If you are looking for an easy way to fix or improve your posture, you’re not alone. There are a plethora of benefits when it comes to maintaining good posture, but it’s incredibly hard to pull off. Various exercises can help you strengthen your postural muscles, but I often get asked if running improves posture. Let’s find out.
Some running forms strengthen your core muscles which in turn helps with maintaining good posture, while other running forms, such as slow jogging, do not use significant core muscles and therefore do not contribute to good posture. Running should not be used as a sole posture solution by itself.
Now, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Even if you aren’t running quickly, your posture can still improve if you target your core muscles with your exercise using certain techniques.
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Additionally, although your core is involved in running, much of it is passive and your core muscles would benefit more from targeted exercises.
(I learned a lot from the great book Running Anatomy by Joe Puleo and Patrick Milroy, and I’ll be sharing many tidbits spread through the article)
How Running Contributes To (and Benefits From) Posture
If you’re unsure what posture even is, just hang on and read the rest of the article. For now, though, I’ll describe how running contributes to posture.
Running, particularly the take-off portion of the running gait, uses abdominal muscles for power and stabilization.
Just the act of using these muscles conditions them and strengthens them.
Specifically, our obliques lengthen and shorten as we run, and our deep core muscles as well as our lower-back muscles support our body weight as we lean, bend, and otherwise move up and down inclines. (Running Anatomy, ch 6).
Obliques are the abdominal muscles that run diagonally across our abdomen and are primarily used for stabilization. They are what burn when you do those infamous side planks. It’s these muscles of our abs that are primarily used when running.
Our abs (including obliques) are used for supporting our spine (source) while we sit and while we stand. Running can help strengthen these muscles and improve your posture.
Not only are the abs exercised, but our back support muscles as well. In short, although running on its own isn’t the solution to gaining good posture, it’s a fantastic complementary exercise that can help your body’s posture.
Running Movement With Activated Abs Can Assist Posture
In a somewhat eccentric study, participants ran in place while performing the abdominal drawing in method. (That thing you do when you’re trying to find your six pack in the mirror). They found that posture improved from the running motion with the abs strongly engaged.
You can do this as well, while you’re running, you can activate your abs (flexing them, which draws in your abdominal muscles). This will activate your abs and involve them in body stabilization which can improve your posture.
If you want to learn more details on the abdominal drawing-in manuever, check out verywellhealth’s article, here.
How Running Benefits From Posture
If you’ve ever ran before, you’ll probably have noticed by now that after a long run, it isn’t your abs that are tired, it’s your legs (and if you’re like me, it feels like your whole body is tired).
Specifically, though, you don’t feel usually get a strong muscle burn in your abs when you’re running unless you’re sprinting.
Just as running activates deep core muscles as well as your pelvis muscles and your obliques, your running form relies on these muscles to provide balance and stability.
If your core muscles are tired or weak, then your body will find other secondary muscles such as your glutes and quads to draw from, which can lead to injury over time. (Running Anatomy, ch 6)
The best option is to exercise your core instead of using running as your sole exercise. I’ll talk about some core exercises later on in this article, but if you’re curious about how to incorporate core exercises into your exercise regime, check out our article, here.
How Can I Improve My Posture?
The battle starts with becoming aware of your posture and what you’re doing wrong. In the Digital Age, we’re all spending so much time in front of our desks, on our phones and driving, all activities that cause us to hunch over. Your spine is probably rounded right now, as you read this article. This extends to the way you lie down when you go to sleep, the way you lift heavy items and the way you run.
When your spine is curved, your shoulders are pressed forwards or towards your ears and your trunk isn’t in alignment with your shoulders, you are training your body to adopt bad posture. So you need to identify the bad habits that you’ve developed over your lifetime and consciously counteract it by doing a series of exercises and consciously changing the way you hold your body.
Running With Good Form
Relax Your Shoulders
Don’t bend your shoulders or bring them up to your ears. You need to start off by focusing on this in the standing position. Pull them back and stay relaxed. It will not only help you maintain balance, but straightens the body and engages central muscles, while also protecting your lower back.
