Running posture is all well and good, you say, but if it doesn't make you faster, then why bother? The good news is that posture isn't a zero sum game, and it can help you move not only more efficiently and safely, but also more quickly. So, if running faster is your goal (say, if you're a sprinter), then let's take a look at the parts of the upper body that have the most effect on speed and how they should be positioned.
Your head should still be facing the horizon, but if you're sprinting, it helps be looking down about three steps in front of you. Sprinters should lean their torso forward quite a lot in the opening phase of the sprint, moving to a more upright posture (but still leaning forward slightly) by the time they reach maximum speed [source: Davies].
While there's little doubt that arms provide stability, there is some belief that they can help boost your speed as well. The motion of swinging your arms can actually assist your legs as they swing forward. [source: Hahn; Jones]. At the same time, still be sure to keep your shoulders and hands loose so you can save energy for your legs. For sprinting, arm movement should bring your hands swinging from your cheeks to your hips. And you can forget the whole relaxing thing with sprinting; you can relax at the finish line. Instead, use powerful arm swings to help propel your body forward.
Of course, a lot of research remains to be done to confirm or refute the traditional (and not-so-traditional) wisdom on running posture. You'll see lots of elite runners doing all kinds of unconventional things, and it's true that some coaches think that running form is purely personal. Ultimately, proper running posture helps you breathe and move more efficiently, allowing you to run either as long or as fast as you like. Achieving it can take a lot of practice and experience, but that's part of the fun of running.
Learn even more about the best running posture, stride and form by visiting the links below.
- Bloom, Marc. "Taking It All In … Stride." Runners World. April, 2007. Vol. 42, no. 4. (7-21-2010)http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-238-267-268-11826-0,00.html
- Burfoot, Amby. "The 10 Laws of Injury Prevention." Runners World. March, 2010. (7-26-2010)
- Comereski, John. "The Effects of Posture on Running Performance." AMAA Journal. Vol. 17, No. 1. Pages 8-10. Spring 2004.
- Davies, Phil. "How to Improve Your Sprinting Technique." Sports Fitness Advisor. (July 21, 2010)http://www.sport-fitness-advisor.com/sprintingtechnique.html
- Eyestone, Ed. "Breathing With a Purpose." Runners World. Dec 7, 2007. (7-26-2010)http://www.runnersworld.com/article/1,7124,s6-369-370--12374-0,00.html
- Fields, Karl B. (et al.). "Prevention of Running Injuries." Current Sports Medicine Reports (May/June 2010). Vol. 9, No. 3. Pages 176-182.http://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/Abstract/2010/05000/Prevention_of_Running_Injuries.14.aspx
- Hahn, Jane Unger. The Perfect Form. Runners World. Aug 2004. (7-26-2010)http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-238-267-268-8210-0,00.html
- Hasegawa, Hiroshi (et al.). Foot Strike Patterns of Runners at the 15-Km Point During an Elite-Level Half Marathon." J Strength & Cond. Res. (Aug 2007). Vol. 21, No. 3. Pages 888-893.http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2007/08000/Foot_Strike_Patterns_of_Runners_At_the_15_Km_Point.40.aspx
- Jones, Robyn et al. Coaching Sprinting: Expert Coaches' Perception of Race Phases and Technical Constructs. Intl J of Sports Sci & Coaching, (4), 385-396.
- Lieberman, D.E., et al. "Foot Strike Patterns and Collision Forces in Habitually Barefoot Versus Shod Runners." Nature. 2010 Jan 28 (v463 n7280), 531-5. (7-26-2010)http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v463/n7280/full/nature08723.html
- Luff, Christine. "How to Run Hills Properly." About.com. April 24, 2010. (7-26-2010)http://running.about.com/od/trainingessentials/ht/hillrunning.htm
- Magness, Steve. "New Studies on Footstrike: Do Faster Runners Heel Strike?" The Science of Running (blog). Feb 2010. (7-22-2010)http://www.scienceofrunning.com/2010/02/new-studies-on-footstrike-do-faster.html
- Morris, Rick. "Running Form for Distance Runners." Running Planet. (July 26, 2010)http://www.runningplanet.com/training/running-form.html
- Tucker, Ross and Dugas, Jonathan. "Heel vs. Midfoot vs. Forefoot: How Do Elite Runners Land?" The Science of Sport (blog). April 1, 2008. (7-26-2010)http://www.sportsscientists.com/2008/04/running-technique-footstrike.html
- Wharton, Jim and Wharton, Phil. "Myth Buster." Runner's World. July, 2006.
- Yessis, Michael. "4 Exercises to Increase Your Running Speed." Running & FitNews (2003). Vol. 21, No. 5. Page 2. (7-22-2010)http://www.active.com/running/Articles/4_Exercises_to_Increase_Your_Running_Speed.htm (adapted from Michael Yessis' book Explosive Running (Chicago: 2000))