Does running make you workshop? It’s a question you may have considered when first starting to exercise on a regular basis. It’s a myth. But, like all good stories, it does have a grain of truth in it. We know running is beneficial for your core and spine, in addition to weight loss – all of which can contribute to better posture. This is why some regular runners might appear leaner and longer.
If you’re looking to seem taller by getting slimmer and improving your posture, running is a great exercise for it. All you need is comfortable exercise gear to wear and a pair of running shoes – although perusing our best running watch (opens in new tab) guide is a fine way to track your workouts in more detail. We’ve highlighted some of the science below and consulted industry experts to get the lowdown on running’s relationship with height and posture.
How does running influence your posture?
Running has been found to be beneficial for improving posture over the course of your lifetime. As we age, we tend to hunch as our bones get weaker and our muscles contract, and running can help delay or prevent this.
It’s a great exercise for your spine, according to research published in the journal PLoS One (opens in new tab). Your spine is made up of vertebrae, and in between each one is an intervertebral disk that acts as a shock absorber for the spine. Normally, these disks become less effective with age, but the researchers studied adults between 45 and 60 years old, finding less age-related degeneration in those who ran regularly, keeping you upright and mobile for longer.
Running has a reputation for being bad for your joints – there’s a persistent myth that running is bad for your knees (opens in new tab) – but it’s less well-known that running can be as effective, if not more so, than resistance training when it comes to improving bone density and staving off osteoporosis, according to a University of Missouri study (opens in new tab). This in turn will stop your posture degenerating as you age, maintaining optimum muscle and bone health.
What if you want to improve your posture with running right now, not in 10 or 20 years? If you’ve just begun running, it’s worth making a conscious effort to learn how to run properly (opens in new tab). This will make you faster and more effective on the roads, and have a beneficial effect on your everyday life.
“The muscular adaptations that stem from running could be beneficial for everyday posture,” says Melissa Thompson, an associate professor of health sciences at Fort Lewis College. “Although, running with a bad posture could also reinforce poor posture in everyday life.
”Posture has been shown to have implications in terms of running energetics, with research indicating that poor posture can increase energetic cost. Additionally, posture influences joint loading when running, so there may be an increased risk of injury in runners who exhibit poor posture,” says Thompson.
UK Athletics running coach Lily Canter says: “Frequent running will only affect a person’s posture in everyday life if they are making a conscious effort to correct their posture while running. If you have a better posture when running you are more likely to carry this over into life everyday as it will start to feel more natural.”
How to improve your posture
There are plenty of ways to improve your posture, both in your best running shoes and out of them. Correcting your running form is, pardon the pun, a good first step.
“I see a lot of runners with bad posture and it is the first thing I try to correct,” says Canter. “If you run with slumped shoulders and a curved back you are essentially wasting energy. It is more efficient to have high hips and a straight back so you can propel yourself forward rather than towards the ground.
“Imagine you have a helium balloon tied to the top of your head and it is pulling you upwards. This will help you to maintain a good posture whether you are running, walking or sitting.”
The second factor, says Canter, is to have a strong core, the exercises to strengthen your core may also help your posture over time. Strengthening the muscle groups in the abdominal and lumbar regions of the body (essentially, the muscles surrounding the base of your spine) will help you improve posture and performance at any age.
You might immediately think of doing sit-ups or crunches, but these exercises can place a lot of pressure on your spine as you’re pressing it into the floor during the movement. A safer alternative is holding the plank position, which allows you to strengthen your lower back and abdominal muscles without placing any dangerous pressure on your spine. Check out our guide on how to strengthen your core (opens in new tab) for more information.
While this isn’t strictly running, it’s closely related: performing core-strengthening exercises will improve your running efficiency and economy, allowing you to expend less energy and run more safely, according to research in the journal PLoS One (opens in new tab). Your core strength improves at your posture and makes you better running simultaneously; in turn, running more frequently will strengthen your bones and continue to help your posture as you age.
Long-term running in middle-aged men and intervertebral disc health, a cross-sectional pilot study (opens in new tab)
Building Strong Bones: Running May Provide More Benefits Than Resistance Training, Study Finds (opens in new tab)
Effects of 8-week core training on core endurance and running economy (opens in new tab)