Updated: Jun 22, 2021
One of the main principles of the current proper run form theory is called the Lean. This is where you lean from your ankles and fall forward. The idea is that when you fall, your legs will naturally come out in front of you and hold you up. As you maintain this lean, your feet will continuously fall in front of you holding you up as you move forward. Gravity is doing most of the work rather than you pushing off your back feet and bounding forward. Bounding and pushing off may give you quicker speed in the short run, but it requires more energy and when you run longer distances, that means you are not as efficient with your energy.
It is important to note that the aspects I talk about in the Run Form Series are all theories of the best way to run. Try them out and see if it works for you. Who knows what the run theory will be in 5, 10, 15 years from now. This is part of the reason I emphasize that you learn to listen to your body. If/when the run form theory changes again, you’ll have the skills to try out the new theory and see if it works better for you.
Elements of the Lean
The lean is like a falling forward plank. To maintain that plank you need to engage our core, back and shoulders properly to support that continuous fall forward. See the previous blogs for explanations of engagement and exercises to activate, grow and coordinate the muscle groups.
When I start my run, I like to:
Imagine that there is a string that is going from my feet straight up through the top of my skull pulling me straight up. This allows me to stand tall.
I engage my core.
Lean from my ankles.
This should create that continuous fall forward.
What I have found is that we have a tendency to lean from either our shoulders or our hips. When you lean from your shoulders you create a hunched type run, which is inefficient and puts more pressure on your shoulders. When you lean from your hips, your butt sticks out while your upper body leans forward putting more pressure on your lower back and making you less efficient. If you are finding pain or soreness in your shoulders or hips, check where you are leaning from.
You may find that you are leaning at either the shoulders or hips because you are not engaging the support muscles around those areas to keep them straight or as you fatigue those muscles get tired and it is hard to keep them straight. This is another reason why simple regular core and back exercises are important.
For me, leaning from my ankles is not a natural way to run or walk. But I do find that it is more efficient. It takes practice. Remember that our body has spent years walking/running in a certain way and has built up primary and support muscles to make that feel easiest. But that does not mean that in the long run it is the most efficient.
Use the exercises below to help your body start to become familiar with the sensations associated with the different types of leans. These are exercises you can practice running or walking. Remember that there is a progression to learning any skill and practice helps to engrain them in your brain/body. As you go through this process, remember that you are learning to listen to your body, understand the feedback and adapt to the messages. This is what I’ve found works for me, but your body will let you know if it works for you or if there is a better way for you. Try them out and see what works.
Required Material: none
Duration: 90-180 per stage
Standing perform the following
Imagine that there is a string going from your feet through your skull pulling you up straight.
Engage your inner thighs, glutes, abs, lower back, back and shoulders (Core and Upper Body).
Slowly lean forward from your ankles continuing to engage the muscles above to provide support for falling plank.
Lean from your ankles forward until one foot (it doesn’t matter which one) comes out in front of you to stop you from falling over.
Notice these things:
How does that feel? What do you notice?
Did your core and/or upper body shift? Is it easier or harder to maintain your core engagement while practicing the forward fall?
Can you tell which muscle was the first to give out/hardest to maintain engaged? Ie was it your glutes? Back? Shoulders?
Try again but take a couple of steps forward. Remember to continue to engage your core, back and shoulders. Listen to your body, collect data and ask the same questions from the previous questions.
Stage 2 - Repeat Stage 1 but try to lean from your shoulders. The purpose is to listen to how this feels so you can recognize when you are doing this when you walk or run.
Stage 3 - Repeat Stage 1 but try to lean from your hips. The purpose is to listen to how this feels so you can recognize when you are doing this when you walk or run
Stage 4 - Practice leaning from your ankles in a slow jog (the slower the better, almost at the same pace as a walk). Play around with the different aspects to see if you can start to feel the differences and shifts between the different leans, when you are engaging all of the support muscles versus when you forget to engage one.