Improve How You Move: Stroller Running Form

Calling all stroller 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 about staying healthy while running with a stroller.  We are proud to offer one of the only stroller division races in the country, with our Bumbleride Baby Mama Division and can’t wait to see you out there running with your kids.

Running while pushing little ones is different for every person.  Many of us had idyllic visions of cruising effortlessly through beautiful scenery while our child cheered us on. We were soon hit with the hard reality that a stroller and the weight of that beautiful child was harder than it looks!  Beyond that, while the cheers of “Go Mama or Dada” can be heard occasionally, keeping said child entertained with endless rounds of “Itsy, Bitsy, Spider” and a constant commentary of all the vehicles you see driving by raised your heart rate to new levels, while your pace still slowed.  Finally, many people who are picking up stroller running are new moms who have just put their bodies through the rigors of pregnancy and birth.  They might have additional areas of weakness caused by these things AND are likely still under the control of hormones that make their tissues more flexible and possibly more prone to injury (these hormones have been shown to remain active in the body until 3-6 months AFTER you stop breastfeeding).  

With that said, for many parents, a stroller run is the only way for them to get a run in or a time they truly enjoy spending with their child.  

Today, we would like to bring you some tips to improve your stroller running form, both to prevent injuries AND improve efficiency.

Body Alignment:  Many people running with strollers are losing power and increasing the load placed on their bodies by poor alignment of their head and trunk.  For post partum mamas, they commonly have retained the poor posture common in the late stages of pregnancy:  pelvis driven forward, chest positioned behind their body and likely up, knees hyperextended and weight in their heels.  They then have since taken up feeding their baby, and whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding, they have likely been slumping their head to look at that adorable new human.

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Unfortunately, when they go to push a stroller from this position, it will place extra load on the body.  This can lead to injuries ranging from back pain, to calf pain to knee pain to pelvic floor issues.  It also causes them to not be able to produce as much power as they could, leading to running becoming harder and them running slower.

 

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Let’s make a change!  Stand in front of your shoulder with soft knees.  Look down at your feet like you are looking over a cliff.  While maintaining this position of your ribcage stacked right over your pelvis, equalize the weight on your feet between your heels and the balls of your feet.  While maintaining this position, think of the top of your head being pulled up and forward with a light chin tuck WITHOUT your chestbone coming up. You should feel like you are in a slight forward lean from your ankles, as if you were leaning into the wind.

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Shoulder Position:  Another factor in stroller running that drives poor overall body alignment is the position your hold your hands, arms and shoulders.  It is common to let elbows “chicken wing” out to the sides of you.  This leads to shoulder blades slumping forward, the spine rounding and shifting your body weight back.  Assuming such form can lead to excessive forces placed on the neck and back, because the shoulder blades are not in a good position to take on the load of the stroller.

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Let’s make a change!  Simply keep your elbows by your sides, moving alongside your ribcage!  A hand position that encourages this is holding onto the sides of the handlebar (see picture below).  If you are pushing with one hand, grip the middle of the handlebar, but keep your elbow tucked in by your side.  Regardless of what hand position you are taking, picture the fronts of your shoulders spreading apart from each other as you run.

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Power generation: A lot of runners, especially those pushing strollers, fall into the pattern of lifting their feet off the ground by kicking up towards their butt and then having to thrust the lower leg forward, usually with a pointed toe.  This leads to their foot being far out in front of them, essentially acting like a brake when hitting the ground.  This slows you down of course, but more damaging, puts unnecessary load on the plantar fascia, achilles, calf, knee, pelvic floor and spine.  

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Let’s make a change! A better way of bringing the leg forward to allow it to meet the ground in a healthier fashion is to focus on bringing the leg forward by lifting both the knee and toes up in front of you (see picture below).  This motion can feel particularly “weird” in post partum women, as they have had to maneuver their legs around a big belly for months, which usually causes them to use hip flexors to a lesser degree.  It is helpful to even simply practice the motion of bringing your knee and toes up (see picture below) and then alternating legs as a warm up exercise.  When running, think of simply avoiding kicking your butt and instead, bringing your knee and toes up in front of you. You can then picture your foot landing right under your body.

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Cadence (aka: how long are you spending on the ground with each step): When pushing a stroller with the weight of a little one in it, it is easy to get tired!  One common mistake I see in stroller runners is how long they are spending on the ground with each step.  This can lead to injury, as we mainly get hurt when we are on the ground with gravity bearing down on us.  

Let’s make a change! By bringing our feet off the ground faster, we are reducing the forces that compress our joints and put strain on our tendons and ligaments.  Think of how fast you pick your foot up when you step on one of your child’s legos on the floor! That is what you should be thinking about when you run.  Simply, get your foot off the ground as fast as possible.  

Bringing it all together:

Running with your kids can be exhausting, awesome and necessary when you want to get some sweating in!  By thinking a little bit more about your body’s alignment, what your legs are doing and how fast you are getting off the ground, you will set yourself up for healthier and faster running.  Another huge part of the equation is running with a great stroller.  In the same way that running in your favorite shoes (shout out to our Hoka Tracer 2.) is better than running in heels, a lightweight running stroller decreases forces on your body and makes the process more fun.  We highly recommend BumbleRide Speed, as it is super lightweight, rides extremely smooth, handles bumpy roads with ease and turns on a dime.  

Finally, ending your stroller run with a “reward” for your little one, from getting to watch bulldozers at a construction site to a treat at a coffee shop, can be that extra incentive they need to let you get some happy miles in.

 

Sara Tanza PT, DPT, CFMT  is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and the Assistant Race Director forShe.is.beautiful 5k & 10k.

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