Tag: Running Mechanics

Spring Into Running with a Balanced Body

As spring approaches, we get excited about enjoying outdoor activities here in the Pacific Northwest, including running. It’s easy! Just grab a pair of running shoes and head out the door! But have you ever jumped into a running regime, only to find yourself nursing an injury a few weeks or months down the road? Whether you are new to running or training for yet another marathon, look for ways to cross-train for a balanced body so you can enjoy running all season long.

Most runners know that it is critical to have a strong core, back, hips, and pelvic muscles, but what is the best way to achieve that? One option for this cross training is Pilates. Pilates is a series of exercises given to you by an instructor who learns your weaknesses and tight areas, and then develops a program based on those needs of stretching and strengthening.

I’ve noticed that runners are generally good at Pilates; they seem to know how to engage their gluteals (bottom muscles) and are aware of their core/abdominals. However, runners also tend to have tight quadriceps (thighs) and hip flexors, as well as weak hamstrings (back of legs) and inner thighs. These imbalances in the muscles of the legs and hips can potentially cause pain and injury for runners, especially the knee, hip, ankle and foot.

Pilates helps to balance things out in the legs by strengthening the hamstrings, inner thighs, and gluteals to take pressure off the front and side of the leg, leading to better alignment and less chance of injury. Plus the hip, abdominal and back strengthening exercises help to maintain better stability and alignment through the entire body while running.

The best way to learn what your body specifically needs is to meet with a Pilates Instructor one-on-one. But, in the meantime, some at-home exercises you could start today include the following:

1) The Hundred

2) The Abdominal Series of five

  • Single leg stretch
  • Double leg stretch
  • Single straight leg stretch
  • Double straight leg stretch
  • Criss-cross

3) The Swimming

A balanced body will result in better performance, quicker recovery, and less chance of injury so you can enjoy running all season long.

Benefits of Sprinting

Unfortunately there are some common misnomers about sprinting.

  • Bad for the joints and muscles
  • Doesn’t help with weight loss
  • Doesn’t train the cardiovascualar sytem
  • Only young people and athletes should do them

In reality sprinting drills are one of the most effective methods of increasing your fitness level and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Whether you are biking, rowing or running doing repeated bouts of short distances at high speed can do wonders for your heart, lungs, muscle tone, joint health and waist line.

Contrary to popular belief the cardio vascular systems isn’t inactive at short distances. With continuous, fast and flowing motions your heart and lungs have to work overtime to circulate blood to your working muscles. The cardiovascular system wasn’t designed to work in isolation. With sprinting there is a constant eb and flow between your anaerobic and aerobic systems. The muscles and connective tissue create, absorb and redistribute power while the aerobic system fuels the body with oxygen and blood. When challenged with short distances and high speeds the cardiovascular system is forced to pick up its game to fuel these intense bouts of exercise. Your energy systems respond very well to intensity not just volume.

Have you ever peered down at the calorie counter on the treadmill and have your heart sink? All that work and you haven’t burned close to the amount of calories you wanted to. With sprinting the calorie burning doesn’t stop when you stop. With the increased demand of high intensity training your metabolism is working even when the workout is over. If you don’t believe me run a quarter mile as fast as you can then rest. If you can run with any inkling of speed I guarantee you will be huffing and puffing even after your stop running. The more intense your sprinting workouts are the longer your metabolic rate stays elevated afterwards.

The connective tissue (tendons and ligaments) gain strength when exposed to rapid and flowing ranges of motion. The fluid and buoyant movement of a competent sprinter gets the nervous system fired up which sends a signal to your connective tissue to expand and contract quickly. This creates power and momentum that travels through the muscles propelling you through space. These elastic movements strengthen the ligaments and tendons which enables them to fire faster and more efficiently. Slow and plodding movements can actually wear away and damage them over time. If you want to keep those joints healthy pick up the pace.

Often sprinting is looked at as a young persons activity. This is hardly the case. In my mind the older you are the more you should be working on your sprinting. Some of the many attributes that decline with age are flexibility, strength and power. With decent sprinting technique you can develop and improve on all those attributes. Plodding your way through a slow, moderately paced workout for an hour will not slow down this process. If you train slow you will move slow outside of the gym as well. Training with fast and flowing motions will combat the aging process by training your body to move with long and fluid movements.

Sprinting workouts can involve many different modes of exercise. Running, rowing, biking and swimming can be great activities to use in a bout of sprints. Make sure to pick an activity that you are already competent in. If you are a horrible swimmer now is not the time to start torpedoing across the pool. Find a cardio machine or mode of exercise that you can move with at least some fluidity. The goal isn’t muscle fatigue. The goal to finish your allotted distance with speed and grace.

When picking a distance and amount of sprints to do be smart. Pick a distance and set number you can finish with fluidity and speed and competent form. If you start thrashing in the pool or you sounds like a 3 legged elephant on the treadmill you probably have gone too far or have done too many rounds. You can start with as little as 100m run or 1 lap in the pool. The distance doesn’t matter. Your quality of motion and the speed in which you perform trumps volume and mileage any day. A good rule of thumb is “When the power and speed decline it is time to stop”.

