Running seems natural to us and we spend a good portion of our childhood years running instead of walking! However, running well and running safe involves some biomechanics that we need to be mindful of.
This can be easy to overcomplicate so I teach my running clients a simple body scan and some principles of dynamic warm up.
The scan is a series of quick mental checks you can do while running at certain time or distance intervals.
The dynamic warm up is a great way to prepare your body for running and decreasing your chances of developing an injury.
Periodically during your run, mentally perform a head to toe body scan.
Just like any other skill, this will take time to perfect the scanning as well as being able to adapt your body “on the fly”. The goal is to keep your body moving with the most efficient motion which is to keep moving parts moving in a straight line.
- Head: Keep looking forward, approximately 10 feet ahead of you to scan the terrain. By looking 10 feet ahead of you, the peripheral vision of your eyes will also be able to pick up any potential dangers coming from the side such vehicles approaching an intersection
- Body angle: Run tall, forward or backward lean of the upper body is less efficient and can limit your balance or agility, if they are challenged
- Arm action:
- Keep your shoulders relaxed. A common problem is shrugging the shoulders with exertion. This can lead to excess fatigue and possible neck pain.
- Keep arms moving straight forward and backward, not across the body. This will help to propel your momentum forward.
- Keep your elbows in close to your body and bent at about 90°. When your arms are straighter with the elbows extended more, it creates a longer lever for your shoulders to move which requires more muscle energy.
- Hands: Keep hands relaxed – the tension in your wrist and hands affects the entire arm and shoulder!
- An easy way to remind yourself of this is to imagine you are holding a potato chip between your thumb and index finger and you do not want to break or crush the chip!
- Pelvis: Keep hips “up” – A good way to visualize this is to find the bony points on the front of your pelvis on each side and imagine these are your headlights. The “headlights” should always be pointing forward.
- Hips/knees: Make sure to allow your hips and knees to bend naturally. Sometimes with running people have a tendency to run stiff-legged especially when they are running at a slower pace or when they are getting tired.
- Feet: Don’t overcomplicate the feet! The main goal here is to keep your feet aligned forward, not pointing diagonally outwards.
- Try to land on your forefoot/mid-foot as this will increase muscle action to “cushion” landing. Landing on your heels repetitively is hard on the lower limb joints and can lead to repetitive strain injuries.
- Stride: For the most part stick with shorter strides. This will help to keep your feet under you and limit “pounding the pavement”. Short strides tend to be more efficient. If you want to increase speed, try increasing your cadence (steps per minute) instead of increasing the length of your strides.
When you are running uphill try to lean forward slightly and take shorter steps. Pump your arms a bit more forward and backward to help “drive” you up the hill.
When you are running downhill you can use longer strides and let the grade of the hill create momentum for you. Aim to have a slight lean forward at your ankles. Sometimes the tendency is to lean backward which can create a “braking” force that slows you down and uses excessive energy.
A dynamic warm up is important before any moderate or vigorous activity to prepare the body. The dynamic warm up needs to be specific to the activity you are going to do to be the most effective. This means the warm up needs to use the same motions, muscles, and joints as running.
- Increased core temperature. This helps improve blood circulation throughout the body
- Increased muscle temperature. This allows muscle to be more pliable and flexible.
- Stimulation of the nervous system. This makes the muscles more efficient in the movements they create and helps improve coordination, balance, and agility.
- Decreased risk of injury. The changes to muscle flexibility, pliability, and activation all contribute to a reduced risk of muscle and joint injury. Improvements in coordination, balance, and agility, can help to prevent trips and falls which may result in injury.
- Knee Ups
- Butt Kicks
- Straight Leg Kicks
- Cross and Touch
- Power Skips
- Power Strides
- Ankle Circles
~ Trevor Donald, Physiotherapist