Progressive Running

Running Form Correction

Category: Form Analysis

2017-2018 Running Off-Season

Running season in Sydney pretty much terminates with Sydney Running Festival and in this year it was held on 17 September. The next large race is SMH Half Marathon in May 2018.

This means from now, September 2017, till May 2018 is the best time to look into your running technique. Most of recreational runners start with and mostly rely on shoes and methods of training for results whereas there is a missing step in this structure that by addressing it you can improve your mechanical efficiency by up to 50%.

Watch this video. I can help you understand and practice this technique in a few sessions.

3 x 1 hour private sessions, or 5 x 1 hour group sessions would cover all theories and drills.

Private Sessions for total amount of $150. 

Group Sessions for total amount of $75.

Please also fill out this form and I will be in touch with you soon.

How Mel managed running pain free

Running season is already started in the southern hemisphere and as I go out running for my own training almost every day per week I see more people outside running. That is the spirit I like to see in where I live. On the flip side, I rarely bump into someone with a correct cadence – number of strides per minute – which is to my understanding is the best way to tell if a runner is running efficiently or not. Referring to my previous post about cadence of 180 strides per minute , based on a research done in 1960’s the best way of incorporating elasticity of tendons into running starts with a cadence from around 180 strides per minute. If you are slower than that you might want to talk to me.

At this post am going to talk about a dear client of mine, Mel, who signed up for training with me in Sep 2016 and has been at various training sessions with me since then. Am going to explain what issues she had in the past and how I could help her.

When she approached me for the first time, she had been advised by her physio to stop running due to an injury felt in the knee. She found it a good time to check her running technique wondering what in it could have caused the issue. That was a wise move because correcting running technique is best to be done at either off-season, downtime like this injury that only prevents hard workout, or when there is no big goal in the horizon. Here are some snapshots from that day when I took a video for the form analysis. I go through one by one and explain how I analysed each.

At this shot you can see “toe-push off” a very common technique by most of recreational runners. Runners push the ground backwards using lower legs aiming for propulsion from the ground reaction force. What they end up in is a horizontal component which is expected, plus an extra vertical component which does not work in their favour somehow. It throws the runner upwards so that the runner spends longer time airborne for an extended time to increase the stride length to cover more ground. All sounds useful on paper but causes trouble in practice. First one is creation of this vertical component is waste of energy because it is not in the forward direction of running. Roughly calculating the negative impact of it, at running over a course of a full marathon (42km) this results in an extra vertical oscillation that is equal to climbing up a couple of kilometers. The two lines highlight vertical oscillation in the following image.

The second downfall is that runners usually over-stride and also land ahead of the centre of their body mass when they push off the ground. It is reflected in the following snapshot. The yellow line almost crosses the centre of body mass and the white one does the landing point. The further the landing point is ahead of the body the more pressure on knees.

Pushing off the ground usually increases the average stride length (same distance would be done in less number of strides). That means the runner’s cadence would drop below 180 strides per minute so that the elasticity of tendons would not be used at maximum capacity. Mel’s cadence was below 180 by 10-20 strides per minute before she switched to running in Pose. She was aware of it and wondered how to fix it.

One more issue that usually comes with over-striding is rear foot landing. Landing on heels although is natural and legit in some style of running, is not an efficient technique for running long distances.

Main reason for it not being efficient is it does not utilise elasticity of tendons in the ankle joint for a proper bounce off the ground. In front foot landing ankle joint is engaged so that not only Achilles tendon participates in absorbing the shock it can also preserve some energy to release later (bouncing off Achilles tendon). There are experts that might argue this, perhaps warning likelihood of Achilles tendinopathy. My counter argument is that the reason some runners get injured from doing this is they “push off” the ground (using calf muscle that is linked to Achilles tendon) right after “absorbing shock” (again using calf muscle and Achilles tendon). Two jobs performed in a row at every single stride. That is too much. If they allow their Achilles tendon to rest after landing, their risk of injury decreases massively. They will see it more tangibly when they feel less sore in their calf muscles from running in Pose that engulfs all these correct practices.

After a few sessions of training and Mel’s running in her own time gradually building up while practicing this technique, I took a video at one of our sessions a few months later and here am sharing the result. It was early morning hence lack of light affected the quality of the images however the points can still be seen in the blurry snapshots.

One major improvement in Mel’s running form is she now lands under her hips. In pose running the runner is meant to relax his or her landing foot, letting it land on its own as opposed to active landing. Active landing means that the runner aims for or enforces a particular way of landing, either front foot or rear foot.

The other improvement was she pretty much rectified her late pull. Late pull as fully explained in a previous post of mine is the case in which the foot on the standing leg is not removed off the ground in time after the moment the moving foot passes the standing knee. If too confusing, in simple words it means when frame by frame reviewing a sample video of somebody’s running, in the frame after the one in which the moving foot is next to the standing knee the back foot is expected to be completely lifted off the ground. In Mel’s case it is pretty close to perfection at the following snapshot.

Last improvement was her cadence reached 180 spm. One immediate outcome of increasing cadence that is tangible to runners is how short the strides become. Agility and the skill to be agile play important role in adjusting cadence into the right range.

By making these subtle changes Mel managed to run pain free while increasing her max distance and her pace too. Her words:

“By seeing you I have definitely learnt about running methodology and why it’s important and whilst I am currently injured, I did manage to go a long time without any injuries since starting with you and was able to considerably increase the distances I could run pain free (managed to get up to 22kms). I was also able to increase my running speed doing a PB of 24:19 over 5km.”

Pose method of running is what everyone should learn before jumping into training straight away. Techniques at running although are not too complicated compared to those of the other sports like tennis or soccer, they still play an important role and should not be neglected. Running is totally a repetitive activity so that one small improvement scales up to a massive advantage. Running a full marathon race in 4 hours takes more than 38000 strides for an average runner at that level, not mentioning the total distance/strides run at the training for the race. Now one can picture better how much a small form correction cascades and blossoms to benefit the runner.

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

Woman legs in different shoes

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.

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