So your new year’s resolution was to take up running. You’ve started your programme and things are going fairly well, but how can you be sure you’re running right to maintain good posture and avoid injury?
A poor running posture can lead to injuries anywhere from your hips to your feet. Ultimately it can cause back problems owing to the huge amount of stress running activity places on the lower back.
Running involves repetitive stress and impact, sometimes for a long duration. All that repetitive pounding of your feet on the ground sends shock waves to your spine and hips. The spinal discs are the shock absorbers of the lower back, and running’s repetitive impact on the spine can put stress on these discs.
Here’s our advice on adopting a good running posture:
Keep your head up. Letting it drop or looking towards the ground as you run will create tension in your neck and shoulders. Keeping your head up also helps to keep your airways open.
Try to keep your shoulders down. This helps to keep your arms swinging forward and back which in turn helps with the running motion. Have your arms close to your body and bent at 90 degrees.
Relax your hands. Clenched fists can create tension in your back and shoulders as you run.
Don’t run bent at the waist. Allow gravity to give you a helping hand as you run, pulling you forward, by leaning slightly from your ankles, not your waist. Leaning from the ankles avoids putting unnecessary stress on your lower back muscles, while also reducing the chance of striking the ground with your heels as you land.
Try to relax your muscles before you set off on your run. When people start running, they feel tired, not only from being out of shape but from having muscles that are stiff and not used to moving. Some people say that learning to relax your muscles is more important than conditioning. Allow your bones, ligaments and tendons to support your body weight. When you force your muscles to bear your body weight at the same time as moving it, they can’t relax. Muscles that aren’t relaxed don’t move freely or efficiently, causing pain and sometimes injury.
Run lightly, as if you’re skipping. Lighter steps reduce the severity of jolts to your spine.
Strike the ground with the middle of your foot. It’s the safest, least injury-prone way to run. Try to ensure your foot lands below your hips too.
Stretch your hamstrings two to three times per day. The hamstring runs from the back of your thigh and connects with your buttocks and lower back. Runners often have very tight leg muscles, which can pull on the muscles in the lower back. Remember to stretch every day, even on a no running/rest day.
We like this post on Competitor.com about the five most common running form mistakes.
Choosing the right running shoes
Don’t just grab your trusty old trainers to head off on a run. Proper running shoes designed for forward motion can give you the support you need as a runner. And it’s best to go to a dedicated running shop where a trained salesperson can watch you run on a treadmill with gait analysis and pressure plate testing to properly assess what you need.
Here are our tips while out shopping for running shoes:
- Buy your socks first – it’s a good idea to go for padded running socks. These have extra padding across the ball of the foot, toes and the heel area to cut down on shock and protect areas that can blister. Running socks also usually have padding or a tighter area through the arch to allow your running shoes to fit more closely and give better arch support.
- Once you’ve got your socks, wear them to shop for your running shoes. But don’t go shopping for running shoes first thing in the morning. Later in the day your feet will have expanded a little, meaning you’ll get a better, truer fit.
- When you find a running shoe you like that’s comfortable, make sure there’s a thumb-width between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. This ‘wiggle room’ will ensure you have enough space for each footfall as you run.
- If you have particularly high arches, consider buying extra arch supports. This will increase the cushion on the bed of the shoe and prevent fallen arches and other injuries. Foot injuries can be another cause of low back pain.
- And if you keep up with your running, remember it’s a good idea to replace your running shoes every year even if visible wear and tear is minimal.
There’s more advice about choosing the best running shoes for you on the Runner’s World website.
The NHS Couch to 5k programme is a great way to start running and build up gradually over nine weeks. Find out more on the NHS Choices website.