How to improve your technique and minimise niggly injuries
Running is a great form of aerobic activity and a fantastic stress reliever! There is nothing better than the post-run rush of endorphins. There is just something about strapping up those laces, running of into the distance, surrounding yourself with nature that creates a sense of deep serenity. Although running is a great way to keep fit and an amazing stress reliever, it can often be hard on the body and lead to niggly injuries.
However by optimizing your running technique your can easily minimize your risk of injury. Minimizing injuries may not be a major concern for you, you may instead want to improve your running technique to improve your running efficiency and thus become a speedy Gonzales!
There are many, many things you need to know to improve your running technique, so this blog will be a three part series.
In the first part of this series we will run through (pardon the pun) posture tips, taking you from head to toe.
Postural cues for running
Reading on, you may feel a little overwhelmed with all the suggested changes, especially when you are feeling rather pooped or chugging it up the hill. It's just enough to think to breathe or to not stop! When you are out on your next run I want you to implement one of the below posture tips. JUST ONE! With each run you go on after, try to add an extra posture tip until you have your posture sorted from head to toe!
Now let's get started.
Imagine there is a little hook at the base of your skull, off that hook is a little piece of string that is being gently pulled towards to sky. This pull creates a beautiful length through the back of your neck and a subtle chin tuck. This will allow for the correct postural muscles in your neck to work with balance, rather than all the tension runners can feel across the back of the neck. Try to relax your jaw too. And don't forget the tongue in your mouth. I have seen the best of runners finishing their race with a soft opened and almost floppy jaw.
When you feel your breathing is laboured, be more aware of these cues. A tense breathing pattern will not only add tension to the upper back and neck region, but will also inhibit an effective deeper breath with your diaphragm.
Create an open 'smile' at the front of the chest, by gently lifting the chest and bringing your shoulder blades up and back into their 'top back pockets'. This will open the front of your trunk for better diaphragm breathing patterns, and support the posture of your shoulders, neck and upper back with better efficiency.
Arms should be relaxed with elbows bent to 90 degrees and swinging freely forward and back but not across the body. As your arms swing a subtle and controlled twist through the waist is generated. I have read of coaches suggesting to 'brush your thumbs along the waist band of your running shorts/tights'.
Hold your hands in a loose fist, imagining you are holding two baby birds.
Finding and maintaining a 'neutral' spine and pelvis during running is crucial. There should be a small curve (but not exaggerated) in your lower back and the boney bits at the front and the back of the pelvis should be level. Talk to your physio if you are unsure how to find your neutral spine and pelvis. The neutral pelvis will act as a beautiful foundation for your spine, aligning all joints and encouraging muscles to work well to support your lower trunk region. The neutral pelvis will also have your buttock muscles and hips working better. Better control for each foot fall, better power for pushing off and safer biomechanics to the knees and feet. What a win all round!
Anterior pelvic tilt. This is an example of a pelvis that is excessively tilted forward. The boney at the front of the pelvis sit lower than the bones at the back of pelvis creating an excessive low back curve. Not ideal at all.
Posterior pelvic tilt. This is an example of pelvis that is tilted backwards, causing the bones at the front of the pelvis to sit higher than the bones at the back of the pelvis creating a flat low back. This encourages incorrect activation of both the abdominal and deep buttock muscles. Not ideal at all!
Neutral pelvis. This picture is an example of a neutral pelvis where the bones at the front and the bones at the back of the pelvis and nicely level creating a subtle low back curve. This is the ideal zone to aim to hold your pelvis as you run as it allows for postural control, movement efficiency and great alignment of both the back and the hips.
Now for the most important bit!
- Forward lean of the body over the hips
It is very important when running to have a slight forward lean of the body. This comes about by bringing your body forward over the hips, so that from a side view you head, shoulders and chest are slightly in front of the hips. Coaches again may say "imagine your breastbone sitting just in front of the pubic bone".
Runners often go wrong by holding themselves extremely upright with their head and shoulders tacked directly on top of their pelvis or even behind it. This can lead to a heavy heel-strike that lands in front of the body, creating harsh ground reaction forces that propel the body backwards and upwards, which is a waste of energy and an injury waiting to happen!
This picture above is an example of a heel strike in front of the body, with the trunk excessively upright and the pelvis tilted forward. Note how the foot is out in front of the hip area, increasing the stresses through the whole leg with each foot fall. This is not ideal.
If you achieve a slight forward lean from the hips you are more likely to achieve a mid-foot strike underneath or behind the body. Achieving a mid-foot strike improves the body's ability to absorb and recoil ground reactions forces and achieving this foot strike underneath or behind the body will in turn propel the body forward, improving your speed!
This picture is attempting to re-enact a forward lean and a mid-foot strike that land underneath or even behind the body (we have exaggerated the forward lean for understanding). Note how the foot now falls under the hip, better absorbing the ground reaction forces of each foot fall. This is ideal in preventing injury and improving running efficiency.
Another thing to think about in regards to your feet is how wide or narrow your feet land. I want you to imagine you have a line on the ground directly under the middle of your body. You want your feet to land either side of the line. Therefore, you do not want to run with your feet too wide nor do you want to run with you feet crisscrossing over each other and over that imaginary line.
Well that takes you from head to toe, its time to wrap things up!
If you want to check your running technique with your Fix Program physiotherapist, here's what to do:
- Find a treadmill, a friend and smart phone – Ask your friend to take a video of your running on a treadmill with your smartphone
- It is best to have spine and pelvis somewhat exposed, so for males it is best to take the video will your top removed and for female it is best if you tuck your top up into your bra
- Another helpful tip is to find the little boney bits at the back of the pelvis and use a pen or marker to draw large circle over each boney divot. This is to keep an eye on your pelvis whilst you run
- Run for at least 2mins to warm up and get into your running groove
- Get your friend to take a 30 second video of your from behind, and then a 30 second video of you from the side. Make sure the video can clearly see your whole body from head to toe, including where your foot is landing on the treadmill
- Then book a consult with your Fix Physiotherapist and bring in your video for analyze and personalized posture and running tips.