Progressive Running

Running Form Correction

Month: January 2016

Video Analysis of an Advanced Runner’s Form

Tim is a dear colleague of mine, who is one of the fastest runners in my circle of friends. His time at City2Surf 2015 was 56:36 which is 20 seconds faster than what I have ever done at that race. Tim also runs Marathon and Ultra Marathon at a competent level.

Today I showed up at his interval training session. He was running splits of 10min by heart rate zone to see how far he could go in each split. He was running round a park so I took several videos from all stages of his session and the recordings showed a pretty consistent running form entire the time.

First of all, Tim is a rear foot striker as you can see in this video:

Rear foot strikers are prone to over-stride. Over striding is when the contact point with the ground is away from the centre of body mass at landing time and it is a known cause of injuries.

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There are ways to fix that. To push the centre of his body mass a bit forward, he can open his arms so that the weight of his hands would be moved ahead of him. His arms are too close to his chest whereas they should be open on the sides. Another one is that his torso is too straight up. There is a room to allow his upper body to be aligned with his back foot by leaning a bit forward. Doing so would move more weight forward to remove the pressure from the knee of his landing leg.

One thing I know he works on to make his running more efficient is to decrease his vertical oscillation. Vertical Oscillation is the height a runner would travel upwards on each stride. The total amount of these vertical movements can go as high as a sky scraper over a long running race, which is of course waste of energy as it is not on the sagittal  plane (the forward direction of running).

At the following shot, he is landing on his left foot and I marked his lowest height around that moment.

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Then he goes on his next stride to land on his right foot. I marked his highest point in the air by a red line. The force that moves him to that height is made with his right knee’s push off.

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Through this stride I see an active toe-push off which is the main cause of his vertical oscillation. Toe push off is common among runners. As it is simply self explaining, it is an exertion of force by the fore end of the foot (either ball or toes). It is done with small muscles like calf muscle, scientific name: gastrocnemius. I would advise against using that muscle for propulsion due to its small size and low efficiency of using it for forward movement. Engage the bigger muscles in your legs as they work more efficiently over a long course of running. Using small muscles is like spending off a small reserve for a big job. Tim’s active push off can be simply identified by the change in the angle of his ankle joints. His feet peel off the ground. Another sign of active push-off is the delay in the back leg to leave the ground after the swinging foot passes the other knee. When runners lift off their feet as opposed to pushing off, they are expected to have their back foot leaving the ground almost immediately after their swinging foot passes the other knee (also known as the fall moment).

Back to the analysis, finally Tim lands on his other foot and surprisingly he is standing higher than where he was at his previous landing. The question is, what causes this asymmetrical landing?

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One thing you might notice in these shots is his right knee (last image) does not bend as much as his left one does (first image).

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Right knee’s angle at landing

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Left knee’s angle at landing

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Right knee’s angle at lowest body position

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Left knee’s angle at lowest body position

 

I can think of a couple of reasons why it is happening. Sharing one, it might be the left leg’s shock absorbing muscles (mainly quads here) are either weaker or do not have the right coordination to hold the body at where it should be.
Most of us are unaware of such abnormalities in our form and without someone watching us or recording videos to show us they would be hard to pick.

You can see the consequence of this knee angle issue in the following shots. Due to the left knee dipping lower, the left hip moves or stays high while the right hip goes slightly down. This does not happen on the other side, meaning the angle of the knee is wide enough to keep the hips leveled. If hips are not level, ITB would be extended more. This band, which is connected to leg abductors, that work as stabliser at running, links hip to the top of tibial bone right on the outer side of knee. It already has a hard job because it is pulled from one end while tending to get lengthened. It takes both strength and flexibility to get the job done correctly. According to these snapshots, Tim’s left ITB is a bit under pressure compared to the right one and my interpretation is that the left leg-abductors are short to keep the hip level.

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There are more into someone’s form to spot for improvement. Interesting points come out of slow motion analysis of runners’ workout.

Email me on rez@progressiverunning.com to sign up today and have your running form analysed to push your limits further away for bigger achievements in your running career.

Impact of Walking Gait on Running

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Stating my position regarding the topic on this very first line: running is not a fast way of walking.

There is an important phase in running that distinguishes it from walking: at walking there is always one leg in contact with the ground whereas at running there is a moment that both feet are in the air. That is how our body is evolved through evolution.

In another sense, running is a jumping activity. We leap from one leg to another. Putting aside right now how we leap and how we land (which in a nutshell defines exactly what I do as a PT specialised in running at Progressive Running), there are [habitual] movements at walking that can lead into inefficient running forms.

Funny to say, the other night I was watching a TV show with my wife in which some actresses were obviously told to walk in an exagerated perhaps-seductive way by lifting a hip at a time and dropping the other (so funny when my wife mocked that silly walking form!). Well, it looked like the creators of the show assumed the hip movement was a typical girlish walking gait. I guess many people might agree but to my knowledge that was not quite right. I knew two guys in the office with the same hip movement. More surprising is both of them were fit. How I noticed? I constantly observe [random] people’s walking and/or running gaits. I do it every where, on the streets, parks, or TV shows, etc. I am developing an eye for spotting deviation from some perfect form I have in my head.

