Can a flexible upper body help you breathe better and run more smoothly?
Why is trunk rotation important?
Trunk rotation is often overlooked when considering running form and technique. Having good form is more than just considering the lower part of your body. It’s about the whole body, which is designed to rotate.
When we walk or run, our trunk will rotate in the opposite direction to the advancing leg, which winds the core up to produce more torque and help stablise the pelvis and hips.
It’s important to be able to rotate properly through your trunk and spine to have the right counter rotation needed to stride properly. Having restricted range of movement through rotation can lead to over striding and loss of speed.
Furthermore, you need to be able to use your upper and lower ribs and diaphragm to breathe, ensuring you can make full use of your lung capacity.
How can I test my trunk rotation?
Sit on a chair in front of a mirror or have someone watch you perform the following movement.
Place opposing hands on opposite shoulders, with your legs and pelvis facing forward.
Slowly turn your trunk to the left and right. Hold this position until the end of the rotation. Breathe out as you turn – make sure you don't hunch or roll your shoulders forward.
The movement should show that you have far more range of movement, especially if you keep your shoulders square.
Your shoulders should be able to rotate up to roughly 70 degrees from your starting position. If you notice that your movement is significantly less than this, you should consider working on your upper body flexibility with the following movements.
How can I improve my trunk range of movement?
1. Trunk rotation with flexion
This movement pattern is particularly focused on the restricted area of three or four of the 12 thoracic vertebrae.
This allows movement only through the segments that are actually mobile and less so through the ones that aren't.
Proceed to a seating position upright in a chair, placing both your hands on your shoulders and turning your trunk to one side. At this point, bend forward until you feel the restriction increase in your spine.
From here, bend at this point and add a pulsing motion into the tightness. Take three deep breathes in this position. Continue this movement for up to one minute, then re-test your range of movement, look at repeating this three to four times per day.
2. Lower rib breathing – range test
Whilst you rotate, especially if you have restriction in your thoracic spine, you will notice that your lower ribs do not expand fully as you breathe deeply. This will restrict your breathing in the diaphragm and upper ribs, reducing your overall breathing efficiency.
To test this, sit upright, place your hands on the lower ribs and observe how much they move when you breathe in and out while facing forwards. Then, twist to each side and breathe deeply again.
The right side will move almost as much, but the left side less so. However, you need similar movement in both. If it is apparent that you have insufficient movement, this will need to be worked on. Make sure you test both sides!
3. Lower rib breathing – range exercise
It’s very easy to get into the habit of using your upper ribs rather than your lower ones. The reason for this is that the respiratory muscles become under used and very weak.
To improve this, initially you need to work on your thoracic range of movement and deep breathing, as demonstrated in 1 and 2.
Once you have regained movement in this area, place your hands on either side of your ribs and practice breathing with them. Practice this exercise several times per day for a minute at a time, as well as when you run or exercise, making it a regular part of your normal movement pattern.
4. Lunge and rotation
It’s essential to build trunk rotation into your running movements. Firstly, place your hands
across your shoulders. Step into your lunge and, at the bottom of your lunge, turn toward the front knee as far as you can without losing shoulder stability.
You want to repeat this about eight times for six sets. To increase the difficulty of the exercise, hold a medicine ball (1-3 kg) in front of you and turn, with the weight leading.
To incorporate the breathing exercise, tie a resistance band around the lower part of your rib area. It should be tight enough that you are aware of it, but not so tight that you can't breathe easily.
Repeat the lunges and rotations, remembering to breathe into the band using the ribs. Repeat the exercise eight time for three sets.