Marathon Series – Powerful Tips for Running an Efficient Marathon

The Chicago Marathon is fast approaching and WE want to help YOU perform at your optimum level!

Our Body Gears Physical Therapists utilize CoreFirst® Strategies when we treat our patients – this is a thought process that extrapolates the idea that if your body is well aligned and your core INITIATES first every time, your movements will be more efficient. Efficiency is KEY in marathon running – you cannot afford to waste any amount of energy.

What muscles work the hardest?

If I ask you, “What muscles work the hardest when you run a marathon?” which muscle groups come to mind? Probably your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calf muscles – but we cannot forget about the mighty core!

Our abdominal muscles, specifically our transversus abdominus (TA) and obliquus internus and externus (internal and external obliques), must be involved while we run, especially long distances. Light contraction of our abdominal muscles while running helps us maintain forward motion as opposed to wasting energy moving side to side or twisting.

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Below are 3 simple CoreFirst® self-assessments you can use during these last few weeks of training to make sure your running technique is as efficient as possible!

1) Check out your alignment

Believe it or not, but when you’re running, your torso should be tilted slightly forward (about 6o from the ankles). That feeling of almost falling forward creates a reflex of your legs to “catch” you, creating that smooth running pattern.

If you run with your torso too upright, it can lead to an increased energy cost for your muscles to propel you forward. Some people will also revert to a hip swivel – the body trying to move forward by twisting at the hips like a power walker. The forward lean of your torso from your ankles (like a ski jumper) allows all your muscle effort to go towards propelling you forward.

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Another negative attribute of running too upright is it accentuates the curve in your lower back (increased lumbar lordosis). This can lead to a less efficient running technique and even lower back pain due to the inability of the core muscles to contract effectively in this position. Remember, the less your core is working, the harder your legs have to work.

If you can’t run on a treadmill next to a mirror, have someone film you or check out your reflection in windows or water during your run. You aren’t being vain, you’re ensuring you have the best alignment!

2) Have a look at the wear pattern on your shoes

Where are your shoes the most worn down? Is it the heel? More on the outside or the inside? Is it the same on both shoes? The wear patterns on your shoes show where your foot first strikes the ground during running. If there’s more wear closer to your heel, it’s likely your running technique isn’t as efficient as it could be.

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Striking the ground with your heel could indicate you have too much lumbar lordosis when you’re running. Heel striking also makes you more likely to over-pronate, waste energy on excessive vertical motion, and increases the demand on your calf and shin muscles (ankle dorsiflexors and plantarflexors). Though a running inefficiency can seem tolerable at the beginning of your run, it could become unbearable by the end of a marathon.

3) Analyze your arm swing

When we run, there is a reciprocal relationship between the pelvis and the shoulder blades that causes the opposite arm and leg to swing together. While running, your arms should swing to the phrase “hip to nip” – your wrists should never swing below your hips or above your nipples.

If your arm swing is too exaggerated, it indicates excessive movement lower down the chain that’s likely not contributing to forward propulsion. Possibly your obliques are overworking to hurl your pelvis forward, trying to make up for weak or disengaged glutes, hamstrings, or deep core muscles. As muscles designed to create rotation rather than forward plane motion, the obliques generate reciprocation in the opposite shoulder blade visible as excessive arm swing that often crosses the midline.

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Instead of hurling your pelvis forward, your deep core muscles should be LIFTING your femur forward to clear the ground and propel you forward.



Check out our Free Running E-book that includes more information about how to select the right shoes for you and the Body Gears Dynamic Warm-Up to get the right muscles firing before your run.


Email us at [email protected] to receive your FREE copy.


Every year at the Chicago Marathon, we support Team Imerman Angels & their mission to provide personalized connections that enable one-on-one support among cancer fighters, survivors, and caregivers!

Find out more about this amazing group & how you can get involved:

Imerman Angels Website | Follow them on social media @ImermanAngels

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Written by: Dr. Julia Melanson, PT, DPT

Edited by: April Oury, PT, MSPT, IOC, CFMT, FAAOMPT, Founder

As always, consult with your Licensed Physical Therapist for individualized advice. For those in Illinois and California, visit your PT immediately without a prescription or referral.

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