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Running Corrections - Part One
Where to Look, Lean and Move Your Arms

Keep your arms bent and palms facing in when running.
Keep your arms bent and palms
facing in when running.

Running is one of those activities that seems incredibly simple. All you have to do is go outside and take off. But over time, small variations in the way you move, how you hold yourself and even where you look can lead to problems. Before you head out for your next run, evaluate what you're doing. The sooner you make corrections, the easier the changes will be and the fewer problems you'll experience over time.

Stop looking down at your feet. I get it. You want to watch your feet because you're worried about where you're stepping. But as you look down, your neck stiffens up to hold it in place and your posture begins to fall apart. The more you tilt your head forward, the greater the problem. 

To understand how serious this may be, think about the weight of your head. A typical adult human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds. As you tilt it forward, you put stress on your neck (cervical spine) ligaments, muscles and tendons. A slight tilt of just 15 degrees forward increases the pressure on your neck to about 27 pounds. Increase that to 30 degrees forward and your neck is now supporting about 40 pounds.

The more you look down, the more problems you're going to have with your neck and back. Instead, look up and focus on the horizon. Trust that your feet are doing what they're supposed to. If you have to look down, try and restrict it to when you're moving over obstacles like curbs or steps.

Know when to lean forward, how to lean forward and when to stand tall. I had a coach tell me that I should lean forward and "let gravity do some of the work." But that's not how gravity works. Gravity pulls you down, not forward. Leaning into the run isn't going to give you any help.

What leaning forward can do, is lessen the wind resistance against your body. Think about walking into a strong windstorm. You lean forward to lower the impact the wind makes. But for a typical runner, the effect of wind is so small, the forward lean isn't going to have any significant effect.

To increase power in your run, a lean should start from the ankles while keeping the rest of your body aligned. What that position does is promote the most efficient hip extension. You get more lengthening of the hip flexors, which increases storage of elastic energy and that translates into greater propulsion.

For people dealing with knee pain, a slight forward lean from your trunk at the hips, can reduce the load on your knees. The impact forces still have to go somewhere, so it increases the impact on your hips.

Choose your lean based on what you want to achieve. For the most power, lean at the ankles. If you're having problems with your knees, lean forward at the hips. If you're having problems with your hips, maintain an upright posture.

Move your arms forward and back. Side to side arm swinging is an indicator of a weak core. As you run, if you don't have good trunk stability, your arms will tend to swing in front of you and your body will rotate. That can cause higher levels of stress on your lower spine and in your hips. Swinging your arms from side to side also reduces your forward momentum.

Ideally, you want to rotate your hands so that your palms are facing in toward your body. Hold your arms up so that your thumb moves in an arc, just below your hipbones (the top of your pelvis.) Keep your arms bent at about a 90-degree angle. Generate movement by pushing your elbows forward, then pulling them back.

Next week, I'll share three more things to improve your runs. Stride length, what to do about your knees and even how do deal with what you're thinking.

Part 1 2

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