Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Key to Proper Running Form

I am often asked what is the single most important element for efficient running technique.  Without a doubt, my response is ALWAYS "your core."  Most people think of their abdominal muscles (see Figure 1) when they hear the word "core."
Figure 1:  The Abdominal Muscles - image from www.sheonabird.com


However, the core includes ALL the muscles in your body, minus your arms, hands, legs, feet and head  (see Figure 2).  This includes the pelvic floor muscles, multifidus, erector spinae, and the diaphragm. Minor core muscles include the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, and trapezius.  Unlike the abdominals, most of these muscles are located in your lower back and play a critical role in keeping you upright.

Figure 2:  Core Muscles - image from:  www.dispatch.com

The key to proper running form is upright posture.  Many beginners make the mistake of leaning forward when they run  -- this will not make you faster, but rather, slow you down.  Upright posture allows you to both move and breathe more efficiently.

So, by now you might be thinking... "oh, so many muscle groups, but so little time..."  True, but you can target a lot of these muscle groups at one time.  If I had to select just one exercise for your core, it would be a plank.  The plank, done with proper form (see Figure 3) uses the erector spinae, rectus abdominus, and transverse abdominus as the primary muscle groups. The secondary muscles used are the trapezius, rhomboids, rotator cuff, deltoids, pectorals, serratus anterior, gluteus maximus, quadriceps, and gastrocnemius.  (I have highlighted all core muscles).
Figure 3:  The Front Plank - image from:  www.more.com


For some variety, you can try a side plank (see Figure 4).  The primary muscles used in the side plank are the transverse abdominus, gluteus medius and minimus, the iliopsoas, and the external and internal obliques.  The gluteus maximus, quadriceps, and hamstrings are the secondary muscles.  (Core muscles are highlighted).
Figure 4:  The Side Plank - from www.womenshealthmag.com

Try to hold your front plank for 30 seconds and gradually increase the time.  Start with 20 seconds on each side for the side plank.

The current world record for the front plank is three hours, seven minutes and fifteen seconds and was set in Newport, Kentucky on April 20th, 2013 by George Hood.  Well, this certainly gives us all a goal to shoot for!