Allow yourself up to 3 minutes in between rounds. If you are moving with any kind of speed you will need and appreciate the time off. You want to be as fresh as possible when you sprint. Focus on how fast you finish not whether you keep going. If you feel like you do not need the rest your speed , strength and technique need some improvement. Keep in mind these are not intervals. Finish your distance as fast and as fluid as possible, rest, then do it again.

Here are a few simple sprinting workouts I take most of my clients through while at the Club:
4 rounds/ 200m row / 2 minute break in between rounds
6 rounds / sprint up LENORA (hill outside) / 2-3 minute break between rounds
4 rounds / Box Push (to COKE machine and back) / 2-3 minute break between rounds

Barefoot Running Mechanics

Recently there has been a lot of attention drawn to a barefoot running. Though I am huge advocate of this there are many many things that need to be considered when deciding to toss your shoes aside and pound the pavement. Though this can improve speed, posture and overall fitness it also requires a good amount of skill, technique and most of all patience.

Kenyans are widely known as some of the best runners in the world. In addition to a lifestyle free of spine compressing chairs they are barefoot all of their lives. Years of walking around without shoes builds tremendous foot strength. This equates to solid body mechanics and an amazing ability to run with power, speed and grace. These are not the hunched over shufflers you drive by down by greenlake. They looked like gazelles as they float over the ground at amazing speeds. This is all done without $100 “athletic shoes” and no coaching or training.

After seeing such a thing or reading books like “Born to Run” you may be tempted to dump your nikes in the trash and go run a 5k. Before you do so you might want to take a step back. Assuming you grew up wearing shoes this may not be the wisest course of action. Without years and years of naturally developing foot strength this might be suicide for your foot health. This is the equivalent to tossing an infant under a fully loaded barbell and telling them to do a set of squats (trust me I’ve tried this). An untrained foot isn’t prepared to receive and redistribute the combined force of your body weight, inertia and gravity. Doing so will guarantee a good bout of soreness and quite possible an injury.

So how is this done properly and safely ? Barefoot running (or Ball of the foot mechanics) is a dichotomy onto itself. Although it is how the body was naturally designed to run it is a complex movement dependant on all the parts of the body functioning fluidly and properly. Due to the lack of muscle tissue in the heel a barefoot runner lands on the ball of the foot and big toe. This allows the athelete to absorb the impact starting with the big toe (the powerhouse of the foot) and through the calf. The nervous system responds to this impact and gently bounces the ankle into plantar flexion (pointing of the toe and ankle) sending the momentum up through the leg and the rest of the body. This fires the leg up like a piston and at near max speeds the foot nearly makes contact with the backside of your hips (booty to the lamen). This “unusual” height of the stride is often misconstrued as stride length. To properly do this the foot must land under the hip, not in front as most shoe bearing athletes will do. To ensure the muscles of the spine can transfer and absorb the impact the pelvis must be level requiring a competent and symmetrically strong core. To continue the momentum created by the lower body the scapula must be pulled down and back with the chest out and relaxed. This allows for proper shoulder mechanics as the arms swing chin to ribs and spine subtly rotates side to side.

Believe it or not that was a very truncated version of all that happens in a barefoot running stride. Though this is an amazing, healthly and effective way to run without years of shoeless living and proper coaching this might not be the best thing to jump (or run) into blindly. Here are few things to think about if barefoot running has crept into your fitness radar.

Flexible Shoes
Unless you have injuries or specific issues in your feet flexible shoes are a must. Start wearing them around the house, for short walks and mundane tasks. This gives your feet room to move without the confining frame of a conventional shoe. Overtime your feet will start to wake up and function as they were meant to. As you get used to your new foot wear try them at the gym during your strength routines and non impart activities. If your feet seem to be accustomed to your new foot wear try them out for short distances at a time. This a great way to baby step your way into barefoot activity.

Short Distances
There is a reason I mention this twice. For some reason the running community has it in their head that you need to run at least 3 miles to call it a workout. Running, especially barefoot running is a complex and often elusive skill set. Developing this takes time and patience. Start with 100m (1 lap around the track) for 4 sets with 2 minute breaks in between. Focusing on a soft landing and keeping your posture in line. If you hear your feet pounding on the ground or feel jarring contractions in your foot and calve STOP! As with any sophisticated sports movement pain isn’t something you want to power through. Trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel natural or flowing it probably isn’t. Adjust your landing, try different speeds, experiment with anything you can that might make your stride more efficient. Don’t worry about your heart rate or burning calories. Save that for a motion or mode of exercise that you already have competency in that won’t put your joint health at risk.

Running Coaches
Hiring a running coach was probably one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. Trust me, the image in your head of how you run is nowhere near to how you actually do in real life. Having someone watch, video and critique you is invaluable. Even if your coach isn’t a professional having an objective set of eyes or someone to video you will give you solid feedback as to what needs improvement. Though video footage hardly every flattering it is cold hard evidence what is actually occurring when your foot hits the ground.

Join Sports Science Lab Training Classes
These group and individual sessions will strengthen your body and increase your athleticism starting with the most important part of the body..The Feet. With unique training devices such as balance disks, slant boards and balance pipes develop powerful, healthy and athletic feet. Strong feet = Good Posture, Faster Running, Higher Jumping and more!!!