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“Green” running: Practical tips for Running Efficiently

It may not be obvious to some, but we like to think of the body as a closed system that generates energy, similar to the engine of a car. If there are leaky valves, faulty electrical components or bad fuel, the car engine won’t run very well. So what about your engine? Are you running in a way that creates efficient transfer of energy from your muscles and joints to the ground to help push you forward, step after step? Running relies heavily on our lower body, that much is obvious, BUT if your arms, shoulders and spine aren’t moving well, they can impede your progress just as much as a stiff knee or ankle. 

Whether it’s in a car or in a person, wasted energy adds up. This compounding effect becomes especially important and more obvious if you are moving into longer distances, perhaps even your first marathon or ultramarathon. Small, meaningful changes can make a big difference over 26+ miles, whether that’s broken up over a few days of training, or performed all at once. You want every step to count for something, so don’t settle for working hard to achieve less effective or injurious miles. Get your whole body on board to become a more efficient and healthy runner. 

Check out our tips below to see how you may be able to make your mileage feel easier and more powerful at the same time. 

Arm movements: Are you moving your arms in a productive way?

1-Don’t bring your arms across your midline

Your arms should generally track forward and backward, like your legs. Your elbows should be down by your side and move in front of and behind your ribs in an even pattern as you run. 

2-Don't keep your arms out away from your body and stiff. 

Your shoulders and arms shouldn’t stay still while you run! You don’t want to look like the wacky, waving inflatable arm flailing tube man, but you shouldn’t look like a robot either. Get your shoulders out of your ears and let your trunk move in a way that helps your body stay balanced as you move forward. 

*An exception: you can bring your arms out and even perform slight circular movements to help you balance on more downhill and technical terrain. Our arms help us balance, which is important when you’re out on terrain that changes quickly. 

Upper Body Posture: Are you slouching or too upright? 

If your shoulders and upper back round forward and downward, this will contribute to  you looking downward as well. When a runner (or hiker) is gazing downward too much this will lead to altered gait mechanics and suboptimal forces to the lower body. You may end up bending too much at the hips, which makes it harder to drive through your legs as you push off of the ground. 

On the contrary, if you run with your shoulders pulled back and your chest puffed out,  you may be arching your lower back in a way that makes your glutes less efficient. This posture usually creates increased force through your pelvis and lumbar spine during the push-off phase of gait, which can create excessive soreness and stiffness in your low back during and after your runs. 

We’re looking for the goldilocks posture here. You want to keep your chest up as you are leaning forward. This will look like you are holding a plank, while you fall forward with each step. Your spine and your hips create a straight line that helps to put your energy where you want it. Your abs should feel engaged as you run! 

Do you rotate your shoes:

Shoes have multiple types of qualities:

Thickness of cushion (or lack thereof)

Heel drop: heights of the heel compared to toe

Width of the toe box (the front part of the shoe)

It can take some trial and error to find a shoe that works best for you and getting into those details deserves it’s own blog, however, we recommend trying to find a couple pairs of shoes to cycle through as you train. Recovery is not just something that your body needs; it is helpful for your shoes too!

The cushion in your shoes compresses during your runs. Letting the shoes have a day off will allow improved rebound before their next run. This will help your shoes last longer, although it may involve a heavier upfront cost.  Rotating your shoes can also help provide a variety of surfaces for your runs. We recommend that you find a great local shoe store to help you out!! A few that we would recommend are: Jus Running, Mountain Running Company, Foot Rx 

These are just a few of the tips that we often discuss with our clients who run, regardless of their weekly mileage or goals. If you want to run, you deserve to run WELL. Take the time to check on your form and get some professional advice if you’re not sure what to work on. We want to see the time and energy you put into your training result in meeting your goals and minimizing injuries so you can run for as long as you want! Our therapists can help talk through the details of your running form and training plans to help you get the most out of your miles!


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