Relax Your Neck
Your neck also needs to stay relaxed and loose, along with the whole of your upper body to prevent unneccessary tension. Always look forward and stay focused.
Straighten Your Spine
This one goes without saying, but some people do tend to arch their spine slightly when they run, which messes up any chance of correct alignment and it also contracts your torso, which decreases your lung capacity. So stand up straight with your shoulders and neck relaxed and feel how much lighter your body feels.
Mind Your Arms
A lot of people don’t really know what to do with their arms when they are running. Some people clench their fists (or hold their phone or water bottle too tight), which creates unnecessary tension and also takes up energy that could be better used for your actual running. Other people run with their arms close to their chests, which leads you to naturally lean forwards and limits your lung capacity. However, bending your elbows at a 90 degree angle with your arms loose and at your sides. This will also contribute towards relaxing your shoulders and, if you swing your arms at an angle parallel to the ground it can also help you propel yourself forwards.
Find Your Center Of Gravity
Running with your torso pointing straight up can cause damage to your patellofemoral joint (source). Leaning forward means for many people transitioning from a rearfoot strike pattern (landing on your heel while running), to landing on your midfoot or front of your foot (barefoot running style). Want to know more about barefoot running and performance? Check out our article here on the subject.
Align the Pelvis
Pelvic misalignment, which may result from imbalance between the abdominal muscles and the lower-back muscles, can cause injuries that impede running performance.Running Anatomy, Ch 6
Muscle imbalance, perpetuated by only exercising one group of muscles instead of the entire suite of core muscles can lead to pelvic misalignment.
Shorten Your Stride
When you’re running, your stride should fall underneath your center of gravity, not ahead of it. If you’re doing the latter, your weight distribution is not helping with your body’s alignment.
You have to land lightly on your feet and if you don’t, you render all of this redundant. A good way to ensure that you reduce the impact of your feet on the ground is to land somewhere between your heel and the middle of your foot. As you bring your other leg forwards, roll onto your toes and push off with your standing leg.
Once you’ve got your landing right, work on bringing your toes up to your glutes when your feet swing back. Contracting your glutes and hamstring will shorten your stride and minimize the overall impact of the running motion on your body.
Follow What Works For Your Body
I don’t want to be the one to mislead you from what your own body is telling you to do. In Running Form, Owen Anderson states that coaches (and blogs) can take you down paths where your own body needs are ignored. Ultimately, what works for you works for you.
Just because runner X runs with a certain gait doesn’t mean that’s what you need to do.
Exercises To Improve Posture
WebMD recommends a great training program that involves doing single leg extensions, new crunches, pilates rollups/yoga situps, crossovers, cobra poses (back extensions), and planking that will all help engage the various postural muscles, make you stronger and get you a step closer to adopting good posture.
Healthline also recommends a few pilates and yoga poses such as the child’s pose, forward fold, cat-cow, standing cat-cow and chest openers.
In fact, getting into activities like yoga and pilates not only engage various muscles but help you focus on your breathing and stretches your muscles and tendons, the building blocks for good posture.
Unlike running, all of these exercises are focused and they directly target and build strength in the muscles that matter, your postural muscles, if done correctly.
Additional Core Exercises
I really appreciated the exercises in Running Anatomy because they focus not only on the core muscles in the front, but also the lower back muscles:
- Alternating Arm and Leg Raises (while laying down, raising left arm and right leg while keepiing right arm and left leg stationary, and then alternate)
- Sliding Leg Curl
- Bridge with Leg Kick
And others. Exercising your glutes, pelvic floor muscles, and lower back muscles are critical to a strong core.
As we discussed earlier, modern living and good posture are mortal enemies. Exercise and targeting specific muscle groups certainly helps, but changing the way you carry your body when you’re idle and not active is the most effective way to build good posture.
