This was my mother’s call as she gave us riding lessons when I was young. She gave dressage lessons as a side business, and I often took them with some of the riders near my age. What she meant, of course, was shoulders back and chest out.
I find this transfers across many sports, but particularly running. While every one’s form for running is different, there are a few constants. I actually have several different “forms”: for running uphill, running downhill and just plain flat running. Figuring out your optimum form will help when you get tired or running a race. I had a friend on cross country in high school ran with her arms straight down. She also spit instead of swallowing. I don’t recommend that. If nothing else, you don’t want to be dehydrating yourself.
But when I get tired, I will run with my arms down to relax and it always makes me smile and think of it as “Becky running”. I usually run off the balls of my feet, keep my tailbone tucked in, shoulders back and arms relaxed as possible. Running off the balls instead of your heels provides spring for the next step. Keeping your tailbone tucked engages the core and ensures your back doesn’t hurt after a run. Shoulders back helps support you and makes it easier to breathe.
Let’s talk breathing. If you can’t control your breath, you are doomed to a long, unbearable run. I know we all pant when we first start training, or when we increase a pace. But generally, breathing at a even regular pace is necessary. I would love to run breathing through my nose like I do in a yoga practice. But for now, I am happy if my breathing is even and quiet 🙂
Darren Treasure, a sports psychologist, encourages his runners to log 10 minutes of controlled breathing each day. His thought is that if you become anxious (say, before a race) “your breaths become very short and shallow, which actually precipitates more anxiety.” I would take it one step further, saying that starting a race breathing that way would make it exceedingly hard to find your pace. I find that cramps usually start if I am not breathing deeply and when my shoulders fall forward, slumping my middle. Straightening up and getting the air in helps rid me of the cramp. In my 5K the woman I was running next to said she had cramps so I gasped out “straighten up, deep breath, hold it then let it out”. Later she told me that really helped her, which is good as I thought maybe I was being obnoxious giving orders!
Going up a hill, if I find myself breathing shallowly, I need to be able to pull in a deep breath and hold it before breathing out. For me, yoga has taught me deep breathing and makes it easier to pull in that breath. Learning yoga is not a requirement. But I think Darren’s idea of practicing deep, relaxing breathing can have many benefits. Try it before going to sleep–it will probably put you to sleep faster!
Going uphill, my heels don’t even hit the ground. I use the spring from the balls of my feet to propel me into the next step. Kinda feels like running up stairs. This is where high knees drills can definitely help your running. Leaning forward (just a bit!) lets the weight of your upper body pull you into the next step as well. Again, it’s important to keep the upper body straight and the core engaged. Keep the tailbone tucked, or you get a “swayback” feel to your back, and that can hurt later in the day. I do my “Becky running” up hills a lot, relaxes the arms and lets me focus on the legs.
Going down a hill, I like to feel loose and limber with a definite bend in my knees. I do this to prevent shock to my knees. I use my heels and roll my foot forward with each step. I actually go downhill slower than uphill or going across a flat. I’m a bit of a klutz and I don’t want to land on my face.
Usually running on relatively flat ground I try to keep my form as I described above. Form is always in flux, always needing minute adjustments. I am always finding my shoulders coming up and I have to slide them back down. It depends on how you feel that day, how fast you are going and what the purpose of your run is. But finding your optimum form, the one where after you run you don’t feel like anything was pulled out of place and there are no aches other than the good run aches, will help you focus when you need to pull that last mile out.
When I’m tired and I want to stop, thinking about my form helps me reset. So I keep thinking about my form, pull it together and I get the next quarter mile down the road. It gives me something to focus on besides whining about being tired, and it gets me home.
(Darren Treasure’s other comments can be found in Sept 2014 Runner’s World)