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No, not those Captain Morgans.
Take a look at the guy in the picture above. That’s Matty Trautman, one of SA’s premier ultra-triathletes. Look at his form: elbows tucked, chest pumped, leading from the hips. This is the kind of shape that allows you, like Matt, to work as hard as your cardiovascular fitness will allow while covering some serious distance. Maintain that structure, and you’ll go faster, for longer. Now, most men don’t run like that – or at least, not for long.
Why? Because they get tired.
Most runners manage to hold their form to begin with, then fade over time until they’re leaning forward, dropping their arms, landing on their heels and taking the weight of their bodies straight to the knees. It’s a little like moving uphill – say, hiking up a mountain or simply climbing up a long flight stairs. You’ll start off with your back straight, your hips aligned and strong and stable; but give it a second and a few things will happen without you even noticing: your chest drops until your torso slants forward, your hands arrive around your hips, you lean into each step, and your quads, shins, and ankles all start to ache.
These are signs that you’re becoming fatigued. And they can be dangerous if you don’t fix them, and work on preventing them. The art of running, after all, is to stay strong while fatigued – it’s no good having a tankful of gas if the wheels are falling off, right? By staying upright and efficient, whether you’re sprinting 5km or gunning for 100, you’ll be more capable of maintaining your optimal pace while guarding your body against injuries.
So How Do You Strengthen Your Running Form?
Two words: obliques, and abductors. These muscle groups are essential for anyone who wants to climb behind the wheel of a car or carry some groceries up the stairs, but they are particularly important for people who prefer to spend their weekends on their feet, travelling at speed.
Your obliques run down the side of your waist, from the hip bone to the sternum. They frame your six-pack and protect your back – helping you flex and rotate your spine –and protect your back from injury when you move something heavy. Runners require strong obliques to help stabilise the spine and maintain good posture as your legs begin to tire, keeping you upright and allowing you to breathe properly.
Lushwill Rossouw, head coach at CrossFit District Six, says these muscles help to stabilise the torso. “That’s important, as when we’re running, we’re on one leg for more than 85% of the time. The obliques – together with the muscles on the inside and outside of your upper legs – stabilise the quads and help assist in knee traction.”
Your hip abductors support your pelvic region and hamstrings, keeping everything from your butt down to your knee in line, while under load. As you run, this is the muscle group that controls the movements of your lower limbs. Strong hip abductors prevent your hip from dropping down and your knee from buckling in – helping you stay efficient, fast, and away from irritating injuries, like iliotibial band syndrome.
“This relationship is an important part of the lateral sling, which keeps runners in optimal form while transferring momentum from one leg to the other,” says Coach Lushwill. “As these muscle tire the integrity of the position falters and the alignment it off and this could result in knee and ankle injuries.”
Okay. And What Are Captain Morgans Exactly?
Though it’s named after the famous pose, you won’t be standing on any treasure chests for this exercise. Lie in a side plank, keeping your elbow under your shoulder. Put your other hand on your hip. Position your feet slightly apart; try to rest them on the inner and outer sides, not the sole. Bring your bottom foot up towards your chest, as high as you can while maintaining good form, then slowly take it back. Repeat at least three more times, then repeat with the top foot. Done? Switch over onto the other elbow.
Here’s a short demo from Coach Lushwill:
Make sure your body stays in a straight line throughout the exercise; the hip that’s closest to the ground will want to drop – the trick is to stay strong enough throughout the movement to ensure it doesn’t. You want to feel the burn along the side of your chest and ribs, and eventually, on the inside of your upper legs; these are the areas that matter most when you need that give that little extra huff halfway through a Parkrun, or cross the finish line after an Ultra on your own two feet.
Too easy – or too hard? “Start by doing side planks to build up the strength in your obliques,” suggests Coach Lushwill. “Once you can comfortably hold it for a steady 30-seconds, start pulling one knee at a time towards the chest – until both knees, alternating, could be lifted to the chest without comprising the side plank.”
One exercise, two muscle groups, a whole lot of gains. Plus a name that sounds like something behind a student bar? We just found your new favourite workout.
Photograph by Kelvin Trautman/Red Bull Content Pool; video by Thamar Clark