You’ve been told that running sheds the pounds fast. Your Personal trainer has given you a running program to boost your goals but after the 3rd week your knees are so sore that you look crippled when walking up the stairs. On the 3rd kilometre of your track session, you become increasingly annoyed with the Kenyan guy who has lapped you for the 9th time; not only because he is so unbelievably fast, composed and makes it look oh-so-easy, but because you get a fright every time he zips past you.
If this sounds at all familiar familiar, then you are not sufficiently conditioned to be running the distances you are attempting. Seems a bit harsh, I know, but it’s also true. The fact of the matter is running is not easy, and it is certainly not very forgiving on the body. You probably sound like a small elephant with flip flops on when you run, not because you’re an elephant by any stretch of the word, even the beautifully slim Kendal Jenner will sound the same, if you both lack the intrinsic lower limb and hip strength to control the dynamic gait of running. If you compare your hip, lower leg and foot strength to that of a seasoned Comrades runner, you will more than likely find that they are able to do a lot more with their functional bodyweight than you can; such as a one legged squat and an unassisted one legged calf raise, both of which are frequently used to test a runner’s overall functional strength. I always tell all the runners I see, once you’re able to do a single leg squat, unassisted with perfect alignment, stability and technique, you are functionally strong enough to run. Seems like a pretty simple measure, I know, but it does give runners a nice benchmark with which to compare their strength and progression.
So besides that, how do you actually know if you’re fit enough to run the distances you are currently attempting? Well, the best comparison of whether one is potentially doing more harm than good during exercise is the blister analogy. If you start lifting weights without gloves, your hands will blister. If you continue lifting weights and do not give the blisters time to become callous, then your hands will proceed to tear open and become injured. The same applies to running. If you’re constantly injuring yourself and not giving yourself the necessary time to progress your distance and strength appropriately, you will continue to be in pain and never get to the point you need or want to be.
So, what exactly is the solution here? Well, before you even start running it is incredibly important to make sure you have the necessary lower limb and hip strength to actually support yourself and your joints during the run. Therefore the right strengthening exercises are absolutely essential to any runner’s training program. The fact is, runners want to run, that’s it, but the cold, hard truth is, it’s simply not enough! Especially not if you want to remain pain free and on top of your running game! Secondly, it’s all about appropriate progression. Once you start your running program, start with small distances and apply the 10% rule, running no more than 10% distance OR intensity each week. If you slowly build up, you should see steady improvements over time until you are running comfortably without pain.
So, now that we’ve covered if you should be running, it’s time to take a closer look at exactly how you should be running. Running style has for long been a hot topic of debate amongst most. The fact is there are distinct differences between the various running styles, each impacting a runner in considerably different ways. But what exactly is best for us? Some professionals pay tribute to the fact that the body naturally finds its most effective way of covering ground. While others argue that foot-strike is an essential ingredient to an efficient running mix and economy. FURTHERMORE, together with foot-strike, it’s also about limb positioning.
Injuries, especially overuse injuries, are highly prevalent amongst runners. Ask any runner how much they’ve struggled with a persisting ITB issue or a nagging tendonitis that just doesn’t seem to go away. Am I right runners? The truth is many of these are as a result of a runner applying too much force on a repetitive basis. So how exactly do you go about reducing this? Well, ultimately you want to run with the least amount of musculoskeletal pressure on your system as well as the lowest metabolic cost to avoid injury. There’s therefore NO debating that there are ALOT of things to consider when it comes to running style, so, let’s take a closer look at some of the core ingredients that makes up a SMASHING running recipe.
Good running technique is too often overlooked because we THINK that running just comes naturally. And while that is true, there are various things you can do & focus on to make your running more efficient, effective & enjoyable:
1. Foot placement: Your feet should be pointed straight ahead & land under your hips – as close to your centre of gravity as possible. Focus on landing on your mid-foot or ball of your foot as opposed to your heel. Increased heel-strike almost acts as a ‘braking mechanism’ as your foot is positioned in front of your body, this is also known as over-striding which not only slows you down but sends shock waves through your body. Heel strike also puts your Hamstrings in maximal stretch, dorsiflexors in maximal activation & calves in maximal stretch which puts WAY too much strain on these areas.
2. Run LIGHT: Your aim is to run as light as possible! Imagine you’re running on eggshells – always does the trick! Remember, you don’t want to sound like a small elephant with flip flops on 😉
3. Hip positioning: Your hips should be level and square with almost no sideways movement. Also try & minimize your vertical displacement, unless you’re trying to make it to the moon, you don’t need to go that high! The key is to be effective; therefore you have to eliminate as much unnecessary movement as possible, such as side-to-side & up & down. You will therefore transfer all your energy into forward propulsion, which is exactly what you want!
4. Legs: Your legs should be relaxed & move easily under your body like a wheel rolling smoothly along. Focus on lifting your leg off the ground as opposed to pushing off. Allow your knees rather than your feet to lead you forward.
5. Run tall: Running tall means running LIGHT. Keep your torso tight & your back nice & straight. Picture yourself barely touching the ground, or running while suspended from space by an invisible string – sounds cool doesn’t it, well, give it a try!
So, why exactly is all of this important? Well, you should remember that when you run your foot strikes the ground with a force greater than twice your body weight. With poor running technique, this force can be multiplied by tenfold, thus resulting in increased injuries and very niggly and painful joints. The truth is running is great, like really great, not only for your body but for your mind as well. It is however for your best interest to do it in a progressed manner and with the right technique in mind, that way you’ll have many happy kilometres to enjoy!