Friday, October 16, 2009

Think You're Running Correctly? No more aches and pains!

Many of us have been running for years, but have you stopped to see if you are running correctly? If you experience foot pain, knee pain, shin pain and even back pain when you run, it is very likely that your body is out of alignment and putting unnecessary pressure on joints and muscles by over-compensating. I gave out this article to the Core Fitness Runners and felt that it was important to share with everyone.

Developing proper running form is somewhat complex since each person is different. It seems as though some people are born with good running mechanics while others are not. There are some who believe running form should not be manipulated and cardiovascular fitness should be the emphasis of a training program to become more “fit.” However, not addressing the simple biomechanics of running will lead to poor economy.

The overall goal for running, besides preventing injury, should be to improve economy, which means decreasing the amount of oxygen that is used to move the body over distance. Improving economy can have a positive impact on performance and, for some, requires retraining the neuromuscular system. Retraining the way the brain initiates complex muscular movements can produce a decrease in performance in the short term. However, taking the time to train the body to run properly will lead to more positive gains in the long term and thus will help to improve a person’s economy as well as reduce the risk of injury.

The initial steps in developing a more economical run form include training the body to run more efficiently. Whenever running form is needed to be improved, running to practice should be the emphasis and more importantly, adequate time should be allowed to schedule the retraining of the neuromuscular system. Fitness will be a byproduct of running to practice and can be later developed once proper mechanics are learned.

Here are some basic guidelines that will help to improve overall run form:

  1. Place head in a neutral position without looking up or down. Focus on looking at the horizon and relax the neck and facial muscles.
  2. Maintain a slight forward lean (initiated from the hips with the butt “tucked in”) but not too much to where it would increase braking forces and stress to the hips, knees and back. Too much of a forward lean will cause a decrease in stride length because the hips will be rotated backward. Keep the hips forward by imagining someone is pulling you forward with a rope tied around your waist.
  3. Keep your arms moving in a straight line (or close to) to minimize the amount of side to side motion as it wastes energy and could negatively affect hip mechanics.
  4. Decrease heel striking (emphasize midfoot striking) to minimize the braking and impact forces that are placed on the lower extremities. To do this, increase cadence to around 90 strides per minute (measured on a single leg) and plant the foot as close to under the body and the center of gravity as possible.
  5. Minimize vertical oscillation or bouncing. In other words, run forward and not up and down.

Here are some running drills to teach proper run mechanics:

  1. Butt kicks. To do these properly, don’t simply kick the butt with the heel. Rather, initiate the kick by lifting the knee first so that your heel kicks your butt but your hip is flexed and not extended. These should be done without forward movement until the technique is first learned. Then progression to a slow jog can be initiated for 50 to 100 yards. Remember to land on the mid/forefoot when placing the foot back on the ground.
  2. High knees. Begin standing without forward movement and slowly raise the knee up and bring the foot down to the ground to strike the mid/forefoot. The emphasis should be on a high knee lift by engaging the hip muscles and the ground strike to teach proper foot placement mechanics. Progress from a slower to quicker speed, first done in place then progressing to a run of about 50 to 100 yards.

The above two drills are the most basic but fundamental of all running drills. There are many other advanced drills that can be incorporated after these are mastered.

  1. Strides. These are short bursts of increasing speed over about 10 to 15 seconds of running. Perform these after a few sessions of butt kicks and high knees so that those two drills are learned first. Strides teach the neuromuscular system how to initiate and respond faster and increase overall cadence. Begin with no more than three to four sets of strides.

Following these general guidelines will begin the process of developing a more economical run form. These principles along with the running drills should be completed at least two to three times per week before scheduled run training or as stand-alone neuromuscular training sessions.

Remember, run to practice first. Improved fitness and economy will develop throughout practice.

If you need help with running or just want to get some extra cardio, ask about Core's Fitness Runners!

Source: PT on the Net

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