Running, a seemingly simple and natural activity, often takes a back seat to the more complex and technical aspects of sports training. Yet, for those striving to shave off those precious seconds from personal best times, or combat nagging aches and pains, delving into the realms of biomechanics becomes imperative. Among the crucial elements to explore is torso rotation, a key player in enhancing running efficiency without compromising joint health.
Why is Torso Rotation important in Running
In the complex biomechanics of running, forces originate at the foot, spiral through the knee, and traverse up to the hip and pelvis. It is at the pelvis where the Thoraco-Lumbar Fascia, a soft tissue structure, comes into play. This large fascial area translates forces from the powerful Glute muscles into the Back, creating a rotational force at the pelvis. This force, crucial in the biomechanics of running, allowing the pelvis to articulate at the Sacro-Iliac Joint (SI Joint), facilitating smooth force distribution across the body.
Without proper torso rotation, the pelvis remains static, resulting in a side-to-side lurch during both walking and running. This inefficient movement directs forces down the same side as the foot strike, hindering the upper body’s ability to assist in the running process.
A simple experiment can illustrate this:
Take a walk, but keep your chest in a fixed position. Be mindful of how your body feels when walking this way. You will often feel restriction, especially around the hips. Next, take a walk while swinging your arms, emphasising rotation in the torso. It then becomes evident how limiting the former is compared to the latter. Now imagine the forces of running coming into play which can be many times that of walking and reflect on how inefficient your running becomes.
Impacts of Rotation on Injury Risk
The significance of torso rotation extends beyond enhancing running performance; it plays a pivotal role in injury prevention. A lack of rotation at the SI Joint can contribute to hip and lower back pain. The SI joint, when deprived of its natural rotational movement, may stiffen, leading to irritation and inflammation. This discomfort often manifests as sciatic-type pain radiating into the buttocks.
Other examples of SI Joint stiffness are the pelvis sitting in an anterior position, affecting the efficiencies of the the muscles at the back of the legs, such as the Hamstrings and the Glute. The Glute is one of the most influential muscles in force generation in running, so anything that puts this muscle in a less than optimal position is not advisable, especially if you are seeking those improved timings.
Furthermore, the rotational force seeks alternative paths, potentially burdening the knee with excessive forces. Runners who neglect the importance of torso rotation may find themselves susceptible to increased stress on the knee joint, heightening the risk of injuries associated with improper force distribution.
How to alter your Run to include Rotation
If you aren’t currently rotating when you run, it can feel very odd to start. So we have a tip. Bend your arms at the elbows, so they are at a relaxed 90 degrees and then lock the elbow into your ribs. In front of you, you should be able to see your hands and because they are locked into your ribs, they will follow the movement of your torso.
If you run and your hands are fairy static, there is a good chance that you aren’t rotating very much at your torso, limiting your SI joint movement. So, because you now have a visual reference, you can start to encourage your hands to move from side to side, while they are locked into your ribcage. We don’t want pure arm movement here, we are aiming to get the ribcage rotating.
Once you have rotation, try to do several training runs with your elbows locked to your ribs, ensuring your torso rotates and creating neuro-muscular adaptation. Once you have it fixed into your movement pattern, you can relax your arms, and the rotation should remain. Take a look at our video which explains this in more detail.
If you are struggling with this, book on in for a Running Assessment, where we can look, not just at your torso rotation, but much much more. We have successfully guided runners of all levels to improved running times and fixed their running niggles along the way.