, group, or even lone diner, had their cell phones out on top of the dinner table. Some face up, some face down.

This is not the first discovery or notice I’ve taken to this phenomenon, however it was definitely the most dramatic and obvious.

Now seeing this immediately frustrated and disappointed me. It made me realize how much our smartphones have taken over our lives and how much power these devices have over us. That’s right, these phones control us, not the other way around.

It seems like with the emergence of these phones that we have become incapable of even putting them away for 45 minutes to have dinner with a friend or significant other and only be thinking about, and living in, that moment. Our phones can’t leave our peripheral vision even during a time when we should (and claim to want) to be with those around you, and be completely present in the situation.

Now some may see a buzz or see a notification pop up and immediately grab it, no matter if we are talking or the person we are with is talking. We check it, maybe we respond, then put it back down. But even if we don’t check it, it still lights up or makes a sound. Very rarely do I find that if our phones are on the table that we actually silence them completely. So whether you think you’re being nice and not checking your phone, the people you are with still feel the buzz on the table or see your screen light up.

I really want to challenge you, myself, and all of these offenders to change the way we all behave. Because I know I fall into this habit from time to time. It’s very hard to keep this post from being a rant on how much I dislike this, so try to take this as genuinely as I mean it, no matter how I may be coming across.

The people we spend time with in person, face to face, deserve the respect to be the only one on your mind, the only thing you are focused on. It’s crazy to me that this phenomenon exists and that it can be seen anywhere you go. When we had flip phones we didn’t put them on the table while we ate with others, but because our smartphones connect us to everything and anything, they serve as an extension of your own self and they become an itch, a habit, a force that you can’t ignore for even an hour. Certain circumstances will obviously arise where this situation may be a necessity, but for most others, why can’t we all leave it in our pockets, jackets, or purses?

Our conversations are constantly being interrupted by the buzz or flash of a screen, and it can cause frustration to those on the other side of the table. It’s hurting the way we interact with others, it takes our attention away from the people and the things around you. Take the time to appreciate the fact that you are with others and be present. Leaving your phone off the table, silenced, or even better, turned off, will not only allow the other person to enjoy your company more, but will allow you to focus all of your attention on others and not what post your friend just tagged you in on Instagram.