How about a little truth, friends? I usually sort of roll my eyes at running form. I’m a long distance runner, after all. I’m not looking to shave seconds off a race time. And I mostly believe the best way to get better at running is to run. But I’ve been applying a lot of my yoga training off my mat (and in my running shoes) lately, and there’s a few things I’d like to share.
What I like about these tips is they don’t require extra time for an extra workout or any special skills. All you really have to do is bring awareness, or mindfulness, to your body while you’re already running. Even then, I would recommend focusing on your running form only periodically throughout your run. For example, for a few minutes at the beginning and end of a short run or at the beginning of each mile during a long run. During the in between moments, breathe, relax and enjoy!
Relax the elbows and the fists
I often joke that I try to do yoga with my jaw and run with my fists. Whether it’s the jaw or the fist, clenching uses up a lot of energy that can be put to better use somewhere else in the body. So relax those fists! Give them a good shake. And notice if that tension has seeped up to the elbows. Chances are something less than 90 degrees is doing more harm than good.
Roll the shoulders down and back
And while we’re focused on the arms, go ahead and roll them down onto the back a couple times. If this sounds like a yoga cue, that’s because it is. It helps to neutralize the spine, something that’s just as important in running. Do you run with a jogging stroller? Do this 10 more times.
If you’re running on a technical trail this might not work. But if the ground beneath your feet is fairly predictable, go ahead and look up. Relaxing the arms, rolling the shoulders onto the back and looking up opens the chest up to breathe. Looking up also has a psychological effect. For me anyway. It helps me focus less on the physical challenges of running and begin to appreciate the world around me.
Engage the lower abdominals
My belly likes to flop out in front of me and drag my pelvis with it. I blame my girls and their stay in my uterus, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. Just to be clear – this has nothing to do with how much padding is on top of our abdominal muscles. Gently engaging the lower abdominals helps lift the front/top of the pelvis, remove any overarch in the lower back and reduces the stress on the lumbar spine.
If engaging the lower abdominals makes it harder to breathe or causes you to tuck the tailbone you’ve probably gone too far. So ease up a bit. All we’re doing here is bringing some awareness to the abdominals and the role they play in proper running form.
Activate the outer hip/butt muscles
I pulled my left outer hip/butt muscle about 10 years ago, and it’s always sort of lurking there in the background. I know my outer hip/butt muscles are weaker than my inner thighs. I also know this is pretty common. Inflexible inner thighs and weak outer hip/butt muscles can cause the thigh bones and knees to turn in while running and can potentially contribute to or aggravate existing Illiotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS).
Even if you’ve never experienced ITBS it can’t hurt to bring extra awareness to the outer hip/butt muscles while running. All you really have to do is think about them. The effect is shocking and feels almost magical, especially when running uphill. I feel like I’m tapping into a hidden reserve of energy. On flat ground I find it’s impossible to NOT speed up. The trick is to then slow back down to an easy pace without losing the activity in the outer hip/butt muscles.
What do you do to improve running form? If the answer is nothing, don’t worry. Getting out for a run is an accomplishment in and of itself.