A simple exercise will help you run as stably as you stand.
Written by: Sage Rountree
Most of us are pretty well balanced when we stand up. You probably don’t find it tough to adopt an even stance—what in yoga we’d call mountain pose (tadasana)—while standing still. But change one thing, and simply standing erect can get a lot tougher. Running places this demand on your body repeatedly. Can you hold yourself aligned as you move over your feet, one at a time, often on uneven terrain? When you learn to balance in a steady, upright position, you will be more efficient and your running will change for the better, especially in the later stages of a workout or race.
Finding this balance isn’t hard. You can practice it virtually anytime, no special equipment required. It starts with finding a neutral position. This position begins where your feet contact the ground. Your feet should face forward, with the second toes tracking roughly parallel to each other. (Anatomical and functional differences might encourage you adopt a slightly different position, so experiment to see what works best for you.) Hold your feet where they’d fall when you run—that’s probably about the distance of your own fist between the big toes. Your hip points, kneecaps, and feet should all line up.
Now bring your awareness to your pelvis, which in neutral is neither tilted forward nor slumped back. Your hip points and pubic bone form a triangle that should run perpendicular to the floor as you stand balanced. If you are taking a slight forward tilt in your pelvis, your lower back won’t feel great. Try dropping your tailbone toward the ground. Your core muscles are slightly engaged, particularly the deepest layer, the transversus abdominus. Your lower ribs tuck toward your spine, your shoulder blades rest low, and your neck is long with your chin slightly tucked. All along the chain, your spine runs through its normal curves.
Piece of cake, right? Complicate it. Try changing the stance by rising onto the balls of your feet. What shifts? You probably need to realign your pelvis and spine: tailbone down, belly in, chin low. Practice lifting to the balls of your feet and realigning until it becomes second nature.
Next, notice how bending your arms at the elbows affects your stance. Not much? Start to swing your arms as you do when you run, and you’ll feel your core kick in to hold you aligned. Learning how to engage these core muscles will help keep you balanced and efficient in your stride, preventing overrotation. Simply practicing holding your tall, neutral stance as you swing your arms is the first step.
Finally, try lifting one leg at a time, as when you run, and notice how this split stance affects the alignment of your pelvis and spine. Remember: tailbone down, belly in, chin low. Find your own cues that help you hold this steady line, and return to them throughout your workout. They’ll make you a more balanced runner.
Sage Rountree, Runner’s World’s yoga expert, is author of The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga and The Athlete’s Pocket Guide to Yoga. In addition to teaching yoga workshops nationwide, she is an active coach with certifications from USA Triathlon and the RRCA.