Running is clearly a lower-body dominant activity. That said, you should understand that your body is an interconnected system more than it is a collection of parts. Running involves your entire body, from head to toes. That means your running posture—the position in which you hold your hips and spine while running—matters.

Optimal running posture is:

  • Comfortable: Able to run hard without pain.
  • Efficient: Use the least energy required for a given pace.
  • Minimally stressful: Forces generated by impact and propulsion are distributed evenly throughout your bones, muscles, and connective tissues.
Eliud Kipchoge
Photo: Nike

Poor running posture may cause overuse injuries such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles and hamstring injuries, IT band pain, knee pain, and low-back pain. Posture also affects efficiency. Good running posture enables you to use less energy to run a given distance than if running with poor posture.

If you’re running as fast and as pain-free as you’d like, then you may not need to change anything. However, if running causes pain, you have a history of injuries, or if you’re not as fast as you’d like to be, then a change in running posture may be in order.

Torso & Pelvis Position

The position of the torso over the pelvis is crucial. The torso should be stacked over the pelvis with the ribs pulled down, the spine in neutral, and a pelvis that’s level with the ground. You’re best able to recruit your glutes in this position and you’ll spare your low back from excessive strain. Good running technique has your feet dropping barely in front of your center of mass and this posture facilitates that technique.

In contrast, poor running posture has the ribs flared up and out and an excessive lumbar spine curve coupled with an anterior (forward) pelvic tilt. Think of your pelvis as a bowl of water that can tip forward and back from hinges at your hips. An anterior tilt causes the water to spill out the front of the bowl.

This forward-tilted position often causes low-back pain and it makes using the glutes difficult. If the glutes aren’t working then other muscles such as the hamstrings, adductors, and calves must work harder. An anterior pelvic tilt often causes the feet to land far in front of the center of mass which increases stress to the feet, lower leg, knees, and hamstrings.

Running With a New Posture

Start by using this simple drill, using your hands as cues and playing with balance, to find good running posture and coordinate your abs and glutes.

Start simple and use the posture drill while walking. Keep the fingers on the ribs and the pelvis, and walk around for a few minutes. At the same time, feel your glutes contract, propelling you forward. This may feel strange, which is normal for those of us who have compromised postures and are used to reaching and pulling.

Once you’ve grasped the technique, take your fingers away. Learn to feel good posture while staying relaxed. It’s useful to periodically go into bad posture to remind yourself of what to avoid. Use this posture as you walk throughout the day. Check in with yourself. Can you feel the ribs pulled down and the glutes propelling you forward?

If you can feel this new posture, can use it while running, and everything feels fine—then you may need to go no further. However, if assuming this posture is difficult for you, then read on and learn how to overcome some common limitations.

Obstacles to Good Posture

The modern, typically seated lifestyle often diminishes our ability to move well. Several obstacles may prevent you from stacking your torso over the pelvis and swinging your arms naturally and effectively. Restrictions in the hips, spine, and shoulders are common. Muscle weaknesses and imbalances often result in postural problems as well.

Below are some mobility and strength drills to help overcome common restrictions to good running posture. Do these drills frequently—a couple or three times a day is optimal. Your new mobility must be integrated with movement so be sure to follow up the mobility drills with some strength exercises.

Hip Mobility and Strength

3D Hip Flexor Stretch

Bridge Series: Easy to Difficult

Hip Hinge Exercises

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This is the #hiphinge, aka hip flexion/extension, sometimes called a #RomanianDeadlift. The hinge uses the main muscles in the hip hinge are the glutes, hamstrings, and spinal erectors. The hip hinge not only strengthens those muscles but also teaches them to work in coordination which propels you forward in #running and walking, helps you lift heavy things off the floor, and sit down/stand up (aka #squat). The single-leg version helps control internal/external rotation of your femurs which influences knee health and controls balance. And if you care about how your behind looks, you’ll like the hip hinge. The first three drills will help you learn the hip hinge. Start on the floor, on your knees. Sit your hips back to your heels, return back up and squeeze the glutes. Next, you'll stand, holding a PVC pipe in contact with the back of your head, between the shoulder blades, and your tailbone. Keep contact with all three points as you hinge. (This may be more challenging than you think.) The banded hip hinge is another way to figure out how to move and how to feel the glutes. It can be combined with the PVC hinge. The other exercises are variations of the hip hinge using both single-leg and two-leg stances and using various implements. None are better than the others, just different, with different benefits. Using two legs is more stable and thus you're able to handle heavier loads and generate more force. The single-leg hinge demands more coordination. The final video is the #kettlebellswing, an explosive movement that builds hip hinge power. Cues to remember: 1. Keep your ribs tucked, abs engaged. 2. Chest up, eyes forward. 3. Stick your butt way out. I often describe this to clients as "excessive butt out." 4. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement, or "pinch a quarter." 5. Keep the ribs tucked, abs engaged. (Yes I said that twice.) #strengthrunning #strengthtraining #kettlebells #kettlebell #barbellworkout #injuryprevention #injurypreventiontraining #runningstrength #runningstrengthtraining #lowbackpainrelief #lowbackpain #legworkout #hamstrings #glutes #hipextension #romaniandeadlift

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Spine/Shoulder Mobility

3D corner stretch

Chest opener

Shoulder/Trunk Strength

Pull Apart

Prone Pull-Through

If running is painful or if you want to run faster and more efficiently then you may need to change how you run. Your running posture is the foundation of your running technique. Changing from your old posture to a new posture requires awareness, attention, and practice. If you lack the ability to move into new posture then you need to mobilize and strengthen some areas of your body. It may take some time, but you can succeed in fixing your posture and becoming a better runner.