My own testimonial: Prior to my Ultra Running career I was injured any time I tried to exceed 25 miles a week. That was my upper limit. And it wasn’t until I received instruction on how to use my body when running did I start to enjoy the ability to run more and not be plagued by injury and layoffs and the disappointment that accompanied these. The idea of “how to use my body” was unique when I first heard about it in conjunction with Running Form improvement. Now having studied the body and worked as a Physical Therapist for thirty years, and having myself been coached from the perspective of “learning and improving” in form, endurance and performance, I have gained a personal and professional appreciation of the “How” we learn to improve our movement skills. I bring this understanding into all my work with Runners, Running Form and Technique.
Running From the Core
This is perhaps the most important skill to learn and also the least understood in terms of implementation. How this is generally approached is to strengthen muscles associated with the lower abdominal and pelvic region of the body. Lots of planks, squats, and a variety of other methods of muscle strengthening. Then when we go to run we might study a little about foot-strike, and stride mechanics and hope for the best.
What isn’t addressed and understood by this model is how “do we learn to direct ourselves” so that our body works harmoniously, all parts contributing their necessary effort to the “whole running body”, with no extra effort. Nothing blocked, rigid, or turned off.
I have worked with so many runners that have done endless glute strengthening exercises, having been directed to do this by medical professionals and fitness instructors, with no appreciable effect on their pain levels or performance goals. The glutes are not weak, they are deactivated, not firing because of position/posture of the core and pelvis. Or runners that have been given endless clam shells to strengthen the gluteus medius. The reason the gluteus medius isn’t working has nothing to do with its strength or lack of strength and everything to do with poor stride mechanics. Improve on stride mechanics and the gluteus medius works just fine.
These are just a couple of examples to make this point: An understanding of posture and body mechanics and how “to direct ourselves” is the key to running injury free, many miles, faster, and increased enjoyment of the sport!
When I work with runners I teach skills associated with “self-direction”, meaning, once I’ve worked with you, you will be able to ask yourself,” what tools do I have, what adjustments must I make to help me know what feels right and what doesn’t, to move more efficiently, and to be able to tap into my body’s potential?”
Running from the core depends on postural alignment, strength, along with the necessary relaxation and mobility for the core muscles to generate power. It is this mobility that is the key and often the missing piece.
And when running from the core is compromised in any way, runners go to the leg muscles to generate power and this sets the stage for all the garden variety running injures.
Stride mechanics are not usually an issue with correct upper body posture and relaxed core engagement. But when the core is tight, the pelvis is out of alignment, motion is inhibited. That is when we suffer poor stride mechanics. Usually an over-stride results where the body mass is behind lead foot at weight-bearing. This can cause many different stresses, and is often the cause of a variety of knee issues.
What I teach is proper alignment which paves the way for improved stride mechanics. Then a runner is able to tap into their elastic recoil potential. This improves the firing patterns of leg muscles, making for max efficiency, lightness, and fluid motion.
Upper Body/Torso Mechanics
This is so important to running from the core, that you might say it is part of the core. Again alignment and relaxation are the key. And also again knowing how to direct yourself to achieve these is what’s needed. And for this to happen one needs to know when they are holding unnecessary tension here and how to release it.
Here I often teach runners how to release tension that they are so used to, that they can’t feel it, and therefore have no leverage on learning how to relax it. When the upper torso becomes mobile this maximizes the powerful hip and pelvic muscles. And so again we free the lower leg muscles from the power production work that is the domain of the core.
There is more misinformation regarding foot strike circulating on the internet than almost anything else non-political! That being said, I would only add: make sure everything else is aligned and relaxed up and down the chain, and be sure to ground out! Don’t run on your toes, and mid-foot strike doesn’t mean the heel doesn’t make significant ground contact. And finally it depends on where the foot is in relation to the body’s center of mass when weight-bearing whether a heel strike is going to present a problem.
Watch this video for more foot strike information: