Dave Ochsendorf, M.P.T., M.Ed., A.T.C., explains how improving your posture can make you a stronger runner.

When you think of perfect posture, what comes to mind? Images of ballet dancers, models walking with books on their heads or straight-spined yogis, perhaps? Runners aren’t necessarily where the mind immediately goes for most of us—but making that connection a bit stronger just might improve your running game.

Posture is actually quite important for runners, and to better understand exactly why, we went to Dave Ochsendorf, M.P.T., M.Ed., A.T.C., owner of Siesta Key Sports and Physical Therapy in Sarasota, Fla., where he specializes in evaluating and treating running injuries and foot and ankle pain. An avid runner himself, he’s worked with athletes of all ages and levels and believes that good posture can be a major benefit to runners for several reasons—and not just because it makes them look fast. (Although, let’s be honest—it does.)

Why Posture Matters

“Running tall is important for chest expansion and lung capacity, making it easier to breathe and improving endurance and stamina,” Ochsendorf says. It’s not only good for improving air quality—it can also reduce risk of injury by reducing stress on the knees, hips and back.

A straighter stance is also an integral part of developing a truly efficient running style. “You need a stable torso, good knee lift, good turnover (cadence) with proper arm swing and rotation so there is no wasted motion—which would then lead to inefficiency and unnecessary energy expenditure,” Ochsendorf says.

That stable torso—and subsequent efficiency—simply can’t occur if you’re hunching forward or arching your back.

How To Gauge Your Posture

Once you’re convinced of the importance of good posture, it’s time for the next step: How can you tell whether yours needs improvement?

Unless you have a coach or trusted friend available to watch you and provide feedback, it’s not likely you’ll have much opportunity to get a good look at just how tall you’re holding yourself midstride (although you may get an idea of how your body naturally tends to land by looking back at an assortment of race photos). If you have access to a treadmill with a mirror, take advantage—and take note of your stance at the beginning of your workout (when you feel fresh) as well as toward the end (when you’re fatigued). The mirror can also provide you with opportunities to correct your posture as you see it beginning to fall out of alignment. Be careful about becoming dependent on the mirror—you won’t have it to rely on when you’re out on your regular runs, so you’ll also want to pay close attention to how it feels when you’re practicing proper posture, as well as what it feels like when you don’t so that you can correct it without visual aids.

Ochsendorf suggests using cues that create a visual in your mind, such as, “run tall,” or “lead with your chest.” He notes that these cues are particularly effective in leading runners to perfect posture when paired with a higher cadence, around 170 to 180 steps per minute.

How To Improve Your Posture

Incorporating other posture cues during your daily activities can also help you strengthen (or loosen) the muscles that enable a straight spine, especially for those of us who work at a desk and find ourselves rounding our backs and shoulders regularly. Pick a simple activity you do multiple times a day—maybe walking through a doorway, taking a drink of water, watching a commercial, washing your hands—and make that your reminder to stand (or sit) straight, roll your shoulders down and back and lift your head from the crown.

If you’re looking for additional ways to improve your posture, Ochsendorf has a list of several exercises and stretches he often recommends to patients and fellow runners. “Prone press-up, squats, lunges, dynamic balance and other core strengthening exercises are good for stability, and for flexibility, I like a kneeling hip flexor stretch, quad stretching, pectoral stretching and a trunk or torso rotation stretch while lying on floor,” he says. Ochsendorf is also a fan of shoulder blade squeezes several times a day (five-second hold, 10 times), pectoral stretches as you go through a doorway and incorporating a simple foam rolling routine (something along these lines).