Improve Your Running Form With These Simple Stretches
If your running performance is not what it should be or if you seem to suffer from more injuries than do other runners, weak core muscles may be at fault. Weak core muscles can negatively affect your form, which can diminish performance and increase the risk of injury. Fortunately, you can strengthen your core to improve your running form. Stretches are a great place to start.
Benefits of Proper Running Form and a Strong Core
Proper running form maximizes your body’s potential. A healthy posture opens your diaphragm so you can fill your lungs with oxygen, which muscles use to convert sugar into energy. Good running form also improves biomechanics, allowing your muscles to move at their full potential.
A strong core is the secret to good running form. Your core abdominal muscles act like the central link in a chain that connects your upper body to your lower body. Other muscles and tissues, such as hip flexors and hamstrings, act as part of this core. Body motions associated with running, such as lifting your legs and pumping your arms, originate or move through your core. Whereas, a weak core can cause back and hip injuries even in experienced runners.
Also, having a strong core stabilizes your body and helps you move in nearly any direction, even on uneven terrain, to maximize performance and reduce injury.
Static and Dynamic Core Stretches
Stretches are an important part of training because they improve range of motion and reduce risk of injury. Greater range of motion allows you to cover more ground with each step, and cover that ground more quickly.
There are two basic types of stretches: static and dynamic. A static stretch is a slow, deep stretch that involves holding a position for ten or more seconds. You should feel the effects of a static stretch as you hold the position. Dynamic stretches involve the repeated execution of challenging motions; you should feel the stretch more each time you repeat the motion.
For best results, perform dynamic stretches during warm-up, and do static stretches during your cool-down after training or as a separate session.
Try the stretches below to help improve your running form:
Planks are a type of static core stretches that help build core strength, improve stability and posture, and boost overall performance.
To do a plank, position your body as if you are about to do a pushup – plant your hands on the floor directly under your shoulders and grounding your toes into the floor. Squeeze the muscles in your buttocks to stabilize your body, and keep your head in line with your back. It helps to look at an imaginary spot on the floor, about a foot beyond your hands.
If you happen to experience pain in your wrists while doing a plank, perform a forearm plank by placing your forearms on the mat, below your shoulders. Keep your arms at about shoulder-width distance apart and parallel to your body. Put your palms flat on the floor in front of you.
Hold the plank for 20 seconds or longer, according to your comfort level.
Twisting Mountain Climbers
This dynamic exercise strengthens your core while loosening your hip flexors. Start in a traditional plank, bend your right knee slightly, and twist to pull your right knee up to your left elbow. Return to a plank to complete one repetition. Switch legs to bring your left knee up to your right elbow and back for the second rep.
Pelvic Thrust Hip Stretch
The pelvic thrust hip stretch strengthens your gluteus muscles, hamstrings, and hips. These dynamic stretches also open and stretch the hip flexors that lift your knees up towards your body when you run, helping you with your stride. Performing pelvic thrust hip stretches helps counteract the effects of prolonged sitting, which shortens and tightens your hip flexors.
You will need a closed-loop medium-tension cord. Attach both ends of the cord to something stable at about waist height to create a loop. Step through the cord, face away from the anchor point, and rest the loop on your hip bones. Place your feet shoulder width apart, and keep your knees slightly bent. Lower your body to squat by sticking your butt out and keeping your back straight. Next, stand up straight and do a slight pelvic thrust at the end of the motion, so that you feel a stretch at the front of your hips.
Repeat until you are too tired to perform the exercise with proper form.
These static core exercises stretch and strengthen your hips, groin, and core.
When you perform a hip raise, you will create a triangle with your body. Lie down with your back resting against the exercise mat. Keep your arms straight and move them away from your body slightly. Position your feet flat on the ground and bend your legs at the knees. Apply force to the floor with your heels to lift your hips up off the mat – your back, hips and thighs should form a straight line.
Running Form Tips
Even the most experienced runners can improve their running form. Here are a few running form tips you can use to improve your performance and reduce injury.
Look ahead. Your eyes should be focused 10 to 20 feet in front of you, not on your feet.
Avoid being a toe-runner or heel-striker and land mid-foot. Landing on your toes may cause tightness and fatigue of your calves. Landing on your heels means you have put your foot out too far in front of you, which wastes energy and increases your risk of injury.
Keep your toes pointed straight ahead.
Keep your hands at waist level with your arms bent at a 90-degree angle.
Relax your arms and shoulders; keep your arms at your side.
Maintain proper posture.
Performing stretches can help you maintain proper posture as you run and as you engage in normal activities of daily living. To optimize your running form, perform stretches on a regular basis, before and after you run.