Today we’re talking about the number one running form mistake we see—an arched lower back. This position can lead to poor running hip posture, which is often the cause of low back pain, a low cadence, and potential running injuries. We’ll be diving into how to recognize this posture, and our favorite exercises to fix it.
As a runner, if you get injured or are struggling to make improvements in your performance, the most likely scapegoat is your feet. You’re encouraged to change your footstrike or get a different pair of shoes. But just because this is the common reaction doesn’t mean it’s the right one.
Rather than focusing on your feet, proper run form and injury prevention comes down to your running hip position—what are your hips and pelvis doing while on the run?
Briefly put, the body goes where the hips lead. As the center of your gravity, if you lean your hips to one side or the other, you’ll eventually have to pick up your feet to follow and prevent falling over. Similarly, if your hips are pressing forward, you’re creating forward momentum. Your feet will follow the forward lean your hips have started. This is obviously beneficial on the run since it means less work for you.
In addition to some energy benefits, your hip position can help avoid running injuries. We’ll get into the details below, but briefly put, if your hips keep your pelvis in a stable position, you’re better able to engage your glutes and hamstrings while running. As muscular powerhouses within the body, this helps avoid compensation injuries and muscle cramps. It also helps maintain good running technique.
We’ll keep this anatomy lesson brief! Ideally, a runner has a “stacked” default position, say when they’re just standing around. This means standing up straight and able to trace a line starting with the ears down through the shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles.
Within that straight line, let’s take a look at the pelvis position. Sometimes compared to a bowl, the pelvis can be level, like a bowl sitting on a table. This is known as a neutral pelvis, and it really just means that your pelvis is balanced on all sides.
Alternatively, the pelvis can tilt either forward or backward, like a bowl about to spill its contents. This can lead to either a tucked (tilted back) or extended (tilted forward) pelvis.
The extended pelvis is a very common posture seen in runners, where you would see an arched lower back if looking at them from the side. The technical term for this posture is anterior pelvic tilt, and it can be detrimental to your running hip posture.
Your running stride depends on a neutral, stable pelvis to allow your leg to fully extend behind you so that it can pull forward into the next stride. Having an arched lower back compromises your hip extension and puts greater demand on the hip flexors to bring your leg forward.
Coach Nate digs into the energy return of hip extension in this video, along with a great demonstration using a big rubber band:
Try these quick drills to test out your hip position and feel the difference between anterior and neutral pelvic tilt.
As you stand in the stacked straight line, engage your glutes by squeezing your butt. You should feel your hips drive forward as your pelvic locks into place.
On the other hand, if you let your back arch in that anterior pelvic tilt and then try to engage your glutes, it’s a lot tougher. Similarly, if you adopt a poor posture, say with one hip cocked to the side like you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, you’ll notice it’s much more difficult to engage your glutes and squeeze your glutes on either leg.
Repeat this drill a few times to build awareness of the difference between a neutral and an anterior tilt.
This drill will engage your core much as you just practiced engaging your glutes. The stability in your core will help keep your pelvis away from that anterior tilt on the run, putting you in a much safer position while running.
While in this position, notice how pressing your low back into the ground locks your pelvis into the same neutral position we practiced with the butt squeeze. As you relax back down to the ground, you’ll feel the arch in your back return.
The arch in your back is a natural posture, so we’re not trying to get rid of that altogether. It’s the excessive arch, that anterior tilt, that we want to tone down by coming back to neutral.
Here’s how you can make the exercise more challenging:
The most important part of this drill is to keep your core engaged with a neutral pelvis. If your legs and arms are extended but your back is arched off the ground, you won’t get much out of this practice. If you’re feeling your back arch or losing integrity in your core by starting to relax those muscles, keep your knees close to your chest and your arms at your sides. You can slowly work up to extending just one arm, or just one leg and so on.
It can be very easy to hold your breath during this exercise as you concentrate on maintaining your form and core strength. We can’t hold our breath while running, so we definitely don’t want to hold it while performing a running drill!
Because of this, we recommend performing this exercise for 10 breath cycles rather than for time. One breath cycle is an inhale in and an exhale out. Step up the challenge by breathing exclusively through your nose for an extra dose of core and diaphragm engagement. To really dial in your running hip posture through this drill, practice it before and after your run for one week.
This final drill will tie together your hip position practice and how you should feel during your actual run. Practicing in isolation is a great start, but it’s important to also put it into practice while actually running.
The takeaway here is to think about running with your hips pressing forward as if your glutes were constantly engaged. That hip drive forward will keep your pelvis neutral and result in strong running hip posture. Changing your movement patterns will take time, so keep practicing these drills consistently and notice your improved run form.
For more information on how your hip posture can affect your running, watch this video on running faster with your hips:
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