Part 2: Rotating the Pelvis
In last month’s article, we looked at how many of us most frequently heard comments about pain or soreness in the back, knees, feet or other lower body parts can all be addressed by holding the pelvis level and engaging the core . Many newcomers to Chi Running and Chi Walking find they are not sure which muscles to use to level their pelvis, while others realize that the correct support muscles have become weak, either as a result of poor postural habits or the result of injury. By finding and retraining the support muscles of the deep abdomen, we learned that we can control the motion of the pelvis so that it is level and stable, both front-to-back and side-to-side, giving our column a strong foundation for walking, running, or any of our other daily activities. For a refresher course, click here to find that article in the library, as well as others.
Now that we have all been practicing engaging our deep abs for pelvic support for the last few weeks, let’s take the next step and find out how to rotate that stable pelvis along our vertical axis, giving us a more relaxed and fluid stride. First let’s address the specific area where the upper and lower body meet.
You might say your lower body is what wears the pants and your upper body is everything north of there. For our purposes, we say the lower body begins a little higher than that, right at the point where the upper or thoracic spine (the part that curves outward) meets the lower or lumbar spine, the part that curves inward. The thoracic spine cannot move very much because it is connected to all those ribs, but where the lumber region begins, at the T/L junction, the potential for rotation also begins. If you’ve ever done the "Twist" on the dance floor, you know what we’re talking about!
To help identify this key junction, try this exercise:
- Stand with your right foot slightly in front of the left, both feet flat on the ground and your weight shifted a little bit more to the front foot. Both knees should be soft, not locked. Hold your arms out from your sides either straight out like airplane wings, or bent as though your elbows were resting on the arms of a big chair.
- Engage your lower abdominal muscles to level your pelvis.
- Holding your pelvis level, rotate your left hip back and then return to the starting place. Do this deliberately at first, even if it feels easy, to give your time to identify the sensations in your trunk and in your spine as the level pelvis rotates to the back and then returns.
- Keep your upper body quiet and your shoulders still, not counter-rotating with your hips. Having your arms out wide from your sides can help with this. Imagine your shoulders are headlights and the beams to do not move from where they are pointed. Gradually you will be able to bring your arms to your sides in a running or walking position while you perform this exercise.
- As the movement becomes easier, gradually increase the speed of the rotation so that the motion is constant and fluid.
- Switch legs so that the left foot is in front, and rotate the right hip backward and return to its starting place, repeating steps 2 through 5.
Adding this exercise to the body looseners you do before your run or walk can help wake up the T/L junction and get it ready to rotate.
Fine, you say, but what does this have to do with walking and running? By allowing the hips to rotate around the vertical axis, we can get from 1 to 4 inches of increased stride length in the back of the stride, before we pick up the foot. A longer stride, without the heel striking that comes from reaching too far out in front, can reduce the number of steps per mile, and that can save you energy. In addition, rotating around the vertical axis allows you to tap into very powerful leg-movement muscles deep within the abdomen: the iliopsoas. This big muscle stretches and elongates at the back of our stride and then naturally recoils as the foot comes forward, generating a lot of power with very little contraction.
To apply this rotation to running or walking, simply leave the foot on the ground a fraction of a second longer before allowing the heel to begin peeling off. Maybe imagine that the bottoms of your shoes are slightly sticky to get the right sensation. The increased length of time is almost imperceptible to your mind, but it is long enough to allow the rearward rotation of your level pelvis with every step. Be careful not to allow your cadence to drop, although you may find that setting your metronome a beat or so slower than your normal cadence will give you time to incorporate all the sensation of the new focus as you are learning it. Also, don’t let your hips swing up and down – this is the twist, not hula dancing! The key phrase to remember here is this: Every time your leg swings out behind you, let your hip go back with it.
By developing the ability to rotate your level pelvis around the vertical axis of your spine, you can open up a new avenue of Chi Running for yourself that will give you a longer, smoother, more fluid stride. Give it a try and don’t forget to stop by the Chi Running and Chi Walking forums if you have any questions.