Progressive Running

Running Form Correction

Month: April 2016

Be merciful to your Achilles tendon

achilles_rupture1-300x300
Am sure most of the audience of this website know where Achilles tendon is located in our body but in case some do not it is right in the back of your shin, connected to the heel bone (calcaneus). In general, the duty of tendons is to connect muscles to bones. That means they are located around joints and transfer forces from muscles to bones. Being around joints have made them elastic – through evolution – to allow a little room for smoother movement of joints. You can simply experience this elasticity. Just start jumping up and down on the spot, the first jump-up might feel slightly harder than the following ones that benefit from a little bounce off the ground from the landing of the previous jump. Tendons preserves energy when going under load and release a portion of it when unloading. This means elasticity of tendons.

Achilles_tendon

Achilles tendon is the thickest one in human body. There are a couple of muscles that their tendons merge into Achilles tendon. The largest muscle linked to it is the calf muscle, known as gastrocnemius. This muscle does plantar flexion, meaning it pushes toes away from shins. This action is helpful at landing on the front foot where this muscle participates in absorbing the landing shock. While eccentrically getting loaded with the landing shock, Achilles tendon preserves a portion of energy (depending how elastic it is in every individual) to release it later when the load is getting removed (from fall to pull phase of pose running). That is the so-called bounced off the Achilles tendon you might have heard on the topic of efficient running techniques.

Achilles_tendinitis

Achilles tendinitis

One common mistake by recreational runners is they actively push off the ground with their lower legs, mainly implying the usage of calf muscles as a source of propulsion. Push off the ground is not limited to calf muscles though, knee push off is another common technique which is not really a good practice. Up to the running phase that this calf push off (aka toe push off) is happening, this muscle has worked against the runner’s movement (landing on the ground) to stop the motion. It is fully loaded eccentrically. Let’s freeze the moment right here. As far as I see there are two options for the runner:

  1. Using the same muscle to propel forward
  2. Deactivating it, and lifting the foot passively off the ground

The first option is known as an incorrect practice in Pose method because of excessive pressure on a just-fully-loaded muscle. Doing so is known as the cause of Achilles tendinitis.
The second option is what recommended by Pose method, because using calf muscles for propulsion is like spending petty cash on a big project. Calves are for shorter, quicker and more agile movements rather than being dominantly used as a source of propulsion.
In Pose method of running, the source of propulsion, or in simpler word speed, is gravity. Gravity is free! As we lean forward, we tend to fall and the speed from that fall exponentially increases by the angle of fall so that we cannot properly catch ourselves at running if it exceeds 22.5 degrees. Switching running technique to use gravity as opposed to pushing off the ground with ankle or knee joint takes doing a few drills and lots of practice. The outcome of this switch, which is what I tell my clients, is to push an invisible roof above their heads that resembles injury. That roof has to be pushed way higher so the sky will be your limit. Remove the excessive pressure from your Achilles tendon and the entire lower leg by lifting off your feet as opposed to pushing off the ground. Very subtle change, results in a huge difference.

Are you taxing your lower legs too much at running?

Remembering just 4 years ago when I was working out hard preparing for my first marathon race, the commitment, pride and enthusiasm to get up early for my long runs, to go out at noon from work for a quick interval training, or to run back home from work in the evening. Two highlights of memories from that time reside in days I could not walk properly due to severe muscle soreness in my lower legs, or the annoying red lights I had to stop at in the middle of my long runs when I would bend over to stretch my calf muscles to keep them in working condition in the interim.

The other day I spotted a runner who was doing the same mistakes I used to do at running, using not very efficient techniques that despite seemingly fruitful in terms of speed and total distance, they exhaust smaller muscles in [lower] legs too much. I itched so much to talk to him. I know runners do not like that, they resent being stopped. I have been there so I understand but when can I see them again? the best moment is just before my eyes when they are busy with their wrong doing! Anyway, I waved at him and gestured with my index finger meaning I wanted one minute with him. He was listening to music. He smiled back, shook his head negatively, removed his headset and said “mate, cannot stop!”.

Went running this morning, a long run, aimed for 17km+. Kept my pace better than 6min/km, sometimes close to 5min/km. So it was between conversational pace and a bit faster. Stopped at a few water fountains for hydration. Noticed I would not bother with stopping anymore unlike the way I used to do. Thanks to my new techniques, I no longer overtax my lower legs. My resentfulness to stopping has decreased as I feel a low or almost no stiffness in my lower legs at such stopping.

Do you know why runners wear shoes?! Because feet are proportionally small compared to the rest of body while carrying out the mission critical task of being the sole contact point with the ground. They are the warriors on the very front line at a battlefield but due to their size they are kind of the weakest. Thus comes the idea of providing them protection. Still arguable to either develop the strength in the feet or buy it off the shelf but surely protection can provide some comfort, if not meddling with anything or causing side effects. Following feet, shin area is under pressure too, especially in recreational runners who do not usually run as efficiently as elite runners do. Stopping in the middle of a run suddenly changes the workout from tolerating body weight for a short period of time in a regular manner to a constant holding the body weight on top of exhausted lower legs. Lower legs (including feet) comprise of many small muscles. When a muscle has overworked it loses its elasticity, meaning it tends to get stiff. That is why when getting stopped in the middle of a run, the lower leg muscles resist to resume the activity.

The solution is simple, share some load with bigger muscles in legs: your hamstrings. What must be done in the first place is to rewire the brain not to command the lower leg muscles for propulsion. The “dominant” role of lower legs then becomes to only help with shock absorption. As soon as the landing is over, the foot has to be “lifted” off the ground. The knee on the back leg flexes by hamstrings while other muscles like hip flexors bring the leg forward for the next stride. Takes learning the theory and practicing some drills. Once you learn it, running becomes a “training sport” thereafter.

These are all covered in the Pose Method of Running and that is what I train runners for.

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