As my beloved physical therapist, Dr. Sarah Ceschin, PT, DPT, likes to say, running is a full-time job. Not only do you have to complete your mileage for the week (on top of work, taking care of children, walking your dog, catching up on Netflix, etc.), but you also have to make time for the other miscellaneous tasks that are just as important for your training, but sometimes fall to the wayside.
As Dr. Ceschin often says, five minutes of foam rolling now will save you five weeks of sitting on the treatment table as your plantar fascia screams, “why did you skip your PT?!”
Athletes experience injuries. It is unavoidable. You can strength-train all you want, but you cannot prevent all injuries from happening. You will fall, you will “overdo it,” and you will eat poorly some weeks because, well, life happens.
That’s okay. According to Ceschin, we tend to feel more pain from an injury when we have fear, doubt, sadness, or uncertainty about the injury. Maintaining positivity and trusting that your body can and will heal is crucial through the process.
That said, we don’t only strength-train and work on mobility for injury prevention. We also do it to improve performance. When we do plyometrics, we increase our power, which makes us faster. When we do mobility exercises, we increase our range of motion, which allows us to improve running efficiency and economy within our stride.
Most therapists, chiropractors, trainers, etc. focus on increasing glute and core strength, improving hip extensibility (by stretching the hip flexors usually), increasing ankle dorsiflexion, and big toe dexterity, and instilling proper pistol squats for strong quads. Yet, as Ceschin likes to point out, sometimes athletes miss one of the most critical aspects of our bodies that impacts our ability to engage our glutes, extend our hips, and activate our core.
Yup, posture. You’ve heard it before, and it probably won’t be the last time.
Poor posture, which usually worsens throughout the day, is something we bring with us on our runs. According to Sarah, if you’ve been hunched over all day, you will likely be “hunched” a little while you run. This leads to immobility in your thoracic spine and makes it incredibly challenging to run with erect posture.
Our upper back, also professionally known as our thoracic spine, has the least available planes of motion as compared to the rest of our spine. However, it also has to be just as mobile as our neck and lower back if we want our bodies to generate force and propel forward as fast and efficiently as possible.
According to Sarah, we often segment our spine into three main parts: cervical (neck), thoracic (mid), and lumbar (low back). But while the thought of separately, these three sections of our spine have to work together as a whole unit to transmit force and power generated from the core into our extremities. Research has proven that most injuries in the extremities are due partly to some lack of strength or stability in our core (abdominals, pelvic floor, gluteals). Thus, a rounded, immobile thoracic spine leads to excessive and unstable motion in our neck, lower back, hips, knees, ankles, etc., which inevitably leads to overuse injuries.
If we are unable to fully access thoracic expansion/extension because of poor posture, it can severely hinder lung capacity. I’m guessing I don’t have to remind you that running is also a highly cardiovascular sport which relies on access to the lungs!
So, how do we fix our posture for running? The same way you’d fix your posture if you weren’t a runner. Focus is placed on bringing your shoulder blades back and down, engaging your core to reduce the arch in your low back, and opening up your chest to allow for full lung expansion and proper arm swing. Here are some great exercises from Dr. Sarah that runners can do to help bring awareness to posture while running.
1. Banded Arm Rotations
2. Thread the Needle Bear Plank
3. Overhead Squats
4. Half-Kneeling Arm Circles
5. Seated Arm Swings
Perform these exercises (one set of 10-15) before your next run and see if you can maintain your new, erect posture. With your new posture, you will likely find that running feels more efficient, and you are experiencing less injury overtime.