Categories: Train
Tags: Running

The #1 Running Form Mistake | Arching Your Lower Back

September 25, 2018

All too often, running form is an afterthought until we are injured. But some minor changes in our run form can actually yield big results when it comes to injury prevention for runners!

In this article, running coach and personal trainer Holly Martin takes a look at hip position, and more specifically at “pelvic tilt.” She’ll dive into how incorrect hip position can cause the lower back to arch, the problems that can cause, and some exercises to fix it. Let’s dive in!

Hip Position and Pelvic Tilt

So what is “pelvic tilt?” Think about your pelvis as a bowl of water, and you want to keep all the water in your bowl, or, in other words, maintain a neutral pelvis and hip position.

One of the easiest ways to lock in that neutral pelvic position is to engage your glutes.

One of the easiest ways to lock in that neutral pelvic position is to engage your glutes. Doing this will keep the water in your bowl level without you having to actively think about it.

You can test this out for yourself by just standing in different positions and engaging your glutes, and noticing what that does to your hip position. In positions that leave your spine in its natural curvature, squeezing your glutes tightly will be easy, giving you max hip and pelvis stability.

Pelvic Tilt and The Spine

As you get into positions that are less “correct” for your spine  – i.e. slouching, or sitting in one hip – it becomes much harder to squeeze your glutes and get back to that neutral pelvis position.

Your brain is not going to let your body “lock in” a position that simply isn’t safe.

Why? Because your spine is fragile, and your brain recognizes as dangerous any position that puts the spine out of its natural alignment. And as a result, your brain is not going to let you fire up those muscles that would “lock in” the position, because the position simply isn’t safe.

Pelvic Tilt, The Spine, and Running

Let us now apply this to running, where it is even more important given the nature of the activity.

When we get tired on a run, it’s natural to sink down and let the pelvis tilt forward.

When we get tired on a run, it’s natural to sink down and let the pelvis tilt forward, spilling water out of the front, if you use our earlier bowl example. This is the most common physical reaction to run fatigue that I’ve seen happening with runners.

This increases the arch in our lower back, or our lumbar spine, and that body shape definitely falls into that category of dangerous positions.

What makes this form mistake even more dangerous is that increases the impact every time we “land” on a running step. Our spine has natural shock absorbers built into it, in the form of discs between our vertebrae. But they can only do so much!

If our glutes are not engaged, we’re increasing the impact on our spine with every landing.

When we’re pounding into the ground on a run, we need to reduce the impact on those shock absorbers. Our glutes are what will help spread the impact if they are in a position where they can be engaged.

So in this forward tilt position, we are not allowing our glutes to engage, and are thereby increasing the impact on our spine with every landing.

Hollow Body Exercise

Now that we understand why it’s dangerous to arch your lower back when you run, let’s look at some exercises we can do that will make proper posture and hip position second nature, so you don’t even need to think about it on a run.

For the first exercise, we’re going to focus on the core and fix this problem from the top down.

For the first exercise, we’re going to focus on the core and fix this problem from the top down. If your core is engaged, you simply won’t be able to arch your back, so there’s nothing stopping your glutes from firing up and working!

To start, lie down on your back and press your lower back into the ground. Keep it pressed into the ground and bring your knees to your chest, your head and shoulders off the ground, and your arms slightly off the ground by your sides, palms facing up.

In this position, take 10 belly breaths in and out through your nose. The hold will last around 30 seconds.

If you need an added challenge, extend one or both legs out at 45 degrees, and one or both arms straight back even with your head. Find the variation that challenges you, without your lower back creeping off the ground. Maybe it’s one leg and one arm out, or just a leg, or just both arms. Whatever it is, that lower back contact is our top priority!

We like to count breaths instead of time, because our natural tendency is to hold our breath when counting seconds, which makes the exercise harder and less conducive to running, where breath is such a vital component.

Try to work on this both before and after your runs for a week!

Running Awareness Exercise

The second and final exercise will allow you to practice maintaining an awareness of your hip position. The main reason this mistake is so common is because it focuses on a subtle difference that you need to train your body to feel.

The second and final exercise will allow you to practice maintaining an awareness of your hip position.

To start, just jog in place for about 10 steps purposely allowing your back to arch. Feel what that’s like and what it does to all parts of your body – glutes, core, even arm swing.

Next, take 10 steps in place with good, neutral hip position with your glutes squeezed. And again, feel what that does in all areas of your body, picking up on some cues that might indicate if your hip position is neutral during a run.

Lastly, go ahead and run a short distance, maybe 50 yards or so, back and forth, practicing only that correct, neutral pelvic position.

A great tip to help with this position while moving is to think about a rubber band around your waist, and someone pulling it from the front, leading you on your run.

This will ensure our posture is upright, and our pelvis position is neutral, allowing our hips to lead us. This “rubber band” idea is often easier to think about while running than just trying to squeeze your glutes while in motion.

Putting It All Together

Now we know, anatomically, what’s going on when we arch our lower back while we run, and why that’s a dangerous mistake in our run form. In addition, you’ve got two exercises to practice before and after your run that will help correct this mistake.

The hollow body exercise will strengthen and train your core to stay engaged, preventing that lower back arch. And the running awareness exercise will help train your body to recognize if and when things go astray, particularly when we get tired on a run.

Ultimately, this will help to prevent injuries and lessen the impact your runs have on your body!