Running posture, glutes, cramps and Achilles tendinopathy


I’ve written several times about my problems with Achilles tendinopathy and plantar fasciits. I’ve also written an article about cramping. My solution has been to strengthen the lower legs for the Achilles problem, and strengthen the adductors and hamstrings to fix the cramping. I think the strength work has helped, but there’s more to the story.

A few weeks ago I attended a running seminar with Jay Dicharry, a physical therapist and running/cycling coach. It was a superb course and I got to revisit some biomechanics and running technique concepts to which I’d been exposed in the past.

We discussed stacking the ribs over the pelvis while running. This posture helps take pressure off the lumbar spine and it puts the pelvis in a position to optimize the use of muscles that attach to the pelvis, especially the glutes. This posture enables a runner to use the glutes to propel the runner forward which is an efficient way to run in that the gluteus maximus is the largest muscles in the body.

I realized during this discussion that though my running technique had improved, I could improve it a little more. Specifically, I saw that I wasn’t using my glutes enough to run and as a consequence, I was using my calves and probably my adductors (which extend the hip along with the hamstrings and glutes) too much. Forward propulsion wasn’t being distributed evenly among these muscles. The glutes weren’t doing their fair share to create hip extension and the abs weren’t helping maintain good pelvic position. The calves and adductors were doing too much work. The overexertion was causing excessive strain on the Achilles and plantar fascia, and causing early fatigue of the adductors which led to cramps.

I believe I can also trace my ~10 years of low-back pain to this faulty running technique. Again, my lack of glute contribution demanded that I use lumbar extension to get my leg behind me.

This position brought on low-back pain, hamstring/adductor cramps, and Achilles/foot pain.


I’ve been running a little differently lately. I’ve become more aware of where my ribs are positioned in relation to my pelvis. I’ve also tuned in to my glutes. I work to feel them contract to push me forward. I’m aware of my ribs being stacked over my pelvis as I run.

This position is better for me. I’m stronger, more efficient, and I don’t hurt. The glutes and abs are doing their job.

This isn’t the first time in my fitness career that I’ve reexamined something I thought I understood only to realize I’d missed something significant. Coming back to information like this is similar to reading a good book a second time in that I see the same information in a different way. This second exposure to core and glute function expanded my understanding tremendously.

Fairly Profound Stuff: How to Stand


Dr. of Physical Therapy Kelly Starrett continues to put out very useful information via his site MobilityWOD.  Torque and Trunk Stability Part I: How to Stand is a recent post.  It discusses trunk and hip mechanics with regard to standing. Does this sound to simple a topic?  Standing?  Perhaps not.

As I’ve mentioned before (here and here) we often don’t walk very well. Strangely, it’s not uncommon for us to stand incorrectly or less than optimally.  As with walking, it so happens we stand a lot.  And if we’re doing it improperly then we very likely are moving toward injury and pain or at the very least, poor performance.

The themes in this video appear in a lot of other MobilityWOD videos (like this one on the set up for the deadlift.)  The concepts of trunk stability via glute and abdominal contraction are hugely important.  As is the idea of torquing or twisting the legs out in order to create stiffness through the legs and hips.   (Similarly for the upper body it’s a good idea to torque out or externally rotate the arms during pressing movements.)

I’ve been using these concepts in my own workouts as well as with my clients and I’ve seen some very good results: more strength, less knee pain and instability, better overall technique.  All of this is good.

If you’re one of my clients then this stuff is homework. If you’re not one of my clients but you want to perform better.  Go ahead and make it homework anyway. See if it helps your squat, deadlift or sitting to standing from a chair–or the ground preferably.