By: Pace & Mind in collaboration with Elysa Graci, CAT(C), Certified Athletic Therapist
Sit up straight!
Remember your Mom saying that? Well, postural problems are not a thing of the past. In fact, they are the cause of many improperly executed exercises, which lead to injury in runners today. This is especially true for runners who have jobs requiring long periods of stationary/sedentary sitting. In addition to this, runners with poor posture and form can perform exercises incorrectly by over-activating the wrong muscles thus having a negative impact on their running performance and increasing their risk for injury. A perfect example of this is when a runner is performing a typical 2-legged squat. A common error seen in performing a squat is letting the knees travel far past the toes, therefore overloading the quadriceps and inhibiting the glutes. Since the quadriceps attach in and around the patella (kneecap) this incorrect squat done repeatedly may set runners up for injuries such as patellar tendonitis, patella-femoral pain syndrome, chronic low back pain, etc.
Another example of exercises performed improperly is a ‘burpee.’ Burpees are a type of plyometric (maximum muscle exertion exercise performed within a short amount of time) performed by many athletes. If this exercise is done improperly or by a runner who has taken on a chronic lordosis, the runner may injure him or herself because of the initial muscle imbalance.
Common Postural Errors
Here are the most common postural errors and how to correct them (reference image):
- Upper Crossed Syndrome / Kyphosis (roundback)
Upper Crossed Syndrome is seen in Kyphotic (roundback) individuals. This is caused by the over curvature of the thoracic spine. This type of posture is common in a lot of runners. Upper Crossed Syndrome is characterized by weak neck flexors and mid-back muscles paired with extremely tight/overactive upper back (trapezius) muscles and chest (pectoral) muscles. Individuals who spend numerous hours at their desk hunched over a computer become prone to this type of chronic posture. They find it too difficult to “sit up straight” because the muscles that allow a proper upright posture are weakened. Issues that can arise from Kyphotic individuals and runners are: rotator cuff dysfunction, nerve pain stemming from the brachial plexus (a grouping of nerves that originate from the spinal cord and run through the shoulder), impingement syndrome, and chronic neck pain. Watch the VIDEO below to improve strength in flexibility in the shoulder girdle by Kelly Starret – a Performance Based Physiotherapist:
- Lordosis/Lower Crossed Syndrome (swayback)
Lordosis, also known as swayback, is a lower body postural position where the natural curve of the lumbar region of the back is slightly or dramatically accentuated. This is seen in individuals and runners who have “Lower Crossed Syndrome.” This chronic posture is characterized by weak core and gluteal muscles in combination with overactive and/or tight hip flexor (groin) and low back muscles. Individuals who sit all day at a desk also force their bodies to become accustomed to this type of posture. Especially sitting with an accentuated curve in the low back. Runners will go from their work chair to the track, and as a result of this practiced lower crossed syndrome they will experience a decreased range of motion in the hips during their stride. Also, because the gluteal muscles are inhibited when sitting for an extended amount of time, the runner develops a tendency to rely on muscles such as quadriceps and hip flexors instead of the glutes. As a runner ‘pounds the pavement’ and increases his or her mileage, the existing muscular imbalance will develop more and more of a potential to expose the runner to lower body injuries. Inactive gluteal muscles cause runners to overuse other lower body muscles such as quadriceps, gastrocnemius (calves), hamstrings, and low back.
Muscle Stiffness and Athlete Mobility. Watch video HERE.
Sitting Wrecks your Hip Action. Watch video HERE.
Exercises such as Glute Bridges, Cobra, and Bodyweight Squats (done properly) are beneficial for runners as they work to open up the hips and strengthen the glutes. At Pace & Mind, we have our runners do resistance band strengthening exercises to activate our glutes with the purpose of preventing injury and promoting proper running form. In summary, Elysa recommends runners include structured weight training as part of their training program. The frequency of weight training depends on your mileage and goals, so please consult with your Coach beforehand. With each exercise, please stay mindful of both upper and lower body posture. Keep the core muscles contracted and tucked in (think of squeezing your belly button in towards your spine). Glutes should be contracted as to prevent the pelvis from rotating forward. This will open up the hips. As for your upper body, focus on rotating the shoulder blades back towards the spine without hiking your shoulders up towards your ears. This will open up the chest. If the runner has a job where they are sitting all day, she recommends that they get up and walk around as often as they can. Also, they should take time out of their work day to stretch and perform range of motion exercises (Wall angels, cobras, leg swings, etc.) These simple tips will assist in overcoming upper and lower body postural errors that have the potential to injure a runner. As with any training, you should seek guidance from a medical practitioner or fitness expert such as a Chiropractor, Physiotherapist, Athletic Therapist, Personal Trainer, or Strength and Conditioning Coach. In the Toronto area, we recommend visiting Dr. Kris Sheppard at The Runner’s Academy HERE.
Pace & Mind is an advanced ‘tough love’ coaching service for distance runners. We offer advanced and highly customized 5k, 10k, half-marathon and marathon coaching for runners to improve their performance both on and off the road. Our coaching is based on the principles founded by Head Coach and Co-founder Rejean Chiasson, a Canadian marathon champion, 4x half-marathon medalist and NIKE+ NRC Coach. He is supported by our Online Run Coach, Kate Van Buskirk, an internationally accomplished track and field athlete, bronze medalist at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and Brooks Elite Ambassador. Unlike traditional ‘cookie-cutter’ or ‘clinic’ approaches to coaching, our Coaches first assesses, then customizes each runner’s training program based on:
INDIVIDUALITY * PROGRESSION * RECOVERY * MOTIVATION * COMMITMENT * COMMUNITY
Coaching programs are powered by TrainingPeaks software to ensure data accuracy. No runner’s program is the same and it constantly changes season by season, cycle by cycle. Our Coaches review your plan in detail each week, then adjust based on your progression and listens to you in terms of changes in nutrition, mental state and cross training efforts. Each runner also receives a cross-training plan and a racing singlet as part of the program.
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