Running Technique Principle: Optimal Body Position
Running Technique Principle: Optimal Body Position
The second step towards pain- and injury-free, and faster running is running with great technique. This step is of high importance for all runners, from beginners through to the elite. Sadly though, this step is often overlooked by aspiring runners. Quite simply, if you wish to run to your fullest potential, running with great technique is critical.
The concept of being deliberate about ‘how’ we run isn’t a natural one. Many people believe that runners have their own unique style of running, with some runners naturally looking better than others. Not recognising that there is skill in the technique of the better runners is a common error.
The below principle is one of 5 key principles that I believe constitutes great running technique. This is an excerpt taken from my AMAZON Running and Jogging Bestselling book ‘You CAN Run Pain Free!’.
Optimise your body position
In addition to the three technique principles covered so far, many runners also lack awareness of their body position when running. The positioning of a runner’s body can be a major hindrance to a runner’s quest to run pain and injury free, and faster. The good news is that for those runners who do position their body well, they are able to tap into ‘free speed’ and enjoy a reduced injury risk.
As already noted, when a runner over-strides their foot lands out in front of their body. On impact, the body’s resultant position is one that is leaning backwards. The leg on impact is extended straight and the runner’s torso, from the waist up, is on a backwards lean. One obvious problem with leaning backwards is that the runner is leaning away from the very direction they need to go! Clearly this makes no sense and is counterproductive to the runner’s aim of running as fast as possible.
In contrast, leaning ‘into’ your run (i.e. leaning forward from the ankles) allows gravity to pull you forwards, reducing the workload of the legs. It makes sense to move from point A to point B by allowing gravity to ‘pull’ you there, as opposed to ‘pushing’ yourself there. Forward lean is analogous to the accelerator in your car; if you want to go faster, lean in more – put your foot on the accelerator. If you want to run slower, simply lean back and take your foot off the accelerator.
In addition to slower running speeds, the other problem with a backwards body lean is that the body must deal with the injury-creating braking forces that are encountered with foot strike impact. These forces are the same braking forces that the over-striding runner encounters.
The alternative is to run with the body positioned well. A good body position for a runner is characterised by the following:
- Forward lean that occurs from the ankles (not the waist). The angle of forwards lean is approximately 10 to 15 degrees.
- The head is looking ahead at the horizon and not down. Looking down tends to make the runner bend at the waist and ‘fold’ into the ground.
- The chest is projecting forwards and upwards from the sternum. This creates a ‘lift’ effect for the runner’s torso and hips.
- The runner’s bottom is ‘tucked under’. Many runners run like they are sitting in a chair with the bottom in effect ‘sticking out’. This is often due to tight hip flexors and quadriceps, which can be the result of prolonged sitting. Simply tucking the bottom or tail bone ‘under’ while running can create a taller runner with better technique and, therefore, efficiency. Stretching the hip flexors and quadriceps is also useful.
In order to optimise your body position, try the following when running:
- Project your body upwards – don’t look down to the ground. If you look down to the ground, your body will follow your head position – down! Instead, look straight ahead and project your sternum (breastbone) upwards on an angle of about 45 degrees to the ground. If you feel confident when you run, you will look confident, and a confident runner is a fast runner!
- Practice the ‘Michael Jackson’ drill. This is one of the best methods I use to teach runners about body position and forwards lean-see the video below.
The drill can quickly educate you about the ‘free energy’ that can be gained by leaning forwards rather than backwards. Many runners will never experience this free energy because they will continue to lean backwards – don’t be one of them. As you practise this drill, take note of the sensation of how it feels to have your body pulled forwards by gravity, and what it feels like to hold your body straight as you fall forwards. As you practise the drill, it is important to keep your body straight and your ankles relaxed. If you are relaxing your ankles, your heels will not lift off the ground, and you won’t feel any pressure increase on the balls of your feet.
- Use your arms. Runners regularly ask me about what to do with their arms when they run. Most of the runner’s attention is directed to what their legs are doing. Yet the arms play an important role in setting a good rhythm and leg cadence and propulsion. You can ensure that your arms are contributing toward running with good technique in several key ways. They are:
- Keep your shoulders relaxed and away from your ears. I often joke with runners to not let their ‘shoulders eat their ears’.
- Minimise excessive movements of the arms. You need some arm movement as a runner because this allows for rotational stability of your body. A runner who tries to minimise their arm movements will not benefit from the stability that good arm rhythm and swing can produce.
- Keep the angle at your forearm to upper arm close to 90 degrees.
- Don’t let your hands cross the mid-line of your body.
- Move your arms faster if you want your legs to follow. When running on the flat, arms help to generate forward propulsion. When running uphill, the arms generate even greater propulsion.
- Make sure your hands come back as far as your hip. Imagine you are ‘elbowing’ someone behind you with the tip of your elbow.
- Don’t allow your hands to drop below your waistline. This wastes energy as it is easier to swing a short arm lever compared with a long arm lever.
- Keep the fists gently clenched with the thumb resting on top. Many runners make the mistake of generating too much pressure through their hands when they run. This will only serve to tense the entire upper body, which will have a negative effect on running economy. A good and fun drill to practise in order to learn to not generate excessive hand tension is placing a dry leave between the first and second fingers when you run. You should then aim to finish the run without having crushed the dry leaf: if the leaf is crushed it indicates that too much tension was generated when running through the hands.
To get your hands on a copy of ‘You CAN Run Pain Free!’ click HERE.
To attend real time running technique coaching click HERE for information about our upcoming RUN101 Workshops.
Brad Beer (APAM)
Physiotherapist, Author, Founder POGO Physio