Runners need to lean forward when they run. I’ve written before why that is; it’s also a cornerstone of ChiRunning, Pose Technique, and many other running technique methods. But how do you tell if you’re doing it right?
For most runners, learning how to lean at all is the challenge, as overly flexed ankles and hip joints, difficulty lengthening the hip flexors and using the gluteals, and retracting the head are all epidemic problems of our excessive time spent sitting.
However it’s also possible to lean too far forward, and many runners who’ve been working hard on landing with the foot under the center of gravity and finding a feeling of gravity-powered falling actually end up leaning excessively.
The bottom line is you want to organize your movement so your hip joint ends up right above your ankle joint in midstance. That’s the reference point. If you lean too little your hip generally ends up behind your ankle, and if you lean too much it usually ends up in front.
That can be hard to feel when you’re running, though, so here are some other indicators:
If you’re leaning too little, you’ll find it’s hard to move your body forward as you fatigue, your legs have to work really hard to push you forward and support you, and you’ll be stressed particularly in the quads and plantar fascia. Your quads are the muscles most likely to get sore.
If, on the other hand, you’re leaning too much, you’ll find it’s difficult to bring your legs forward as you fatigue, they’ll feel like they drag behind you, and your hip flexors can become stressed, uncomfortable, and sore.
If you’re leaning too much, bring yourself back a little and let your feet land in front of you. Yes, you read that right. You foot can’t actually land under you and also be under you at midstance. If it lands under you, it will be behind you in midstance and by the time you take it off the ground it’s so far back you can barely get it forward in time for the next step.
Whichever problem you have, don’t try to fix it by stretching! The muscles you’re experiencing as “tight” are actually being overworked, and stretching them won’t change anything about how you move. You can try this trick if you experience tight muscles on a run, and then before your next run give my recommendations in this article a try so you’re addressing the cause and not the symptom.
Are you an under-leaner or over-leaner? Which of these strategies are you going to try?
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Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.