Part 5: How to Be Your Own Superhero on Those Hills
Right now, everyone is talking about the new Wonder Woman movie, the first blockbuster to feature a female superhero. But what does being a superhero have to do with running? Everyone knows about superheroes and capes—although, unlike most males, Wonder Woman doesn’t seem to need one in her fight against evil. But what you might not know is that even we ordinary humans have our own capes—made of muscle. And our special power is that we can use our capes whenever we want.
The running part of my run-walk routine has gotten long enough to include a couple of hills. Not very long hills or very steep hills, but long and steep enough to give me a hard time. I don’t usually feel very heroic about it, and I imagine you don’t either.
When you’re facing an uphill climb, this is a good time to remember that we don’t run with only our legs. In fact, we run with our whole bodies. We use our back and arms as well as our hips and legs. The torso even rotates a bit with each step we take.
Our superhero cape consists of the large muscles in our backs. These muscles are the real power behind our arms. The biggest ones are called the latissimi dorsi, because they’re very wide (latissimi) and they’re on the back (dorsum). We have one latissimus (singular), or “lat,” on each side. The lats are among those big, showy muscles that get stronger and more defined when you swim or especially when you work with weights.
Here’s how to get a sense of where your lats are on you:
- Stand quietly for a moment, without forcing yourself to stand up straight.
- Have your feet under you, and allow your head to balance at the top of your spine.
- Let your arms hang loosely at your sides. Shake them out a little if you need to.
- Now rotate your torso GENTLY from side to side. It doesn’t have to be a big twist, just enough that you can sense your back ribs rotating a bit around the central axis of your spine. The outermost layer of muscles you can feel on your back are your lats.
- If you’re not holding a lot of tension or stiffness, your arms should swing a bit too.
And here’s how the lats help power your arms:
- Again, stand quietly without holding yourself at attention, feet under you, head balancing atop your spine.
- Just as when you’re running, let your arms bend at the elbows, without clenching your fists.
- Again, rotate GENTLY around your spine. This time, put a little extra oomph into it so the lats pull your arms back a bit.
- You’ll notice that your shoulders rotate with your arms, but they’re not a power center. The lats are doing almost all the work! Other muscles are involved, but we’ll save them for another time.
Now, let’s imagine you’re about to run up a hill, either as part of your regular running route or for a hill workout. If you can, keep thinking about your head balancing atop your spine. Let your eyes looking slightly ahead, toward the top of the hill. You’ll feel the work in your glutes (the butt) as you run uphill, and you’ll feel a bit out of breath.
But your legs don’t have to do all the work—it’s superhero time!
Allow your torso to rotate, more than it does when you’re running on a flat. Allow the cape of your lats to pull your arms back, right arm with left leg, left arm with right leg. The power supply of your lats will help you reach the top of the hill. If you don’t harden your torso and ribs, your breathing will be a little easier too.
Please feel free to send me any questions you might have. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Meanwhile, happy running!