Calling all runners and walkers who want to avoid injuries and get stronger! Sara, our Assistant Race Director is also a Doctor of Physical Therapy with some really great knowledge that she would like to share with you! Stay tuned for upcoming posts in this series to learn more about how to improve your form and fitness to prevent injuries and have more fun. If you are like me, when people mention “form” and “mechanics” I stop paying attention, but hold up sister we’ve got photos so listen up because your body deserves to move better!
You know the way you notice your friend or family members from a distance away by the way they move? Or you can see your running partner’s form your head? Those little “seasonings” we add to running or walking postures to truly make them our own. As a runner and physical therapist, observing running form is a super nerdy past time of mine. I watch everyone from kids on the playground to athletes at the Olympics. While I love individual style when it comes to fashion, I truly believe that in order to be efficient runners (i.e. those who don’t get injured, can run for a lifetime and those who can go the fastest or longest) our running style should be pretty much the same. Think about animals: barring a major injury, wouldn’t you say that all cows run the same? Lions? Chickens? Cats? The list goes on. Why then, as humans, would we believe that running in a non-ideal form is healthy for our bodies and the way to run our fastest times? Are you hunched over? Do your heels hit your opposite inner calves when you running leaving mud stains? Do your knees knock together? Does anything HURT during or after your run? These are all things we want to change.
I believe that ideal running form embodies a state where your muscles are at their best potential to create the most power possible and your joints are being loaded evenly. In the absence of it, injuries can develop and goals cannot be reached. It is the difference between riding a bike with a flat tire and a bike with freshly pumped tires….which would you choose?!
In the coming months, I will be discussing different parts of ideal running position and breaking down the common mistakes that I see, the injuries it can cause and simple ways to improve it.
Part 1: Center of Mass (Real Talk: Where gravity pushes your body weight)
I don’t know about you, but I absolutely hated physics. At the time, it seemed so abstract and inapplicable. That is, until I realized how it affects the human body. When we run, we are, in the simplest form, moving a weight (our bodies) through space, which takes energy (hello multiple spoonfuls of peanut butter eaten in front of the fridge). When running on Earth, we also have to deal with gravity.
Do this simple exercise with me to feel how body position has an affect on how easy or hard movement is: sit in a chair and WITHOUT LEANING FORWARD, try to stand straight up. Then, sit in a chair and LEAN FORWARD before standing up. Was the first condition next to impossible? That’s because your weight was all behind you, forcing you to work extremely hard to accomplish the task at hand (aka: your body weight was in your butt and not in your feet).
In running, the same thing can happen!
How it makes us get hurt:
When weight is too far back, the force which we hit the ground becomes seriously magnified, leading to injuries all up the body: plantar fasciitis, patellar tendonitis, knee and hip joint degeneration, hip labral tears and spinal injuries. Heck, it exasperates bladder and bowel leaking, due to the increased force placed on the pelvic floor.
How it makes us slower:
When our weight is too far back, it also makes us have to work harder (just like you felt during the chair experiment) to move our body through space. Also, when our weight is behind us, our feet tend to land out in front of us, which essential turns into a kind of “brake” with every step we take.
How we can fix it:
- Stand and try to center your body weight right behind the ball of the foot. For most people, this will require them to slightly lean forward FROM THE ANKLES. This may feel very unnatural, as many of us are accustomed to excessive weight in our heels.
- Start running and add this slight forward lean. You should feel your speed immediately increase naturally and your feet start to land more underneath your body. You can also shift your gaze to a point on the ground 10 feet or so in front of you to make this happen naturally.
- In addition to leaning slightly forward, you should be growing tall through the top of your head the entire time with your ribcage relaxed down, NOT growing tall by lifting your ribcage (more on this later).
Here’s to getting faster, stronger and being able to run forever!
Sara Tanza PT, DPT, CFMT is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and the Assistant Race Director for She.is.beautiful 5k & 10k.