At Hertfordshire Sports Clinics and Hertfordshire Foot Clinic we see a lot of runners presenting with wide ranging complaints from lower limb injury, back pain, shin, foot and ankle pain, stiff and painful toes and other traumatic running related sprains. We are constantly asked the causes of these issues and at our clinics we really take an active interest in finding the underlying cause and resolving that to reduce the risk of recurrence and time spent away from exercise.
Often the root cause is multifactorial with muscle weakness, muscle activation timing problems, hip and pelvic instability, contributing biomechanical inefficiencies as well as training load and volume to name but a few. However, even if all the above is corrected and your running form is not good these problems can still remain to a certain degree.
In this blog we will discuss the most commonly debated running technique flaws and there significance.
1- Heel Striking/Over Striding
You probably all know or have heard about the barefoot running movement which has really gained momentum in the past decade but started even as far back as the 80's with some coaches advocating its use. I will write a blog on Heel striking Vs forefoot/minimalist running in the future but its a divided camp and there's conflicting evidence on both sides. For today's blog I will outline a basic interpretation of heel striking and its potential issues in causing running related injury.
It is important to note that you can heel strike without over striding but in most cases if you are over striding (overreaching) you will be in the category of heel striking that we are talking about there.
'For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.' - Newton's 3rd Law of Motion
I'm sure we have all heard the above, now lets take this and apply it to landing on your heel which is in front of your centre of gravity (effectively not below your hips/pelvis but in front of them) - as you land the ground is pushing you back in an equal velocity so your body is absorbing that load and in fact you are 'breaking' your forward momentum. This type of action increases load on the heel (2-3 times your body weight) and switches the main loading/absorbing structure in your lower limb from the ankle (in someone who mid foot strikes) to your knee instead (a heel striker). For people who have knee issues this type of running will potentially increase the chances of experiencing ongoing issues with knee pain and stiffness. It can also increase the rate of force that your sacroiliac joint has to absorb and contribute to back pain.
Having said this studies have shown it to be a more efficient running style in amateur and recreational runners. This may also be contributed to not having the requisite strength and flexibility in differing areas to be able to run on the forefoot efficiently and any one attempting to change from a heel to a mid foot or forefoot striker should do it gradually and with the help of a running coach who can implement gym based strengthening programs to assist in this transition.
2 - Slow Cadence
'Cadence = number of steps in a minute'
It is common knowledge that the 2 main variables for running speed are stride length and cadence and that they are reciprocally interrelated. Slow cadence is directly related to over striding/heel striking whilst the faster your cadence the more optimum your stride length becomes with resultant increase in running speed. If your cadence is approaching optimal, which is often stated at around 180 per minute, you should be landing with your centre of gravity (COG) underneath you allowing for the pushing force from your foot to propel you upwards and forwards in an efficient manner. If cadence is low you will more than likely be covering an inefficient amount of distance per step or be overreaching and landing with your foot far too forward of your COG. Figures of less than 160 steps per minute are said to correlate closely with over striding and coaches can prescribe an increase in cadence to avoid over striding.
To complicate things somewhat it is a little unhelpful to think of cadence as being consistent, depending on the type of race, the distance an terrain this is likely to change so it is more relevant to think that your cadence should exist within a range and that this is likely to change at different points. For example towards the end of an elite 5km the cadence could push over 200 with someone like Mo Farah who has that 'kick' in the final few hundred meters of a race. It has been said that by being able to increase his cadence at that point of the race he recruits differing muscle fibres which have not been fatigued and allow for his 'sprint' finishes. Some food for thought there.
3 - Too Tense!
Being tense whilst running burns unnecessary energy so learning to run whilst being relaxed is a good way to improve your running without having to do extra miles or lift more weights in the gym!
Common areas of tension are the hands, arms and shoulders as well the jaw. Clenching the jaw increases the tone in the muscles around the jaw and neck and sets a chain reaction for tension to spread. We clench our jaws as a way to ready ourselves to perform a difficult physical task such as lifting or pushing and this is a habit some runners fall into. If you study the best runners in the world (particular sprinters) you will notice how much their facial tissue moves whilst they run. Their shoulders are relaxed (not around their ears!) and this continues into their arms and hands whilst they are able to drive their knees up high and run extremely fast but in a completely relaxed manner.
These are just three of many running technical issues that can be corrected with appropriate coaching and practice.
As we discussed above there are very real technical pointers to work on with everyone to improve running technique and improve your running times and enjoyment.
We have worked closely with Brian White who has been involved in local running clubs in Hertfordshire for many years and has a n experienced and highly qualified background as a UK Athletics Senior Endurance Coach (Level 3), a personal trainer and biomechanics coach.
If you want to improve your running, gain a PB, learn about race strategies as well as perform running specific training and conditioning all of us at Hertfordshire Sports Clinics recommend you contact Brian for a consultation.
Mobile: 07989 831042