Hello dear runners! I’m so happy to be back blogging after taking a 2-month hiatus to move my family from Scotland to Germany. I’ve been catching up on the Boston and London marathons bit by bit, and today I have a slideshow for you summarizing the things I found interesting about running technique in the elite women’s field in Boston.
The key theme that emerged was the relationship between rotation and extension. Physiotherapists et. al. will prefer the term “hyperextension,” but as a Feldenkrais practitioner interested in helping you move better I prefer to skip the “hyper” part of the term because it makes it sound excessive, risky, and dangerous, when in fact it’s just part of our normal range of motion.
That said, however, in the women’s race the winner and runner-up provided ample time to reflect on the effects of using more extension than is optimal for running.
Here is a slideshow focusing mostly on the top three women — Atsede Baysa, Tirfi Tsegaye, and Joyce Chepkirui. It is rare to see a runner with a back as extended as Baysa perform so well, but of course technique is only one factor in a runner’s performance.
It’s important to understand the far-reaching negative effects of pulling your shoulders back and/or keeping your hands from coming all the way to the midline. Many movement coaches actually recommend pulling your shoulders back on the grounds that it’s good posture, but as I’ve written in many other blog posts the idea of posture is irrelevant for running since everything moves. Trying to get in one perfect position is pointless and will always cause trouble.
Other coaches recommend swinging your hands “nip to hip,” with the hands stopping near the nipples and never coming to the center of the chest. I’m not entirely sure where this idea comes from, aside from the fact it rhymes. The effect, however, is the same as if you intentionally pulled your shoulders back because that’s what you have to do in order to swing your hands only as far in as your nipples.
In the end it doesn’t matter whether you think of your hands or your shoulders, the result for your back and your overall form will be the same. Since the upper body turns when running, one shoulder has to move forward as the other moves back. Pulling both back interferes with this process and, as you can see here, causes the upper body to move more because the arms don’t have as much freedom of movement relative to the torso and activates muscles throughout the back for excessive extensor activity. This causes the swing leg to be lower and the stride artifically shortened, complicates the shifting of weight from leg to leg so the thighs may rotate inward, and makes running less comfortable and a lot more work.
My hat’s off to Baysa and Tsegaye for their accomplishments. But I recommend you relax your upper back, let your shoulder blades move, bring your hands to your heart, and give yourself the advantange of easier, more enjoyable running next time you go out.
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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.