All those who get injured say that running is tough and ridden with injuries. On the other hand, I will say it is easy and fun provided(though I have had my share of running injuries too) you maintain a proper posture while running. In any kind of a workout or say, any sphere of life, we look for efficiency. Efficiency means putting in minimal effort to achieve maximum benefits. Isn’t it? Then, why can’t we achieve efficiency in running?
Running is an amazing workout, which I discovered couple of years back. Though being in army, I have been running since last 12 years, but the real love popped up when I crossed the finish line at Airtel Hyderabad Marathon in 2012. I started enjoying thereafter. Why? Because I read about this sport a lot and the science behind it. Knowledge about the sport made me love it. I may not be a great runner but I love running. That’s the bottom line. You will say, what’s the big deal in studying it. It’s just putting one foot in front of the other one, continuously. No, it is not as simple as it looks! Then, why so many runners keep getting injured now and then or blame our creaky knees to running. It is all about correct technique and efficiency which prevents injury and promotes a healthy and strong body.
There are different types of running techniques like Chi Running and Pose Running.I have studied them and have drawn few basic elements and analysis to improve running form and stay injury free.
1. Warm Up
It is the most important aspect of injury free running. Most of us tend to ignore it completely or do a very lousy warm up. Warm up promotes active blood circulation to the muscles and makes them elongated and flexible, readies the heart to gradually undertake strenuous exercise. It is important to remember to include dynamic movements in your warm up routine and not static stretching (save it for cooling down). Studies have shown that static stretching leads to more injuries. It is like trying to pull a cold rubber band until it breaks.
2. Heads Up
Keep your head in a neutral position while running. Tilting it forward or backward leads to neck pain and difficulty in breathing while running especially at faster pace. How? It is simple. When the wind pipe is not straight, you will expend more energy while breathing in and out. Try this simple exercise. While you are sitting or standing, try tilting your head forward and backward and try to find the position where it is naturally aligned to the spine. That is the position you need to keep your head in. Head is a heavy part of the body and if it is not aligned properly, it may result in excess expenditure of energy and hence, inefficiency while running.
3. Shoulder It
Keep them square and relaxed. Any tension or slouching, results in excess expenditure of energy. Shoulders should be back but not tensed. Ever seen a fit person slouching? Shoulders square and back means a strong posture. Plus if you slouch your shoulders, you are contracting your rib cage, which means more effort required to breath in and out.
4. Hands of Glory
Hands balance the body while running. So you must swing them to and fro to generate power and balance. Remember your hands should not, at any point of time, cross the center of the body. Imagine a line running between eyebrows, nose, center of neck, chest and abdomen. This is the center line of the body. Swinging hands, straight to and fro minimises rotation of hips, in turn prevents loss of energy. Also, keep a lightly held fist as if you are holding a potato wafer. While swinging hands, the hands should be at 90 degree angle and at level with top end of your shorts. While running uphill, remember to throw your elbows back, more than normal, to generate power in strides.
5. Back It Up
Most of the runners suffer from low back ache. Why? Because they round their back or slouch or bend from their waist while running. Do we bend from waist or slouch our back while walking? Then, why do we do it while running? While running at a faster pace, body is supposed to tilt forward from the ankles and not from the waist. So, while running try to keep your back straight and keep the abs braced. Again, if we slouch our back, it becomes difficult to breath and we experience a side stitch in our abdomen.
I will cover the most important part of a runner now. What comprises of leg muscles? Glutes or hips, quadriceps or front of thighs, hamstrings or back of thighs, calf, ankle and feet. Every part has got a role to play while running. The most basic and important thing to remember is FOOT STRIKE. Studies have shown that maximum number of injuries occur to runners who are heel strikers. How to avoid heel strike? Simple, don’t land on your heel. We need to understand why heel strike is bad. Consider this example. Try and run barefoot on a soft surface. What do you observe? Automatically, you will start landing on your mid foot or fore foot, but not on heel. Because it hurts if you land on heel. In addition, too much of cushion in the shoes is actually altering your natural running posture. We start landing on our heels, while running, and get injured, eventually. We don’t realise that our running form is poor. Try to shorten your strides when you run and land consciously on your mid foot. Remember, always land your foot under the knee. The moment your leg goes ahead, it means you are landing on your heels. Gradually, increase stride length, when the hind leg in able to generate enough power to propel you further ahead. Your stride length will increase while maintaining mid foot strike. If you want to run faster, take faster steps but short strides. Avoid HEEL STRIKE. It is the root of all running injuries.
According to National Centre of Biotechnology Information, increase in foot strike per minute leads to subsequent decrease in load on hips and knee joints. The magic number of desired cadence or turnover of feet is 180. This 180 is applicable both for slow jog or faster pace running. The figure 180 ensures we do not over stride. I tried this technique and found it ridiculous at start because it felt like taking baby steps. But over a period of time I realised its importance. How to reach at 180 with both feet or 90 with single foot? Simple, count every time your left or right foot strikes the ground for 20 seconds and multiply the figure by 3.
1. Perform this drill after atleast 10 minutes of warm up to get an accurate measure.
2. Choose a track or some stretch of road which is devoid of uphill and downhill.
3. Perform this drill atleast once or twice a week for feeding the muscle memory.
4. Increase the cadence gradually and work up to 180.
You can also get a detailed analysis of your running style at a Sports Medicine Center to further improve your running efficiency.
So, if you want to stay injury free from running, practice the techniques given above. This is the gist of all the study and practical experience I have had.
If you have something to add to the above, please share it for the benefit of the running community. Till then stay fit and keep running.
1. Image - Google.
2. Effects of Step Rate Manipulation on Joint Mechanics during Running.Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise.