By Mark Erspamer
One, two, repeat. One, two, repeat. Does this rhythmic cadence sound familiar? Can you begin to recall the beads of perspiration forming along your brow, the labored breathing and the sound of your heart rate pounding in your ears? Running means different things to different people and while some choose to run to stay in shape, others set goals like qualifying and running the Boston Marathon. Your goal might be different than the next runner, but the gait cycle of one two repeat is always the same. Given the similarities in the gait cycle, why are some individuals able to faster and farther, yet are less prone to injury? These two are not always synonymous, however, they both stem from within our unique musculoskeletal alignment, starting with how our foot comes into contact with the ground.
When walking the sequence of motion is heel, midfoot, toe. When running it is ideal to land more towards the midfoot (as opposed to heel first) and followed by toe off. Think of the old cartoon character who used to stop their stone age vehicle by slamming their heels into the ground. When landing on your heel first, you are breaking (i.e. slowing yourself down) landing flat, then pushing off with your toes. Instead of landing on your heel, try landing with your foot flat and then transitioning to your toes to push off. By doing this you will propel yourself forward with a 2-step motion instead of 3 step motion, ultimately saving you energy and putting less stress on your body.
Landing on your midfoot does take time to perfect and a great way to start training your body to do this is by marching in place. First, trying marching by landing on your heels. Does this feel comfortable or natural? Now try marching in place landing on your toes. Do you feel a lot of tension in your legs? Finally, try marching in place landing flat. Do you feel like you could do this all day long? Before you go for your next run march in place for 60 seconds. This will train your brain and muscles to land on your midfoot and will aide in reducing stress on your musculoskeletal structure.
Once you have become comfortable landing on your midfoot, the next question is what should I do with the rest of my body? While we would all like to become perfect runners overnight, it takes time to learn to run with proper form. Running is typically seen as a sport that only involves the legs, but in actually the entire body needs to move in unison in order to reduce strain and prevent injuries.
Head: Excess movement of the head or staring straight down at the ground can cause misalignment and fatigue the muscles throughout the body. When running, your eyes should be focused about 6 to 12 feet in front of you and should not be bobbing up and down or to the left or right.
Tip: A great way to focus on keeping your head level is to wear a baseball cap and keep the front of the cap level throughout your run.
Shoulders: Can you hear me now? Many runners put extra strain on their body by keeping their shoulders up near their ears. This results in less energy for your body to keep you moving forward.
Tip: Every mile, drop your arms to your sides and then bring them back up forming 90-degree angles. This will reduce stress in your neck, shoulders and arms.
Arms: You may not have thought about it, but as your legs move, your arms move. The faster you move your arms the faster your legs will move. So, how do you move your arms most efficiently?
Tip: Start with bringing your arms to a 90-degree angle bending at the elbow. Then, while moving your arms forward and backward imagine a barrier coming perpendicular from the center of your chest. This barrier is preventing your arms from crossing your body, reducing excess movement helping save energy to keep you moving forward.
Hips: As our bodies fatigue our hips typically fall backward, like we were sitting in a bucket. When your hips move backwards extra stress can be put on your legs and low back. So, how do you keep your hips forward?
Tip: When you feel your hips move back, imagine someone is pulling a rope from your belly button. This will pull your hips and chest forward fully engaging the muscles in your legs and low back.
If you would like additional guidance or instruction on proper running form and musculoskeletal alignment a runner’s analysis might be right for you. With a runner’s analysis, one of our clinicians will be able to assess your leg and body biomechanics and pinpoint areas that may be affecting performance and efficiency. Contact one of our seven locations to schedule your runners analysis today!