Like every good parent, my mother always nagged me to straighten up and stop slouching. Most of the time, it went in one ear and out the other. Now that I'm older and have wrestled with sporadic bouts of back spasms, I've learned the benefits of good posture. But preventing back pain is only part of it. In running, posture plays a vital role in terms of energy efficiency and muscle usage.
Establishing good posture habits involves more than just standing up straight. It means allowing your bones, ligaments and tendons (not your muscles) to support your body weight. When your muscles must bear your body weight and move it at the same time, they can't relax. Constricted muscles don't move freely or efficiently, causing pain and sometimes injury.
The Chi Running technique teaches runners to use their legs only for momentary support between strides, not for propulsion. Postural alignment plays an important "support" role whenever your foot hits the ground. If your muscles have to support your body weight with each step, you'll tire more quickly. If you're bent at the waist, your lower back, quadriceps and neck muscles will be carrying your weight, which makes for inefficient running and post-workout soreness.
If you have poor posture (as many of us do), you can overcome it. It takes practice, but the effort is worth your while.
Teach Yourself Good Posture
Focus your attention on the line your spine makes as it runs from the top of your head to the end of your tailbone. Return your attention to your spine as often as possible all day long, no matter what you're doing. Let it become a daily practice.
Don't run bent at the waist. Finishing a run with soreness in your lower back usually indicates you've been running bent at the waist. Instead, Chi Running encourages you to allow gravity to pull you forward by leaning slightly from the ankles, not the waist. Throughout your runs, make sure you're leaning from the ankles and not stressing your lower back muscles.
Engage your core by leveling your pelvis. Start by standing with your feet parallel and hip width apart. Imagine you have a string attached to the top of your head that is pulling you up, making you tall and straight. Drop your chin slightly and look straight ahead. Next, pull up on your pubic bone with your lower abdominal muscles while relaxing your glutes. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Doing this exercise throughout your day will strengthen your abs, allowing you to hold your posture straighter while running, swimming, sitting, standing, or even driving your car.
Practice initiating all movement from your core, the largest muscle group in your body, rather than the smaller muscles of your extremities. In T'ai Chi, this is called the "needle in cotton." The needle represents your center line (the top of your spine to the bottom of your tailbone). It is strong and stable, while the cotton (your peripherals) is soft and relaxed.
The benefits of good posture are endless, and you can practice it anywhere, anytime. Whether you're running, sitting, or even sleeping, your whole body will thank you.
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