After all, you’re only exercising a maximum of 1 hour a day? More if you’re training or are an athlete. The way you hold your body in the other 20 or so hours of the day will make a big difference in how your body performs while running.
Here’s a quick guide on how to align your body properly while sitting down, standing up, lifting heavy objects, and when you’re behind the steering wheel.
The key behind successful normal life activities is to activate your muscles and not to rely on your ligaments and joints.
It’s true–many of us sit for most of the day. The standard conventional wisdom nowadays states that the best thing to combat the damaging effects of sitting for long periods of time is to try and sit with good posture (neutral positions without significant flexion in your back, avoiding slouching), but almost more importantly, to move. (webmd)
I struggle with this personally. I get absorbed in a project and don’t come up for air for hours sometimes. But the common wisdom is to get up and move around every 20-30 minutes or so.
One way to mitigate the problem is to use a standing desk, but it won’t help if you aren’t standing properly and you can become fatigued by standing all day. Another option is to get an ergonomic desk chair that helps facilitate better sitting muscle activation.
If you don’t have that option, make sure that your chair is adjusted so that your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle and with both feet flat on the floor, while your shoulders are pressed back and your spine is straightened. If you find yourself bringing your face closer to your computer screen, you should consider getting your eyes tested because you might need glasses. It’s much easier to maintain posture if you’re not having any trouble reading from your seated position.
If you can engage your core while sitting, this will help put the stress off your lower back and onto your muscles, which can actually grow to support your weight.
It’s natural for you to slouch… this is a consequence of the cruel laws of gravity, unfortunately. And when we’re tired, we tend to slouch more. So, to improve your standing posture, you should place your feet shoulder-length apart and put all of your weight into your soles. With your arms falling naturally at your sides, align your head, shoulders, hips, and knees. Stand straight with your shoulders back and your stomach tucked in.
Again, if you are relying on your joints in your hip or knee, then you are not engaging the big muscles in your legs or your core muscles to help you stand.
This is just the beginning of the discussion of what activities are bad habits that can interfere with your posture. Driving, sleeping, even walking all can contribute to lower back pain or other posture-related problems.
What Is Posture And Why Does It Matter For Running?
We’ve talked a lot about posture in this article, but in case you don’t feel like you have a strong handle of what posture is, read on.
Posture is the way in which your body aligns when holding certain positions. The correct alignment of your body parts, along with support from your muscles helps counteract gravity and the natural inclination of the body to adopt bad posture while doing certain activities.
With this in mind, if you are able to maintain good running posture, it’ll be helpful in the long-term “maintenance” of the muscles that help you maintain good posture.
Using your postural muscles is not usually a conscious function. Our muscles support good posture naturally. So it’s up to you to pay more attention to the way you hold your body throughout the day.
It’s 100% worth it though. It takes a few simple exercises that you can literally do when you aren’t doing anything. You can work on your posture while you’re lying down! And the benefits of having and maintaining good posture are endless. It genuinely affects every moment of your day because bad posture creates stress and puts pressure on your spine.
And what’s more, good posture improves your performance when you exercise and especially when you’re running. And if you’re exercising with good posture, it builds your postural muscles up further, which in turn improves your posture in general. It becomes a natural function of your body.
It’s the gift that keeps giving, really. And, if you want to look more athletic in general, good posture accentuates the best features of your body.
Another thing to consider is that your posture affects how your body ages and that bad posture speeds up the process, which will give you aches and pains. Good posture is one of the best-kept secrets to longevity. Not only does good posture alleviate unnecessary pressure on your muscles and joints, but it’s also good for your internal organs if you’re not permanently hunched forwards.
Running is unquestionably a very healthy activity. It makes for a healthy heart, stronger lower body muscles, improves your fitness and endurance and it has a wide range of mental health benefits. However, if you’re running with the wrong posture, you’re never going to get the most out of it and your performance will suffer. Paying close attention to your running posture is a good way to improve your posture overall, but, on its own, it’s not going to make significant changes to your posture.