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Study Suggests Risk of Overuse Injuries Reduces if You Lean Forward Less

It’s a common misconception that running is an activity that primarily occurs and affects the lower parts of the body (below the waist). But in reality, that’s not the case. Researchers at the University of Colorado, Denver, have proven that the angle at which a runner’s torso leans while running can determine their style of sprinting and the likelihood of injuries. 

When a person leans forward while running, their feet hit the ground much harder, and this can bring sudden jerks and stress to the hips, knees, legs, and feet. Eventually, this increases the probability of overuse injuries

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Braden Collum/Unsplash | A study has proven that when a person leans forward while running, their feet hit the ground much harder, and this can bring stress to the hips, knees, legs, and feet

The Study

Human Movement Science, the journal in which this study has appeared, examines runners’ trunk flexion (the angle at which runners hold their torso as they run). Researchers have discovered that even the smallest changes in the angle of trunk flexion can have an adverse effect on the runner’s motion as well as the lower limbs and their impact as they hit the ground while running. 

As an experiment, the researchers called on recreational runners with no injuries ageing from 18 to 23 years, who were asked to run short 15 second trials at 3 meters per second. The runners went on to perform these trials first at their natural angles of trunk flexion, and then at angles which the researchers specified. The aim was to hold runners’ torsos at distinct angles without disrupting the ability to run or making them feel uncomfortable. 

The researchers placed plastic dowels behind each runner’s head on a treadmill, and this forced them to lean slightly forward in order to avoid bumping into it. The lower the dowel was placed, the farther the runner had to lean forward. The higher the object was placed, the straighter was the runner’s trunk flexion. 

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SwapnIl Dwivedi/Unsplash | Researchers have discovered that even the smallest changes in the angle of trunk flexion can have an adverse effect on the runner’s motion

Observation

Initially, it was expected that the farther you lean, the farther your leg would extend in order to keep your body from falling. Due to this, the stride length and frequency would increase. However, in reality, the observations were quite the opposite. The stride length got shorter, and the frequency of the stride increased. 

In running, it’s all about efficiency and energy diversification. The more inefficient the runner is, the less they are able to spend their energy properly, clearly leading them into a situation of overuse and stress injuries. 

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Jonathan Chng/Unsplash | In running, it’s all about efficiency and energy diversification. The less a runner leans, the lesser are the chances of stressing out limbs

Analysis and Optimization of Runs

As mentioned above, the farther the runner leans forward while running, the harder his/her legs hit the ground. Thus, it’s critical for the runner to focus on the lean. If the lean is too forward, a muscle imbalance is created which can cause severe injury. 

Running is not just a lower-body experience; it affects the entire body. Although the trunk flexion point is an important aspect of a runner’s form, there are several other factors such as diet and running shoes that have a major impact as well. Doctors encourage runners to try different postures, and find one that’s highly efficient and best suited for them in the long run.

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