Playing With Posture

sewerby xc 2015

Trying to keep good posture while running into a strong head wind!

For me and for many others, posture is a worry. Just its mention can cause us to start adjusting our position. We probably recall a teacher or parent telling us to stop slouching and stand tall. We are told that our sedentary lives, predominantly slumped in front of screens, causes our posture to get worse. (As I spend most of my working life slumped in front of a screen, I thought that for a change I would write this blog while standing.)

Posture, in my experience, has made a massive difference to my running, barefoot and shod. For the last year or so I’ve been coached with shoes on, and a large part of that involved improving my posture. I then read Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton’s book and found his advice to be identical as far as everything above the hips go. That advice is to start with the top, correcting head and torso, and the feet should automatically fall correctly.

I found that as I changed my posture – into a more upright, less slouched position –  I began landing on my forefeet more. This is obviously the type of landing that minimalist and barefoot runners advocate. The only trouble was that I wasn’t allowing my heals to touch the ground, resulting in really tight calves, even after short runs. I ran a 10k in PB time but I paid for it with tight calves for 2 weeks afterwards.

Clearly posture was only half the story. A solution to my tight calves was a key motivation behind me wanting to learn barefoot running. With barefoot running you have no cushioning so a key technique is to allow your whole foot to touch the ground in order to spread the load. You should also bend at the knee in order to absorb the impact, and that in turn allows the calf muscles to relax. That’s the theory anyway! I still suffer a little from tight calves, but not as much as I did, although that might be a result of my substantially reduced mileage. I’m hoping that my calves improve further as my technique improves.

During one training session with shoes I sprained my hip flexors. I learnt that by running too tall I was pulling my pelvis out of its “neutral position”. I also probably have short hip flexors caused by spending most days in a sitting position. So having a good running posture is also about positioning the pelvis correctly so that you have a good range of motion in your legs.

Something I am beginning to realise about good posture is that it is not about stretching your spine as far as it will go, or locking any group of muscles into a fixed position. Instead it is a position to adopt in order to maintain a reasonably good centre of gravity running from our head down to our feet. In order to do this correctly you need to allow your joints to fall into a neutral position (which means they can move either way) and then make constant tiny adjustments in order to maintain your balance. Although this sounds like hard work, it means that no single muscle group is under constant work. Key to maintaining good posture is a good sense of balance – a skill I have improved since starting running coaching.

One of the joys of running for me is focusing in on the movement of my body. A key part of this is playing with posture, something I don’t have the opportunity to do most of the time while I’m slumped in a chair or bent over a bicycle frame. Call it “play” and not “work” and it makes it so much easier! Experiment and see how it feels. Sometimes you need to lean forwards, for example, when you are running into a head wind or want to accelerate. But all the time you need to be aware of your balance and make adjustments accordingly.

A couple of days ago I watched the World Cross Country Championships and I was struck by the different postures of the lead runners of each race. These are some of the world’s fastest distance runners, but each one had a slightly different posture in order to maintain the runner’s centre of balance, proving that posture is personal.

So, in summary, good posture is about keeping a good centre of balance, which in turn allows your feet to land underneath your (instead of over-striding). Barefoot running is really good for posture because the feedback from the feet give the body more information on how to position itself. In fact, many people find that they instinctively start to run much taller without their shoes. However, care has to be taken to allow the pelvis to fall into a neutral position so as not to end up spraining the hip flexors.

For more information, there are a lot of good websites on posture – this is one I read the other day which looks quite good:

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