Postural Stability: The Hidden Variable of Running Performance

Postural stability is one of the most overlooked aspects of running performance. It’s also one of the most important as it helps you run fast and stay healthy.

Postural Stability

Bodyweight strength exercises help build postural stability for runners

The mechanics of stability are what you might learn about in a biomechanics, exercise science, or even a physics class. We don’t need to make things too complicated by pretending that we need to know physics to become a good runner… but this is a critical issue related to how well you’re able to run.

Most runners understand stability to a certain extent. Mostly, we just want to remain on our two feet and not fall over!

Actually, that’s the technical definition of “stability” from the USA Track & Field coaching curriculum:

“The stability of an object is its degree of resistance to toppling over.”

Much like physics, we understand that the height of an object’s center of mass affects its stability (the higher off the ground it is, the more unstable it is).

And if the base of support of that object is too narrow, it’s also unstable (or if it’s wide, it’s more stable). As a runner, you can’t be stable if your center of mass lies outside your base of support.

When we discuss postural stability in the sport of running, we’re really discussing a combination of three things:

  • Your ability to resist falling
  • Competence at single-leg balancing during the running stride
  • Proper alignment of the body

Stability can be thought of as “strength + coordination” – it’s your ability to produce force against the ground while running while staying upright with good alignment and posture.

But let’s also differentiate between stability and dynamic stability.

What is Dynamic Stability?

Runners don’t really have the luxury of neglecting dynamic stability. That’s because everything we do as runners IS dynamic!

With every stride we take, we are gaining and losing stability as we transition from a single base of support (one leg) to the flight phase to the next single base of support. The condition of repeatedly losing and regaining stability is called dynamic stability.

So, the act of running is an act of practicing dynamic stability! And the more you run on uneven surfaces like trails, the more stability we need.

A simpler definition might be: the ability to resist forces that would topple you over and instead, remain balanced.

The more proficient you are at gracefully transitioning from stride to stride, the more dynamic stability you possess.

We all must experience some instability while running (or else we couldn’t move), but excessive instability leads to a deterioration of running form, an increase in injury risk, and a reduction in running performance.

Let’s now talk about some instances when a lack of postural stability impacts your performance, health, or the ability to maintain a correct running posture.

Why is Postural Stability Important?

 

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Stability is an aspect of strength training that helps you stay healthy. When we engage in strength training, the injury prevention benefits mostly come from enhanced stability.

This happens for several reasons. Higher levels of stability…

  • Reduce inefficient movement patterns, helping you run more gracefully with less wasted energy
  • Makes maintaining better form far easier, especially when you’re fatigued
  • Helps return more energy with every stride, reducing the energetic cost of running (i.e., you become more efficient)

And while stability is always important for runners, in some situations, it’s even more critical.

For example, if you run a lot of trails or compete in cross country or the steeplechase , you’ll need to focus more on postural stability. Running on uneven surfaces, on hilly terrain, and over barriers puts your body off balance, increasing instability and the risk for injuries.

These runners need extra strength to resist the forces conspiring to topple them over.

But even if you only run on the road, postural stability is a primary metric of your health. After all, whenever you get tired, your running technique will suffer. As your form deteriorates, running cadence will slow and over-striding will increase.

Without correct running posture, you’ll dramatically spike your risk of a running injury. Especially if you’re also trying to run hard while your form is poor (like, at the end of a race).

Now that we know why stability is so important, let’s discuss the “postural” side of things.

Postural Stability Requires Alignment

We can’t have postural stability without postural alignment. After all, if you’re strong and stable but can’t move well with adequate mobility and proper form, what use is all that strength?

Indeed, we need that strength layered on top of proper movement patterns. And that all starts with sound alignment.

Postural alignment ensures your core, head, and pelvis are properly aligned in a good athletic position and are ready for functional movement. Alignment of the body is necessary for efficiency, performance, stability, and energy return.

Improper alignment can result in a host of problems. For example, if you run with your head tilted to one side or with a backwards bend, you might have:

  • Poor shoulder mobility, which results in an imbalanced arm carriage (thus leading to leg imbalances)
  • Inconsistent balance, particularly over uneven terrain like trails
  • An inability to relax, especially when running hard, which increases the perceived effort of a run

Even worse for runners is improper alignment of the pelvis, which wreaks havoc on how the legs function. I cover this in more detail in this excerpt from our Running Smarter, Running Stronger course:

If the pelvis has an anterior tilt or the SI Joint is out of alignment (a problem that I used to deal with regularly in college), your form will suffer and aches and pains become far more common.

Postural alignment doesn’t happen overnight. But through a combination of strategies, you can gradually improve your posture over time. Focus on:

  • Mobility training (this is really just “sound training”)
  • Form cues to reinforce effective movement patterns while running
  • Strength training (more on this below)

Now that we understand the differences between stability and dynamic stability – and why alignment is a critical prerequisite – let’s see how we can actually build postural stability.

How to Build Correct Running Posture

 

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The good news is that if you’ve been sandwiching your runs between a dynamic warm-up and a core or strength workout (if not, now is a good time to start!), you’re already building postural stability.

That’s because one of the most effective ways of building this physical skill is through strength training. And while lifting weights is valuable, we can also get a lot of stability through bodyweight exercises that are easily done at home with relatively little equipment.

A routine like the Gauntlet Plank Workout has you rotate through a variety of 11 different plank positions, many of which include dynamic movement:

You can also download a photo guide to this routine here.

Planks require you to use isometric strength (holding a certain position under stress), a necessary ingredient of postural stability. For beginner runners, this is a fantastic strategy for building stability.

Once you’ve not shaking like a new runner on his first starting line, you can move on to a more advanced workout like a circuit.

Circuit workouts combine strength training with running. Because you’ll be doing strength exercises while tired from running, maintaining stability becomes a lot more challenging! But that’s why these sessions are so valuable.

Circuits have you go through a variety of exercises during the recovery interval of a workout. Typically, the running portion of these workouts is not as difficult as your “normal” workouts (a more active recovery makes up the difference).

These workouts improve your overall athleticism – and better athletes make better runners. Get started here.

You’ll enjoy:

  • Improved balance (a big component of stability)
  • Increased strength (necessary for maintaining postural alignment when tired)
  • Better mobility (critical for moving well over difficult terrain)

By incorporating strength exercises that force you to move in multiple planes of motion, hold positions under stress, and maintain proper alignment while fatigued, you’ll experience noticeable gains in postural stability over time.

To get a more advanced circuit workout that includes drills, strides, running, and strength exercises, sign up here.

This advanced level circuit will help you prevent injuries, while building endurance and speed so you can race faster and stay healthy – long-term.

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Comments

  1. Running posture is must be correct, if not then it causes problem.

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