Run More Efficiently! Head and Shoulder Position

The past two weeks I have talked about how your cadence and stride as well as your torso and arm swing can either negatively or positively affect your efficiency when running.  I discussed how there is an ideal cadence, how overstriding will decrease your momentum forward, and why it is important to have just the perfect trunk rotation and arm swing.

Going one more step further with this now, time to look at your shoulder and head position.

We tend to carry stress and frustration in our neck and shoulders, which habitually causes us to elevate/shrug our shoulders up without realizing it.  Many times, we end up carrying this over into our running as well because it becomes so habitual, natural, for us to keep our shoulders elevate.  It is a normal posture we get into and almost feels wrong to our brain and body to let them be relaxed.

Side note: I have started focusing on this on a regular basis and as I become stressed or frustrated. I take note of where my shoulders are, take a deep breath, and let them relax down.  It naturally causes my body and mental state to relax as well.

Ok, back to how this all relates to running.  When you run with your shoulders elevated, it can cause you to stay tight everywhere else, especially the torso and arms.  As discussed last week, we need motion in our upper body to give us momentum and improve efficiency.  If you hold your shoulders high and tight, resulting in a tightened torso and arms, your arm swing and trunk rotation can be negatively impacted, thus causing decreased efficiency when running.

Along with that, in order to get a full deep breath, our ribcage expands, and we have muscles that assist elevate the ribcage as well.  If we hold our shoulders high, these muscles are (potentially) already firing to elevate your shoulders, which means we cannot use them to help us get that deep breath in.  Early on in the run this may not be a big deal, but later on when fatigued it can become a major factor.

Now moving on to head position.

When running, you want to look at your horizon, not down at the ground in front of you.  Where this may change is when trail running in a rugged environment and you need to watch your step.  But, for road running, there is no need to look down at the ground, which is what many people tend to do.

When looking down, it can naturally cause your shoulders to round forward and your trunk to lean forward a bit.  This can cause difficulty to get a full breath in.  When the head is down and shoulders are rounded, getting a good rib expansion and thus a full breath can be difficult.  Test this theory out for yourself just standing in place.  You will notice a difference.

Along with that, keeping your head up will help keep you motivated and pushing, especially when fatigued.  If you look up and see someone up in front of you, it is just natural to push harder to either stay with that person or catch that person.  Plus, you can often look in the distance and see something to run to, setting a goal.  This especially helpful towards the end of a run when fatigue is setting in and your brain is telling you to stop.  If you pick a landmark and say “I just have to run to ____,” you will make it there much easier.  And once there, your body will likely just continue running.

This concludes the three part series on running efficiency.  Test out these ideas for yourself and see if you notice a difference.  If you have more questions regarding this or any of the other articles, email me at

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