Any runner, competitive or otherwise, wants to run faster, longer. There’s nothing better than the feeling of athletic power and unlimited gas in the tank. But we can’t talk about speed and strength without addressing functionality.
Running can be hard on the body, and doubly so if you’re out of alignment. Impact from each stride travels through the body, and if the eight load-bearing joints (shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles) aren’t aligned, you’re asking for trouble. This alone is a good reason to incorporate dynamic warm-ups and cool-downs before and after your runs.
Another common pitfall for runners is driving forward motion from the shoulders rather than the hips. “If you’re running with your elbows winging out and your shoulders rounded forward, it could be because your hips aren’t activated,” says Brian Bradley, fitness director of Elev8d Fitness, the new home workout program from the experts of Sonima. “People are tearing their rotator cuff running because they are overcompensating with the shoulders.” But there’s a way to fix this.
The Shoulder Problem
The shoulders shouldn’t factor into the forward motion of the run. “It’s just not natural for you to drive your gait from your shoulders,” Bradley says. But when the back and shoulders are rounded forward and the hips are tucked under and inactive (and can happen when we sit most of the day), then the shoulders take over for the gait, rotating forward and back. This compensation is a surefire path to injury.
Your body should operate like a well-oiled machine—joints, muscles, and skeleton working in concert. If you have full range of motion in the load-bearing joints and your hips are driving the forward motion, this will naturally take your shoulders out of the equation. A smooth stride and pace is really all about functionality.
In order to be a functional runner, the arms should swing back and forth, and the shoulders should be down and back. If you look at a professional runner, you’ll notice they are upright, shoulders pulled back, upper back relatively still. Their arms swing, but their shoulders aren’t punching forward and back.
A Sequence for Function and Speed
It is essential to set your body into proper alignment before you introduce impact and rapid movement. These three exercises—excerpted from one of Elev8d Fitness’s eight-minute home workouts—free up the shoulders and activate the hips so that you are prepared to stress your system with a cardio workout (or strength training, for that matter).
To improve range of movement in the upper body, you need to free up the scapula, a.k.a. the shoulder blade bone. “The first exercise in this sequence, active cows face, teaches the arm bone how to function correctly in relationship with the shoulder blade. It’s really the same with the relationship between the femur and pelvis,” Bradley explains. This simple movement addresses range of motion in the shoulder, which shifts the mid-back, thoracic spine, and pelvis into better alignment.
Sequence, Bradley stresses, is everything. Only when your shoulders are in a better position, are you ready for the next exercise, mountain climbers. “With your shoulders down and back, you’re ready to load them and fire your deep hip muscles,” he explains. “Your core will stabilize during this second movement.” Activating your core and hips further establishes function in the spine and shoulders.
Finally, the downward dog bent knee requires you load up the torso and the shoulders and hold the very position that was just activated by the mountain climbers. You’ll notice that in this final static position your upper body wants to collapse. It is crucial to pull the weight off your hands by pulling your hips back, tilting your pelvis forward, and firing the front hip flexors.
How Does This Translate to Running?
Once you’ve aligned your joints and activated your hips, how do you optimize for speed? Leg stride is actually the easy part. The key, Bradley says, is the arm swing. “The body naturally knows how to run, your legs know how to move,” he says. “But if you want to be the fastest person, you need to learn to arm pump as fast as you can.” The hips are driving the movement, yes, but the arm swing will take your pace to a new level.
Faster, stronger, fitter—whatever your goal, Elev8d Fitness can help you reach it! Try the Flat Belly Workout Series or the Move Better, Feel Better, Look Better Workout Series and see for yourself.