My epiphany at the time of watching those girls’ form on the TV show was there are gaits, either made up by the individual or imposed by some trends in the society affecting both genders, which are potentially detrimental to running form and running economy.

The other day I spotted my wife’s feet dragging along the sides at walking, mainly the right foot. In the perfect model of walking I have in mind one should hold the moving foot pointing straight ahead after pushing off the ground, keping it under the body with knee pointing the same direction as toes do until the heel touches the ground. My wife’s feet were drawing a semi cricle on the sides (some people do that at running, letting feet fly around). I asked her on that and she said after a chuckle that she copied it from her best friend at highschool ages ago! That was a great learning for me, an insight into where a misalignment comes from.

Alright, people might have some moves that may not comply with those fancy perfect forms Rez has on mind, but what sort of problem could they cause? Well, for example going deeper in specific into that hip movement on the TV show, it would increase the range of motion of ITB muscle and that is not good at all. ITB, which is the abbreviation for Iliotibial Band is a long muscle from the iliac crest at the top of pelvis down to knees and attaches to tibia bone. It participates in abduction of legs (moving away form the body’s midline). Excessive movement of this muscle can cause trouble. Search the net for ITB syndrome for more info. Having said that, we normally squeeze our glutes at running which would eliminate or decrease the vertical hip movement on either side, but depending on how deeply this habit is infused in a person’s walking gait there can be trace of it at running that limits the extent of running activity the person can perform.

iStock_000063023347_SmallAll the fuss at Progressive Running is in fact about the potential limits you have, based on your overall form. Improve your form to eventually make sky your limit and it starts from subtle changes to major ones. You may not know how far you can go with your current form, maybe 100km! who knows, but am sure you could definitely do better if you improved your form.

Everything you need is upstairs

cat tiger reflection

Was reading Meb for Mortals recently and Advanced Marathoning a while back when noticed both authors, despite being elite long distance runners, mentioned the mental pressure at kilometer 30+ at marathon races. That is very true. No matter how fit you are, you start feeling breaking apart at that mileage and that is where the mental challenge starts. You try to put yourself together while your body wants to be out. As soon as you get close to 40km mark, the euphoria of seeing the finish line soon would be enough to keep you going to the end.

Succeeding at such a challenge takes believing in yourself. If you doubt about your abilities, you have low mental power at that stage of the race to overcome the down-feeling. Worth mentioning there is a fine line here between realising the risk of getting injured, and having confidence to push through the pain in hope of success. That is your call, but if you have trained enough, I would say believe in yourself and push!

Well, believing in yourself is always easy on paper, sometimes real tough in real life. Sometimes you can be talked through, sometimes you have to practically prove it to yourself.

A while ago I was challenged to jump over a bench, and although I was able to jump that high, I just could not do it. My mind kept telling me my feet would hit the edge of the backrest. There were two benches, same height and next to each other. I practiced a lot jumping over the benches with no luck jumping over from stationery position. The best I had done was with a little step forward before jumping. Today I thought of a trick to break my mental barrier. I used a sticky tape to link the top edges of the benches and then tried jumping over the tape. If I hit the tape there would not be any danger, so I just jumped, and it worked. Once I practiced a couple of times I jumped over the bench with no hesitation, and bang, nailed it. Looked like a small step, could be a giant leap for one.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Flexibility but You Were Afraid to Ask!

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Trust me, you can run faster if you are not flexible, so what is the fuss about flexibility then?!

Here is a feature in our legs to make us bounce off the ground, and the more rigid the legs are the better they spring back up, like a stretched rubber band; however being like that comes with some downfalls. One is the leg muscles get sore more easily as the intensity of workout increases. The second downfall is the smaller range of motion of the joints which can affect the length of strides.

High range of motion at joints is the first benefit of being flexible. The wider the legs can go, the longer our strides can be, meaning a person with more flexible hamstrings should be able to take a distance with less number of strides (efficiency and speed).

Flexible muscles are less likely to face DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) , so the training can intensify with less chance of interruption to the training routine due to DOMS. Soreness is actually caused from eccentric contractions. Eccentric contraction occurs when muscles resist against a motion and lengthen while trying to shorten, simple example at running is at landing time when body makes stopping. At this phase leg muscles try to move body away from the ground while the body is still going downwards. The stiffer the leg muscles are for this, the faster they make the runner bounce off the ground however the more likely to get sore, sometimes really bad which can be a huge impediment to train sooner again.

The solution is to have a responsive nervous system to get the legs bounce off quickly as feet touch the ground, while the muscles maintain good level of flexibility.

On soreness, when appears at an area, although is not an injury, it is a simple sign not to stress the area. Pushing through soreness can result in serious injuries. You have to be gentle with sore muscles. Take the next day off or easy or go for alternative training, like cycling (as one without or low eccentric contractions involved), until the symptoms are gone.

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