Optimal Forward Lean for Better Running

How does leaning forward help to run better? How much to lean forward? How do I do it?
Optimal Forward Lean for Better Running

When we watch elite runners on the track, it’s like poetry in motion. There are certain elements of their posture that define that elegance. These elements are what make up the art of running, which can recognize when we see but are very hard to single out and implement. Forward lean is one such element that defines that elegance and the art of running.

What is Forward Lean?

“Forward lean” is measured as the angle of the trunk from the vertical in the transverse plane (side view). It is best explained visually. In the illustration below you could see the runner is about to strike the ground (initial contact). You can also see that the runner’s trunk has a slight lean forward. At this point, draw a line along the trunk, and another line vertical to the ground. The angle between these two lines indicates the lean angle.

Forward lean and its benefits

How does Forward Lean help?

Forward lean helps running in several ways

  • Brings the initial point of foot contact closer to the Center of Mass. That eliminates the possibility of overstriding and heel strike and minimizes the ground contact time.
  • When done optimally, it reduces the demand and forces on knee and ankle joints and reduces the knee injury risk.
  • It puts the runner in a better position to use the glutes and generates powerful hip extension, a better knee drive, and improves the running stride

What is the Optimal Forward Lean?

There is no agreement on what is the optimal forward lean angle. Different studies indicate different ranges. In general, most indicate a range of 4 to 8 degrees as optimal. Consistent forward lean across initial contact, mid stance, and toe-off is also important to consider. Too much variation in the lean angle indicates the inability to hold the trunk stably. Please also note that the lean angle also changes based on the pace.

The following illustrations are drawn based on the runners we have analyzed at RunMechanics. Each of these illustrations shows snapshots of three events in the gait cycle. The illustrations also show the angle of the trunk lean.

  • The first event is the initial contact where the runner’s right foot is striking the ground.
  • The second event is mid-stance, which is when the runner fully loads the foot.
  • The third event is the push-off where the runner’s right foot is about to leave the ground.

The first illustration shows what is considered an optimal forward lean. It is 8 degrees at initial contact, and varies slightly to 6 degrees at mid-stance and then to 8 degrees at push-off.

Optimal Forward Lean

The illustration below shows an up-right running form with no forward lean. The lean angle is 1 degree at the initial contact. At mid-stance, the trunk in fact leans backward to -1 degrees.

No Forward Lean

The illustration below shows a runner with an excessive forward lean. In the illustration, you can see that runner bends excessively at the hip during initial contact with a lean angle of 12 degrees.

No Forward Lean

What prevents Optimal Forward Lean?

Some of the common mistakes which prevent from getting an optimal forward lean are:

  • Running in a very erect posture, and not engaging glutes strongly
  • Low Cadence and Overstriding
  • The anterior pelvic tilt often causes excessive bending at the hips
  • Lack of posterior chain strength, which doesn’t allow holding the trunk in position

Learning to run with Optimal Forward Lean?

Getting to the optimal forward trunk lean is a process. The first step is building awareness of our running form. Have your running recorded and posture analyzed while running at various speeds (check how this is done at runmechanics.in). This will give a fair idea of how the body adjusts to speed and the accumulated fatigue.

If you run without forward lean, or excessive forward lean, try to identify the possible causes. We publish a Workout of the Week(WOW), in Weekly Cadence newsletter. Here is a selection of workouts from our WOW collection, which will help you build form awareness and the necessary strength required to improve the forward lean.

Wall Drill

Wall Drill

Fall Forward Drill

Fall forward to Run Drill

Superman Raises

Superman Raises

Resistance Band Running

Resistance Band Running

Courtesy: Team Run Mechanics. This article was first published on runmechanics.in

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