Women’s Running, Men’s Running ... It’s All in Hips
OK, I often say … that one thing or another is the most important thing about your running, but I mean it here. Learning to rotate your hips and your spine correctly is the absolute, bottom-line key to good running form. Yes, everything else is important too, but your hips and pelvis are where efficient running really happens.
I’m going to make a HUGE generalization, but only because it is what I observe most often. Most men don’'t rotate their hips enough and most women rotate their hips without enough of a stabilizing force, making their hips swing too loosely. There are also some men who are too loose and lots of women who are too tight in their pelvis. You need to Body Sense for yourself which you are, but I wanted to make the generalization to give you a beginning point from which to decide if you’re too loose or too tight in your hips.
When running correctly, the movement of the hips is very similar in men and women, and the key to correcting the issue is very similar for both men and women or for those that are too tight or too loose. The key to correcting your hips is learning and practicing to engage your core muscles while running … and letting everything else relax. Doing it correctly is almost a yogic practice and requires the ability to Body Sense deeply. Every step you make toward engaging your core, primarily by leveling your pelvis, and relaxing everything else will help improve your running.
First lets take a look at the problem of being too tight in the hips and pelvis. If you are too tight in your pelvis, it’s because you are over-using your glutes, your quads and your erector spine (the two big muscles running along your spine at the lower back). These are not the best muscles for stabilizing movement. They have other jobs to do. But when they are used incorrectly, they not only limit your movement, but they get tired, worn out, sore and achy and they take up a lot of energy. And, all of that tightness in your spine and pelvis inhibits the flow of chi from flowing up and down your spine. A much more efficient way of stabilizing your movement is to level your pelvis by engaging your lower abs and your psoas which are your strongest core muscles. You then need to do the work of relaxing all those poor, overused glutes and lower back muscles.
With those of you who are too loose, you are not stable enough, and the exaggerated movement of the pelvis causes inefficiency in your movement and can irritate your IT band. If your hips and pelvis are too loose, more often than not your pelvis will move laterally (side-to-side) when you run, rather than rotating around the axis of your spine. If you'’ve seen me in classes you may remember my Mae West impersonation: think of how a fashion model walks down the runway with exaggerated movement in her hips ... …that's an exaggeration of what I see in many people, but pretty accurate.
Because of their anatomical differences, there are reasons why men are too tight and women too loose in the hips. Women's generally broader hips require a strong core to stabilize their movement. Men's generally narrower hips don’t rotate as much. And there are social and psychological factors that contribute as well. If women were to try to emulate the models of today, they would have no center at all, and if men were to emulate the image of the typical macho-man out of the movies, their hips would be like immovable rock.
What to do…
For both men and women, the place to start, as always, is with aligning your posture — …that's number one. You need a straight axis around which to rotate your hips. The next thing you’ll need to do is to level your pelvis. See the Chi Running book or DVD for lessons on correct posture.
Leveling your pelvis will allow your body to run much more efficiently, because you’re engaging your core muscles and stabilizing your movement in the correct way. This allows all your other muscles to move freely as they should. But you need to Body Sense how to level your pelvis. Be sure to not use your glutes to do it. Use a your lower abdominals and gently pull up on your pubic bone. The lowest of the abdominal muscles is called the pyramidalis which attaches to the public bone. If you do a fake cough you’'ll feel this muscle. It may be hard to find and feel at first, much less isolate the use of it, but it's worth it to practice finding it and using it. This is where you’ll practice being a yogi. When you use the pyramidalis and your lower, deepest abdominal muscles to level your pelvis, while relaxing your glutes and lower back muscles, you will change the structure of your body and improve all kinds of movement, not just running. It's especially good for men and women who suffer from lower back pain.
Even though the level pelvis is key to good running form, do not over do practicing it at first or you will feel some discomfort and possibly pain in your back from overdoing. Remember: Gradual Progress ... take your time to make the needed changes to your form.
For those who are too loose, your focus will be on stabilizing your pelvis by leveling it. For those of you who are already too tight, your focus is on relaxing and loosening. But both require the engaged, core muscles utilized in the level pelvis.
For those of you with tight lower backs, think about letting energy drop right down from the top of your head, right out your tailbone to the ground to relax your lower back. Relaxing the lower back is possible, but again, takes practice, requires practicing your Body Sensing skills, and is enhanced with visualizations of letting energy fall down your back. As your abdominal muscles become stronger from holding your pelvis level, your lower back muscles will learn to relax.
In terms of injury-prevention, as you learn to rotate your pelvis you’ll be seriously reducing the impact to your knees. Each time your foot hits the ground, let your hip go back with your leg. This will absorb the shock of the road by allowing your leg to move in the same direction as the road is moving under you.
If this sounds like a lot of hard work, I can promise you, it is less work than trying to push and pull yourself down the road with overworked leg muscles. Learning how to rotate your hips correctly will make running a true pleasure and can make the ChiRunning promise of running effortlessly and injury-free a reality.