Your posture greatly influences the quality of your running. From lessening your chance of getting shin splints, protecting your knees to preventing cramps, posture matters a lot to runners.
Even slight tweaks to your posture can greatly increase your running strength and endurance.
However, those aren’t the only reasons why posture matters. Posture affects you in more subtle yet very profound ways.
Last year I wrote about a study involving female trail runners that looked at how they perceived running made them more effective at work and reduce their work stress. The study participants felt that their running routine enhanced things like self-efficacy, mood, gave them greater discipline, better conflict management, mental focus and other benefits.
But were these benefits merely anecdotal? Pretty much every runner I know says that running enhances their life, improves their mood and makes them a “better person” overall. However, what I wanted to know was what exactly how running does this.
Research by Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard, and her colleagues suggest that posture has a lot to do with it.
“Although our body language governs the way other people perceive us, our body language also governs how we perceive ourselves and how those perceptions become reinforced through our own behavior, our interactions and even our physiology,” says Amy Cuddy, author of Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.
Cuddy studied how posture affects how the depth and frequency of the breath, which help regulate the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which in turn greatly influence how we present ourselves to the world.
Feeling overwhelmed, fearful, nervous and self-conscious leads to postures that are shrinking and contracted. On the flipside, when you feel confident, ambitious, brave and bold, you adopt postures that are tall and expansive.
But what’s even more impactful is that you can change how you feel inside by changing how you hold your body. This means that boosting your self-confidence or overcoming a bad mood can start with postures that elicit the feelings you want.
Let your body tell you that you’re powerful and deserving says Cuddy, and you become more present, enthusiastic and authentically yourself.
The first step is to become aware of how you hold your body in different moments and situations.
How you run, walk, sit and stand reflects not only your fitness and muscle strength, but also how you feel about yourself in a given situation. For example, do you slouch when facing an intimidating authority figure? Do you stand with legs crossed when speaking in public? Do you cross your arms in front of your chest when having an awkward conversation?
While being aware of your posture all day long would be exhausting and frankly, not much fun, it is feasible for the first 10 minutes or so of each run. Check in and notice your form (see the tips below), and make the tweaks that not only making running more comfortable, but tap into your personal power, too.
With practice, good posture—while running or at any time of the day—becomes natural and not require as much attention.
Cuddy explains that your increased sense of personal power arises from the presence that these expansive postures create. She defines presence as “the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values and potential.”
That present mind-state definitely supports the kind of workplace benefits experienced by the trail runners in the study I mentioned earlier.
It stands to reason that running helped them perform better in the workplace in part because it involved spending time in an open, expansive posture that helped them feel powerful.
Not only did a tall, expansive posture benefit their running, it also benefited their minds so they could bring more presence to their jobs.
As far as I know, Cuddy hasn’t done any research on running posture specifically, so what follows are the running form changes I recommend:
Change Your Running Form to Access Personal Power
The Hunched Runner
Runners with rounded upper backs can barely lift their knees, causing the feet to shuffle along the ground. It’s really hard to lift the knees when your body’s center of gravity is ahead of the vertical plane. Hunched runners also tend to have arms that cross the front of the chest, the hands carried close to the body in a protective manner.
Power Posture Tip: Stand up tall, elongating the spine and rolling the shoulders back so the scapula move down. This expands the chest and creates more space for the diaphragm to expand with each breath. Move the hands down and away from the chest until the forearms are parallel with the ground and can swing freely forward and back without crossing in front of the torso.
How this running posture elicits presence: This opening of the upper body and widening of the hands shifts you from a protective, contracted attitude to one that is open and inviting. It can help you feel more confident, outgoing and receptive.
The Head-First Runner
The head-first runner has a chin that juts out and rounded upper back. This is usually accompanied by shoulders that collapse forward and disengaged core muscles in the abdominals and back.
Power Posture Tip: Draw the chin in until you notice the back of the neck lengthen and upper back straighten. Tilt the pelvis by drawing the tailbone down and you sense the abdominal muscle engage. Draw the shoulder blades together and down so that the upper chest opens, creating more space between the ribs. If you’ve been a head-first runner for a long time, the little muscle between the ribs maybe tight, so it will take time for them to lengthen. As they do, it will become easier to fully inflate the entire lungs with each breath.
How this running posture elicits presence: Deeply inflating the lungs and expanding the chest activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes your muscles and helps you feel calm and in control. It lowers cortisol, the stress hormone, and slows your breathing rate, which reduces feelings of anxiety, worry, fear or self-doubt.
The Sitting Runner
Runners who “sit back” drop their hips, putting their center of gravity behind the vertical plane. Their knees are bent and upper body very upright. In this position, the quadriceps compensate for disengaged glutes.
The sitting runner has difficulty fully extending the rear leg during the push-off phase of the gait cycle. This posture makes them shorter in stature and some are unable to lift their feet very high off the ground, giving them the appearing of “scooting” over the ground.
Power Posture Tip: To rise out of a sitting position, bring your center of gravity forward by leaning forward from the ankles while keeping the body straight and not bending at the waist. (If you have tight calf muscles, this will feel challenging, in which case daily calf stretches will help.) Lengthen through the spine to elongate the back, making you feel tall and expansive. This forward-leaning position also engages the glutes, the most powerful running muscle, and you’re able to fully extend the rear leg during push off.
How this running posture elicits presence: A forward-leaning posture connotes bravery, ambition, fearlessness. And best of all, it requires trust: trust that you won’t let yourself fall, but rather, you have the strength and confidence to be in a forward-falling position without losing control.