Two weeks ago when I posted How to Become a Balanced Runner™ I promised to elaborate on each of the keys in subsequent blog posts. Here is the first of them.
When I was a dancer trying to learn how to run, my first great breakthrough was when I suddenly discovered how to lean. That was when I went from bounding along uncomfortably to feeling smooth and enjoying myself.
My second great breakthrough was when I suddenly learned how to lean even better. I felt like someone had removed a wall I’d been pushing against without even knowing, and I was suddenly set free to fly.
I doubt any breakthroughs I’ve had since then equal the impact of these first two.
There’s a great deal of confusion around this because people use vague images like “run tall” to teach running form. But it is a fact that you need to lean forward from your ankles (in Danny Dreyer’s great phrase) to run comfortably and easily. There are two reasons:
And while we’re making comparisons with other sports, take a look at the difference between how a ballet dancer coordinates herself when she extends her leg behind her and how a runner does it:
As a former dancer, I had to go through quite a learning process not to run like the middle picture, automatically arching my back as I felt my leg pass behind me. When I figured out how to lean forward instead, like the third picture, that was when I had Breakthrough #1. There was some faith needed for the transition, since I’d been told in no uncertain terms that runners were supposed to be upright and roll through their feet from heel to toe, and for that reason I certainly wasn’t trying to lean forward. (That was the bad old days, long before Born to Run.) But when my Feldenkrais lessons resulted in my doing it with increasing regularity and it felt so much better, I realized it was right.
Just today I had a text from a client whose lean I helped improve, telling me that he ran his race today much faster than expected. That’s what mastering your lean does.
Next week is the Berlin marathon, and I plan to blog about it if I see anything interesting. But the week after that I’ll go into more depth on exactly how to lean and when a so-called “bad lean” from the hips instead of the ankles is actually biomechanically correct. If you’re wondering what the circumstances were that lead me to Breakthrough #2, you’ll have to wait till the post after that, when I explain how to move your face forward.
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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.