The Ideal Running Form (For Max Efficiency + Power)

My inaugural blog post! It’s finally here! The idea behind this blog post stemmed from months of practices with my local running club. In all of our group “cross training” sessions, I found that we were essentially doing Pilates. We were doing “planks”, “hip lifts”, “leg lifts” and so much more. Unfortunately instead of going to the foundation of those exercises, the majority of runners turned to other forms of exercise as cross training- yoga, weights and more. I truly believe that Pilates, at its purest, inherently helps all athletes, and specifically runners, strengthen weakness, adjust imbalances and develop the strong powerhouse you need to run.
In an effort to educate those who may not understand the connection between Pilates and running, I’ve created this post! Hopefully this post will help you connect the dots between running and Pilates. It should help convince you that Pilates is the perfect form of cross training, and should be included every day- whether in a cool down routine or as cross training.
*Disclaimer: I am not putting down other forms of exercise! I think those are necessary as well but, I feel that there is a lack of attention brought to Pilates’ benefits for runners (specifically versus other “ab exercises.”)

There is a lot of talk about the “ideal running form.” Of course, in every body, this looks slightly different but, I’ve chosen a popular elite runner to use as an example. From an anatomical, Pilates and running perspective, I believe these five elements are essential to achieve “ideal running form.”

Jordan Hasay

Coaches and trainers all harp on “having good form.” While this is essential in all exercise (Pilates included!) this is vital in runners as the repetitive motion of running/taking a step is repeated thousands of times throughout one practice. Think about how many steps you might take during a marathon – 20,000? All of your imbalances and weakness will be exacerbated by the constant and high volume of repetition.

  1. Slight Forward Lean

The ideal running position is with a slight forward lean from the head to toe. You don’t want to lean just from the hips (that would be you hinging from the hips, decreasing the angle at your hip flexors, causing unnecessary strain). This natural, slight forward lean lets gravity help you run forwards. Additionally, you can see her core is tight and activated, helping her achieve a neutral spine and tall posture.

How is Pilates connected to this? 

The core work you are doing in Pilates helps you maintain tight abs while you are running. One of the main goals in Pilates is to help your body unconsciously turn your abs on as you are running (or hitting the ball, kicking etc). Our ultimate goal as Pilates instructors is to see you demonstrate “unconscious competence” as a student in everything you do.

  1. Limited Bounce (Staying close to ground)

You want to limit the amount of “air time” you get as you run. This isn’t basketball or volleyball where your “vertical” is directly contributing to your performance. If you are excessively bouncy, you are wasting energy to move upwards instead of forwards. If you think about how long it takes the average person to complete a marathon (26.2 miles, let us estimate about 4 hours), think about all the wasted energy you exerted to move upwards instead of propelling yourself forwards. Additionally, the farther you go up, the less control your muscles will have over your landing. The higher you jump, the more your muscles have to work harder to control you landing. This is a potential contributing factor to shin splints/ankle issues in runners.

How is Pilates connected to this? 
Pilates is a “mind body” exercise method. In Pilates, you ideally learn to effectively control your body’s motions beyond sheer reflex. Instead of letting your running form be what it “naturally” is, you can use the control you learn in Pilates (which is actually called “Contrology”) to help reduce over bouncing.

  1. Relaxed upper body and solid posture

Your arms should be swinging forwards and backwards by your sides. You ideally want to prevent any horizontal movement and overswinging (swinging too far forwards or backwards). Again, this is excessive movement and may be linked to a lack of control over your core. You want relaxed shoulders (away from the ears and wide chest) and to look forwards as you run.

How is Pilates connected to this? 

Look at reason #1! It’s all connected. Your core helps you hold your arms in a comfortable swinging range

  1. Glutes activating 

As you run, your glutes should be fully activating and firing. As you step off your back leg, your glute should be working to move your leg forwards. Instead of depending on the front of your legs (quads etc), you want to focus on the push from the back of your legs (hamstring/glutes) for full power in your stride.

How is Pilates connected to this? 
Pilates is a total body exercise method that heavily incorporates the hamstrings and glutes. Many of my clients comment on much more their hamstrings and glutes are activated than in any other exercise they’ve done. In Pilates, the glutes work to stabilize or move the pelvis and connect with the work of the abs. All Pilates exercises incorporate a strong glute connection.

  1. Not Overstriding

You want to focus on not overstepping. The “general” rule of thumb is not letting your ankle go past your knees. As you can see in the above diagram, her foot falls well before her knees, meaning she is taking smaller, efficient strides.

How is Pilates connected to this? 

If you are appropriately using your glutes and hamstrings, you won’t be overstriding. As you continue your Pilates practice, your range of motion for the flexion and extension of your hips will increase and your hips/glutes will strengthen. If your hips are properly extended, you will have a longer stride without having to bring the ankle beyond the knee. Pilates helps to extend the hips via the work through the glutes. There are TONS of exercises that help with this and I’ve found that this is a big thing that improves early on in a Pilates practice.
I hope that this helped you see the connection between working on your running form and a Pilates practice. With running, there is almost always a direct link to what we work on in Pilates.

Until next time!

Christie

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