The Total Runner: Creating a Balance Between Upper and Lower Body

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Running with the whole body

I would venture to guess that if I were to ask you what part of your body you use the most when you are running, you would most likely reply, “Well, my legs of course! ” Then, if I were to press you further with “is that all,” you would probably say, “Well, I guess I swing my arms a little, too.” But if you’re like most people, you tend to work harder than you need to with your lower body and donít use your upper body as much as you could to get the job done.

Ideally, when you’re running on a flat surface, you want to have your upper and lower body doing relatively equal amounts of work. Simple physics tells us that it’s much easier for two people to carry a load than for one person to try to do it him/herself. A partner helps to distribute the workload a little bit. So, think of your body as a team of two people. Everything above the waist is one person and everything below the waist is the second person, and this “team of two” has been assigned to carry a load (your body) from point A to point B. If your armswing is ineffectual, then your legs will have to work harder than they really need to, and visa versa. My t’ai chi master says that no part of the body should be “carrying” any other part each part should be responsible for carrying its own weight. He has a very Marxist view of the body: “from each according to his ability.”

The next time you go out to run, try this experiment. Hang your arms at your sides and run a short distance. Not fast, just a jogging pace. Pay attention to how hard your legs are working. Then do the same thing while engaging your armswing and try to sense the difference. If your normal armswing is minimal, try to exaggerate your swing a little and you’ll feel even more of a difference. Your legs will swing much easier when your arms are working too.

Your upper body and your lower body each serve very different functions. Here is a list of what these two areas of your body are responsible for:

Your upper body has the job of maintaining:

  • good armswing
  • holding good posture
  • leaning
  • breathing
  • directing(eyes)
  • focusing (brain)
  • hydration

Likewise, your lower body has the job of maintaining:

  • good leg swing
  • foot strike and placement
  • heel lift
  • shock absorption
  • stability
  • weight bearing
  • pelvic rotation

Do yourself a big favor and carefully reread these lists, and the next time you go out for a run, check in with yourself to see if any of these areas are left out of your running technique. Then, make your own “reminder” list to read before you go out to run. Pick two items on your list and practice each one separately at some point during your run. Then, when you know that you’re five or 10 minutes from finishing, do both of the focuses at the same time. If you do this type of workout at least once a week you will soon notice an improvement in your running form. You’ll be running more effortlessly than before and you’ll begin to experience the ease and joy of running with your whole body.


Posted in Beginners

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