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Posted: December 11, 2005

Science of Sport: Fix Your Shoulders, Fix Your Running

By Brian Bradley

Are You Physically Fit?

The positive control of one’s environment on a daily basis without effort is what we believe to be the definition of fitness. Yes, we said without effort. Ask yourself, while running, do you ever feel like you are just not physically reaching that state of total running efficiency? Do you ever feel like your breathing is not as it should be and that it does not feel natural? Are you running with pain?

If you are like the thousands of runners that enter our clinics every year, you probably want these things to just go away. But they don’t…they linger and the obvious side effect is that you eventually quit running and search for the next fitness alternative.

The problem with that is you are a RUNNER!!…and runners LOVE to run.

You think, eat and sleep like a runner. Now, it is time to train like a successful runner.

Will Your Pain Ever End?

Know this: unless you have suffered a serious accident, the pain you are feeling and the limitations experienced while running are only temporary. They are caused by muscular imbalances due to your compromised posture and part of that problem could be the position—not the condition—of your shoulders. Your shoulders should be level with each other and positioned comfortably, not rounded forward. Any deviation from this position places undue stress upon the shoulder joints and the surrounding musculature.

What Causes Your Pain???

Consider all the conveniences in your life that actually render your body helpless in certain activities. Day by day, these conveniences create a structurally unsound foundation of postural muscles that compromise your athletic movements. Modern comfort produces an athlete who no longer has the ability to run efficiently and much of this is due to the decreased requirements that your shoulders are being asked to perform through a normal, full range of motion. There is a constant forward-downward pull placed upon your upper body which results in a very inefficient movement of your upper body while running. Even though you are not moving enough to maintain your function, you are moving, and it is that motion—the compensating motion—that causes the pain. Muscles that were never intended to be involved in the walking, running, throwing, sitting and bending (to name a few basic functions), are called into action to replace dysfunctional muscles. This puts stress and wear on your musculoskeletal system that it was not designed to handle. Like a tool in the garage used for the wrong task, it eventually breaks.

It does not have to be this way! You are a runner; all you have to do is wake up the athlete inside that has been physically suppressed for far too long.

No, we are not asking you to be like the Paleolithic hunter-gatherer, for whom daily survival provided enough motion. But, we are asking that a little effort be put forth in order for you to become more functional and eventually, the most efficient runner you can be.

Are You Lined Up For Success??

Running, as you already know, requires proper pelvic movement throughout the different stages of your run and this should coincide with an efficient bilateral arm swing. It is very important to have this efficient arm and shoulder movement because it keeps your body centered while running, allowing better oxygen transfer which results in a better breathing pattern.

To help you understand this concept, try this:

Stand in front of a mirror. Notice your hand position, arm position and shoulder position. Do they look the same on both sides or is one “off” a little bit? That is, does one hand show only the back of the hand while the other is showing the thumb and index fingers? Does one shoulder hang lower than the other? If so, these are definite indications that you are running inefficiently. Since the shoulders act as counterbalances to your hips and vice-versa, and since the body is a unit, correct shoulder and hip position have a direct correlation to proper running form. If you have the opportunity to observe yourself or any of your running partners’ form while running, you will see that arm swing is rarely the same on both sides…but it should be.

So what can you do to help correct this? There is a saying, If you do not use it, you will lose it. This is true when considering your body’s overall functioning while running. If you can say that you sit for longer than a couple of hours per day, it is pretty safe to assume that your body has begun the downward spiral of postural dysfunction. It is time to regain your function and it is easily done.

Try the following exercises: Notice how your shoulders can affect your foot contact with the ground. (This may help explain why your shoes are wearing incorrectly.) Take off your shoes and stand naturally on both feet. Relax and close your eyes and try to notice where your body weight is located from one foot to the other. Is one foot carrying more than 50% of the load? Is the weight evenly distributed from front to back? If you answered that you are balanced and feel level in your feet, do the following exercises anyway! If you answered that you can feel an imbalance, this means that something in your body from your shoulders to your feet is “off” or not doing its job to keep you balanced.

Remember how you feel now because the next three exercises will help reposition your entire spine and how it meets the pelvis. These exercises are shoulder specific, but a large component of their function is to enable your pelvis to change its position without your thinking about it.

See illustrations and descriptions below:

Exercise 1: Arm circles

The arm circles strengthen the muscles around the upper back and shoulder. If you have shoulder pain, lower your arms. You will be circling forward 40x and backward 40x. Stand with your feet straight and your arms at your sides.

Hands tight with fingers curled in, knuckles flexed and thumbs extended.

Raise arms to your sides and pull shoulder blades together. Hold this position.

Circle up and forward 40x (palms down) and then circle up and back 40 times.(palms up).

Exercise2: Elbow Curls

The elbow curls are a great way to rejuvenate the muscles of the upper back and remind your shoulder of its hinge and ball/socket functions.

Stand against a wall with your feet straight. Bring your fingers curled in, knuckles flexed and thumbs extended. Place knuckles against the side of your head(temple) with your thumbs pointed downward. Bring your elbows together in front of you and then open them up to the wall behind you. Repeat this opening and closing 30x.

Exercise3: Overhead extension

The overhead extension is a way to link your shoulder movement into your low back and hips. Stand against a wall with your feet pointed straight. Interlace your fingers, rolling the palms toward the ceiling, extending your arms overhead with the elbows straight. Look up at the back of your hands and work on keeping the arms vertical above your shoulders. Hold for 1 minute and do not lean back.

Did it work?

Now that you have tried these exercises, close your eyes again and notice where your body weight is located. Is it different than the last time you checked? If it is, why do you suppose it is different? You may be asking how shoulder specific exercises helped balance your foot strike and stance with the ground. Correct shoulder and hip position have a direct correlation to proper running form. The pain you are feeling and the limitations experienced while running are only temporary. They are caused by muscular imbalances due to your compromised posture and part of that problem could be the position—not the condition—of your shoulder.

The position of your shoulders has a direct correlation on the efficiency of your running. It is more than safe to say that the more lined up your shoulders are, the more lined up your hips will be, and more efficient your running form will be. While getting your body to line up may take some effort, eventually, hopefully, you will be able to say that you are fit because you have positive control of your environment on a daily basis without effort.

When you are finished reading this article, you will probably never be able to look at the human body again without analyzing one’s shoulder and arm position. Hopefully, that is what happens. Remember, it is never too late. At least we know you, the runner, does not believe that it is too late. Good luck and keep running!

If you have any questions regarding these movements or about how your shoulder position affects your running, please contact Brian Bradley at or

Go to for more information.

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© Copyright 2005 Peak Running Performance. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission

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