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Take a SMART approach to running Applying the principles of Alexander Technique can help every runner raise their performance. The Times newspaper.
Table of contents

Further, movement of a limb demands the support of the spine. The spinal musculature is composed of chains of smaller muscles, which, when co-ordinated, can powerfully extend the spine against the contraction of the large muscles which attach the limbs to the spine. For example, when one lifts a heavy object with an arm, that action should not compress or bend the spine — when a leg extends or recovers in running, that movement should not result in arching of the lower back, or tilting of the pelvis — the extensor muscles of the spine reflexively act to resist the contraction of the large muscles of the limbs, and, in fact, actually prepare to do so before the movement of an arm or leg even begins.

At least, this is what happens when good posture is present. In actuality, what we see in many people is quite different: their necks and backs shorten and contract with the effort of moving their limbs. Runners hunch and arch, effectively compressing their trunks and retracting their limbs.

BODY NATURE | The Alexander Technique in Action, with Charlie Loram

They have learned to work against themselves. At birth, we can see reflexes that will control posture and movement already at work. A normal child has the balanced and interactive muscle tone that defines good posture. Good posture is movement, not positioning. Certain extensor reflexes can be immediately tested in newborns — pressure against the ball of a foot will elicit counter pressure, demonstrating how the body has evolved to lengthen against the force of gravity as occurs in natural running , or, indeed against any exterior force placed upon it.

One can also test, in infants, reflexes that protectively retract the limbs, and completely inhibit the extensor reflexes of the spine.

To Relieve Tension, Mind the Spine but Do Not Relax

The Moro reflex is a reflex, studied in apes and in man, which can best be described as a grasping reflex. The first is extensor — reaching out with the hands and arms, the second, flexor, retracting and adducting the arms and legs and collapsing the neck and spine. In arboreal apes, the purpose of this reflex is evident — the infant must grasp its parent in time of flight, as the parent needs both limbs available. In most environments, this reflex is only occasionally stimulated. In modern man, it is constantly stimulated.


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To be precise, the Moro reflex does not persist beyond a few months of age. However, similar responses do persist, and are referred to as startle responses. They look very much the same as the Moro reflex, demonstrating a strong and rapid grasping response, during which the extensor reflexes are inhibited. These retractive, grasping reflexes are stimulated by fear and pain. You can see them at work when you surprise someone. You can see them at work when someone is injured.

And you can see them at work when someone is afraid, or simply worried. Children who begin to hunch over at their desks at school, grasping their pencils as if they were life preservers, are demonstrating the stimulation of grasping responses. As I mentioned, this is not a problem if the stimuli are rare and of brief duration, but in most early learning environments they are frequent and sustained.

Children are afraid of not doing well, of not being liked, of not being understood. Stiff thumbs are another indication that there is too much tension. Some movements contribute more to propelling you forward than others: You may be tired, not feeling well or simply not paying attention. Running lightly has nothing to do with how much you weigh: This takes a great deal of effort which may be useful in a training context to strengthen the legs, for example but is an inefficient way to move a runner forward.

Some runners mistakenly believe that pushing themselves up with the legs helps them run taller. In fact, it tends to a stiffen the legs; b do little to increase overall height, which is a function of the length of the spine; and c waste valuable time and energy.

Change your Thinking, THEN Your Posture!

Twenty-five years ago, Balk was a promising marathon runner, but he was plagued by injury. He stumbled across the Alexander technique when learning to play the cello and eventually trained to teach it.

He soon noticed that he was running not only injury-free but faster, too. This prompted him to develop "the art of running" which combined the two. In the same way that the Alexander technique isn't a precisely defined group of exercises, Balk's take on running isn't rigid. He aims to increase our awareness of what we're doing when we're pounding the pavements so that running becomes an ongoing process of exploration rather than simply a means of getting fit or reaching the finish line.

This attention is what allows us to become aware of faulty movement patterns, bad posture, muscular tension and tightness. In Alexandrian terms, identifying these habits of misuse is the first step to eliminating them. Like most runners, I have completed the odd training session or race on painkillers and through gritted teeth only to pay the price later.

In the Alexander technique, ignoring the journey to focus on the destination is called end-gaining, an approach Balk believes is behind the high level of injury and drop-out among runners. For details of Art of Running workshops see theartofrunning. We run on various terrain, without shoes.

The Alexander Technique: First Lesson

What you did yesterday is not important, not even what you did two minutes ago. The problem does not necessarily originate with the arms, but can be traced back to a poor head-neck relationship.

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BODY NATURE

The majority of this ebook is VERY specific in describing how to make changes to how you walk, so that you can walk with mechanically advantageous body use. At some point I just started to write down my experience as a runner and as a coach. This drill also helps reduce ground contact time - creating a shorter, snappier stride and the feeling of "running over your feet".

Injured runners are often told they need to improve their core stability, correct muscle imbalances, alter their running style or wear orthotics in their shoes or all of these to avoid future problems. But Balk is more interested in getting people to "let go" than in using more muscle, more force, more control.