• Geoff

Run Form Focus - Back and Shoulders

Updated: Jun 22, 2021


Shoulder and Back engagement for great Run Form

When you run, your back and shoulders help to keep your upper body stable. When they are gently engaged, they prevent your upper body from swaying around. An analogue that I like to think about is a flimsy pole wobbling in the wind vs a firm pole. If they both have the same weight, the flimsy one is going to be harder to move around especially if there is wind or you're moving it fast.


As I discussed in the previous blog on the Core and Pelvis, the next part to stability is lower back engagement. Think about it this way, if your mid section is like a tube, a complete tube (full circle) is much more stable than a half pipe (ie. just engaging your abs). The lower back engagement supports the abs and other parts of the core and allows them all to be more efficient. Here is a brief description of the lower back engagement as I wrote in Core Stability in the Run Basics Series.


Lower Back - I imagine squeezing my love handles so as to make them touch behind me. Keep in mind, they will barely move, but what this does is engages those muscles so that it gives your midsection the tension it needs to stay stable.


Notice how this engagement feels when you engage the other aspects of your core (Glutes, Abs and Inner Thighs).


Back Engagement - As you learn to activate the lower back and develop/practice this movement, the more natural it will be for you (Muscle Refinement Progression Blog). This squeezing together motion is the same for the rest of your back when creating stability while running. Notice how that feels. I generally find that as I continue this motion up my back, that it opens my chests and pushes my sternum forward.


Shoulders


The shoulders cap off your back. They are part of stability. I find that as I fatigue on a run they like to get tense and rise up toward my ears. Similar to the back, you can squeeze them together.


There is another motion, that for me, helps to stabilize and solidify the back engagement. I like to think of this motion as a cap that closes the tube that is your back engagement. This motion is rotating your Scapula or Shoulder Blades.


Rotating Your Scapula:


The best way for me to explain this motion is through these steps:

  1. Put your arms out extended to your side to create a ‘T’ with your arms and upper body. Your palms facing towards the earth

  2. Rotate your hand so that your palms are facing the sky.

  3. As you rotate your palms, feel the shoulder blades rotate and your chest open/push forward.


It's important for me to note that as we are going through this, it is easy to overthink all of this engagement. Proper run form is developed and built over time and with practice. It is equally important to be relaxed. These tools should be seen as mechanisms that you can adjust when you notice aches or pains while running and to help you get back to proper form.


Exercises


How to Engage Your Back


Required Material: none

Duration: 90-180 per stage


Stage 1


Standing perform the following

  1. Slowly engage the Lower Back as described above.

  2. Engage and relax a couple of times, notice how it feels.

  3. Notice these things:

  4. What happens and how does your lower back feels when you tightly engage?

  5. How does it feel when you’re fully relaxed or loose?

  6. Try and find the balance that you feel gives you stability.

  7. How does this relate to your Abs, Glutes and Inner Thighs?

  8. Try engaging your Abs, Glutes and Inner Thighs separately and all together with the lower back. Play with this new engagement and find a balance.


Stage 2 - Walk around and play around with the lower back engagement and core for 30-60 seconds.


Stage 3 - Standing, continue that engagement up your back. How does it feel? Is it easy or hard? When you think about how developed your ability to engage your back is, is this a new motion or how familiar are you with it?


Stage 4 - Walk around and play with the lower back and upper back engaged together. See how you feel when you over engage and under engage. Then find a good balance. Add in the Core (Glutes, Abs and Inner Thighs) as well.


Rotating your Scapula


Required Material: none

Duration: 30 secs per aspect, 90-180 per stage


Stage 1


Standing perform the following

  1. Put your arms out extended to your side to create a ‘T’ with your arms and upper body. Your palms facing towards the earth

  2. Rotate your hand so that your palms are facing the sky.

  3. Notice these things:

  4. What happens and how does your posture change and feel when you strongly rotate?

  5. How does it feel when you’re fully relaxed or loose?

  6. Try and find the balance that you feel gives you stability.

  7. Lower your arms and try to rotate your shoulder blades.

  8. What do you notice and how does it feel?

  9. Strongly rotate and unrotate your scapula. Find the balance between them

  10. How does this feel relative to your back?

  11. Add in your back engagement

  12. What do you notice and how does it feel?

  13. Play around with your back engagement and shoulder blade rotation

  14. How does it feel? What feels the most stable?


Stage 2 - Walk around and play around with the Shoulder rotation and back engagement for 60-90 seconds.


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