Standard #3 – A Supple Thoracic Spine

Before kicking off with the third standard, I am putting it out there that I well and truly fell off the ‘Ready To Run’ wagon. There is a bit of stuff going on in my life, but as Kelly puts it, ‘no days off, no excuses’. I have signed up for a 100km trail run/walk with three mates in June and being only 10 weeks away, I am determine to put in the time required to be ready to run.  I am now officially back on the wagon and am committing to 30 days straight up, apparently that is the magic number that will help set/achieve your goals (Matt Cutts: Try something new for thirty days).

Q: Do you have a pliant, properly organised thoracic spine? 

“The 12 thoracic vertebrae of your middle back are not to be forgotten. While runners tend to think a lot about the muscles and joints from the lower back down through the feet, the thoracic spine, or T-spine, is crucial when it comes to being able to sustain a neutral position in your long-distance running.” (Ready to Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally)


After doing ok with the first two standards, it is time to get down to business. I am not an office worker and don’t spend hours on a computer, but I do know that my T-spine is tight. Reading this chapter has really highlighted the fact having a tight thoracic spine can mess up my whole system and someone that has struggled with lower back issues, especially when running long, I am starting to see the bigger picture. Also the fact that if I am running with my shoulders hunched forward and head jutting out over my faulty upper back position, I am bleeding away power.

Plan is to be more aware of how I sit and move throughout the day, being conscious of keeping a neutral spine and not hunching over when on the computer or reading. I will also be incorporating Kelly’s mobility exercises into my daily routine.

Key Motivation

“If the T-spine is tight and out of whack, then all the power that you have flowing from your hard-earned six-pack and taut flute muscles is going to get squeezed off. A tight thoracic spine gums up your posterior chai, and you can’t get your shoulders and head into a good, aligned position, which transmit strain into your neck and lower back. It can also mess your hip function, so stresses will seek and creep their way into the usual suspects: knees, ankles and feet. And the longer you go into a run, the more your form distintergrates and the uglier it gets.” (Ready to Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally)

Other tips I got from the chapter

  • The modern runner is often the desk athlete and unless you vigilant about positions, that’s a big problem.
  • Pooping Dog position = a person (runner) slouched over a screen. After doing this for 40 – 50 hours a week, it can feel very normal and lead to a rounded upper back, with head jutting out in front, similar to the Hunchback of Notre Dame or our mate Monte Burns!
  • A tight thoracic spine can lead to issues such as neck pain, shoulder mobility problems, lower back pain and loss of power.
  • Having a properly organised upper spine and shoulders takes less energy. This means less energy needs to be expended by the muscles doing the work of keeping things stable and lifted.

Standard #1 – Neutral Feet

In his book Ready to Run, Kelly Starrett introduces 12 standards that I will use to complete a thorough assessment on my state of readiness to run. There is a comprehensive explanation about all of the standards, with each chapter containing a key question, a key motivation for reaching the standard, a briefing and a segment named ‘runner to runner’, which outlines co-author TJ Murphy’s own personal experiences as an endurance athlete. My aim is not to rehash each chapter, but to test myself against each standard and see how I measure up. I will also include a section outlining key tips/bits of advice I got from reading the chapter.

The first standard is neutral feet, so here goes…

Q: Are your feet habitually in a neutral position? 

“A neutral foot position simply means that when you’re standing, walking, or running, your feet are straight. They aren’t pigeon-toed in or splayed out like duck’s feet. They’re straight.” (Ready to Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally)

IMG_2775 (3)

After reading this chapter I have consciously been looking down at my feet often throughout the day in all states of movement and checking to to see if my feet are aligned. I am happy to say that I have done ok on this standard and reckon my feet are aligned about 85-90% of the time. When they are not, I make sure I align them, and go through Kelly’s bracing sequence, which works well in getting me back into proper position.

Key motivation

“By maintaining your feet in a neutral position while standing, walking, and running, you’re setting a stage for efficient movement, defined as the way your body was engineered to move. And when you move your body in the way it was intended to move, you reduce the stresses that lead to injuries and worn-out joints.” (Ready to Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally)

Other tips I got from the chapter

  • Modern living practices, such as long periods of sitting, hunched over looking at smart phones and computers are debilitating practices that work together to weaken your feet and collapse your arches.
  • Going out and spending big money on overbuilt running shoes designed to restrict natural foot motion only serves to deepen the issues people have with their feet.
  • Flip-flops and high-heeled shoes create artificial stiffness in the ankle. (I have not worn flip-flops since!)



My journey to holistic running

I have always been interested in trying to better myself as a runner and have listened to many different podcasts, read lots of articles and trawled the net for advice. This is not always beneficial as it can get overwhelming and confusing, but there are definitely some people along the way who have had a huge impact on my running and health. I’m often singing their praise to anyone who asks and/or is (or pretends to be) willing to listen, so for my own benefit as much as others’, this post documents my most trusted and respected sources of running and health wisdom.

Through one of my favourite podcasts, Trail Running Nation, I first heard about a guy called Steve Gangemi aka The Sock Doc. His article, The Sock Doc Training Principles was a revelation and helped me understand how to train and the importance of putting your health at the forefront of everything you do. It started me on a journey to try and optimise my running, as well as thinking about other parts of my life, such as nutrition, stress and recovery. I then discovered Phil Maffetone and read his book, The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing, which further cemented my understanding of the importance of having health as a foundation and optimising your training.

To cut a long story short, over the past few years I have slowly changed our diet (as the designated cook in our family) to a more paleo/banting way of eating. Using Phil Maffetone’s method of heart-rate monitoring in combination with a higher fat diet, I was able to improve my metabolic efficiency/fat burning capacity. I developed an ability to go longer and longer on my runs without the need for food and have minimised injuries along the way. More recently I have taken a greater interest in how I run, probably kicked off by Chris McDougall’s inspirational book Born to Run, which I have read twice. This lead to me to further read on the topic, coming across guys like Eric Orton and Dr. Mark Cucuzzella at the Natural Running Centre (a great resource).

The arrival of our beautiful little girl Sylvie last June, along with starting up a parkrun in my local community has meant a shift of focus away from the longer stuff to the 5km distance. I also started training with Thompson Estate Athletics and for someone that previously shied away from speed work and shorter distances, I have throughly enjoyed the experience and have managed to shave time off my 5km PB.

So now to the present moment. For the past couple of months I have been listening/reading up on Crossfit Endurance, which has lead me to people such as Brian Mackenzie, Kelly Starrett, TJ Murphy and Dr. Romanov. They are all interesting, experienced, educated and passionate guys and all believe 100% in their philosophies around training and running. One underlying message I have got from all of them is again the focus on health and building a strong foundation to stay injury free and keep running.

I am keen to further explore and discuss each of their philosophies and training techniques, but at this stage am going to focus on Kelly Starrett. I am reading/re-reading his book Ready to Run and must have listened to 5 or more podcasts in which he was interviewed. In a nutshell, the book is about getting a person ready to run and using essential standards (12 to be exact) to prepare the body for a lifetime of top performance. I have been lucky throughout my time running that I have not suffered any major injuries, but know in my heart that I have a number of mobility and range of motion issues. I have dabbled with different movement systems such as Yoga and Pilates and been to a number of physiotherapists, and through my own doing have never really followed through with any of these and so wound up back at the beginning. I am determined to make real and lasting change, hopefully preventing injuries, boost performance and most importantly ensure that I can keep running well into the future.

So, time for action. I am going to firstly assess/test myself against the 12 standards and see where I am at. I know for some of the standards I am way off the mark, but that is ok and I’m not going to let it get me down. The first standard will be neutral feet … here goes.