*Article written by SBF physiotherapist Emma McGuire BPhty (Hons)
Sal did a live chat a little while back about running (posted at the end of this article), and she made a very good point in saying that:
Nobody is born a natural runner.
We teach ourselves to run as kids after we learn to walk. Some of us keep running through our teenage years, while some of us stop altogether and when we try to run again it’s hard work! There is some good news though, and that is that there are things you can do to improve your running – that means ultimately a more efficient running style, more speed, and fewer injuries.
Running is similar in a way to swimming and cycling in that it is an endurance exercise that requires optimal mechanics and symmetry of the body. When you have asymmetries, whether it be joint stiffness or muscle imbalances (tightness or weakness), your biomechanics are altered and you end up adapting your running style.
An adapted running style will usually end in injury, or at least an inefficient running style that expends far too much energy.
The difference between running and many other endurance exercises, like swimming and cycling, is that running is a high impact exercise that requires good shock absorption from your elastic tendons and connective tissue structures. When you first start running, you need to allow time for your tendons to adapt and strengthen so that they can store and utilize the elastic energy that is absorbed from the ground to essentially propel you forwards.
Efficient running will be the result of training two different energy systems:
- The elastic energy that is absorbed from the ground and used by your tendons and connective tissue. I’ll refer to this as Functional Strength.
- Your metabolic system (your fitness) which will affect how much energy your muscles can produce. I’ll refer to this as Metabolic Fitness.
To improve your running, as well as minimising your chance of injury, you need to improve both of these systems. You can also incorporate some cues and basic running drills into your training to improve your running form.
To improve your functional strength for running, you do not necessarily need to be lifting heavy weights. Your own body weight can be sufficient, however as you become more experienced you may add some resistance to your exercises.
Running requires multiple muscles to activate together, so it makes sense to do “compound movements” which mean you are using more than just one group of muscles. A few good compound strength exercises to incorporate would be: Air squats, Lunges, Bulgarian lunges, and Glute bridges.
It’s also a good idea to incorporate some plyometrics into your strength programs. Plyometrics (also known as jump training) are explosive exercises that improve the power and elastic properties of your big muscle groups. Some examples of plyometrics would be: skipping with a rope, Box jumps, Squat jumps, Plyometric lunges, and Fence jumps. *It’s important that you land softly with a slight knee bend to absorb the shock and prevent injuries.
It’s also important that you also incorporate plenty of mobility work (stretching, foam rolling, trigger balling) to keep your muscles flexible especially as you start to increase your strength training. As you get stronger, your muscles will also get stiffer. Mobility work is a MUST!
To get fitter for running, you don’t need to run every day. When starting out, aim to run 2-3 times a week with at least one day off in between runs. On alternate days, any other exercise that gets your heart rate up will help to improve your fitness. You may choose brisk walking, a group fitness class, swimming, or a high intensity circuit. Even performing your strength exercises in a circuit style workout will help to improve your fitness. It is all about smart training!
Here are 2 key points you can immediately implement to improve your running form:
- Run tall. By keeping your head up and shoulders back, you’ll help to maintain a good posture which will in turn assist with your breathing and running technique.
- Shorten your stride length and increase your cadence (frequency of steps).
One of the most common reasons people get injured by their running form is over-striding.
To prevent over-striding, shorten your stride and increase the turnover of your feet. You should land somewhere around the middle of your foot, and when your foot hits the ground, it should be almost in line with your hip with your knee slightly bent.
The ideal cadence to prevent over-striding is approximately 180 steps per minute (spm). To test your own cadence, count how many times your left foot hits the ground in one minute and then multiply this number by two. If your cadence is much less than 180 spm (say less than 150), you should try to shorten your stride to increase your cadence.
Finally, try some running drills after you have warmed up to improve your running style. These include: high knees, heel kicks, short sprints, and running on the spot with a good forwards arm swing.
As with any form of exercise, you’ll never be able to prevent ALL running injuries. The advice offered above however, will help to minimise the potential for injury and hopefully keep you running for longer.
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