After 10 years of treating runners injuries, training runners and researching various aspects of running performance, not to mention my own mixed performance as a runner, I feel qualified enough to make the following statements. Some of what you are about to read is based on empirical evidence gathered over the years from my own experiences, this is mixed, however, with some hard facts and up-to-date thinking by experts in the field of running biomechanics.
Weakness! - Unfortunately most runners, and especially distance (800 metre +), are weak - end of! Any runner heel striking is weak and compensating for weakness. Bouncing up and down - weak. Over rotating the body and arms - weak. Body bent forward at the hip whilst running - definitely WEAK. Not the individuals fault of course, other than that most of us neglect to pay any attention to biomechanics until injured, then reluctantly! We favour spending time manipulating the other variables of training, such as volume, intensity, footwear etc. This behaviour is a common mistake and a classic example of the cart being placed before the horse. Biomechanics, and therefore strength, should be the priority of any athlete both prior and during the training program.
Technique - The problem being, what actually is good technique? and what deviation from such technique should be allowed and explained as an individuals "style", left alone, or corrected? Here is (some of!) my opinion:
- Initial contact or Foot strike
This should be under the bodies centre of gravity, meaning either a whole or forefoot strike. If the foot, regardless of contact point, extends out in front of the centre of gravity the contact must become soft, this will require and involve excessive pronation to avoid reduction in speed, the pronation will cause the elastic forces to dissipate, effectively decelerating overall movement. In addition the outreached foot will require excessive rotation through the trunk to counter the pelvic rotation and forward weight distribution, this will exacerbate the collapse into the transverse plane and deceleration.
- Body/Trunk position
Should be upright or even slightly leant back! This is possibly the easiest position to effect consciously whilst running. I often instruct runners to open through the rib-cage and lift the Sternum, optimum abdominal muscle action and pelvic position may then be facilitated. The problems with a flexed/forward body position are in that the alteration of the centre of gravity must be compensated for by excessive force production, working to hold the body up against gravity, and excessive forward foot placement. Both factors will cause a loss of reaction force and elastic energy to be used successfully, thus decelerating the overall movement.
- Knees together at initial contact
This is an excellent measure of a good technique, as one foot hits, the knees should be side by side.
- Swing phase begins rapidly
The faster the pace the quicker the ground contact. Dynamic stiffness/strength and structural integrity are required through the ankle and foot to ensure the optimum use of elastic forces and prevent excessive dorsi-flexion and a late propulsive phase. Correct, upright body position must be employed to avoid this and prevent excessive rotation that can be caused by late propulsion and sub-optimal body position. Contrary to some opinion, propulsion is occurring from the moment of initial contact and this is the case for sprint and distance runners.
How to do it? it's a huge ask to achieve any of the above by consciously altering your running technique or buying a new pair of Newtons or Five Fingers! (seen above). However, I have successfully brought about significant progress towards optimum technique by first identifying a runners primary weakness, usually hip related, then implementing a reactive activation and strengthening program. Put simply, the function and strength of the lower limb, trunk and, to a lesser degree, arms, must be integrated. Hamstrings must be taught to work reactively, Psoas major must be activated to facilitate pelvic control (if you're thinking Psoas major is a hip flexor - wrong!!) and the hip, and especially Gluteus max, must be strong and reactive enough to give propulsion whilst controlling pronation! Confused? just contact me and I can explain.
Barefoot running? is a great indication of good technique, if you can do it injury free! Don't buy the shoes and hope for miracles - work on your mechanics, strengthen up and if you get it right the transition will happen by itself!
The Foundry would like to thank Bruce Butler for this special blog post. Bruce is an experienced Sports Therapist, specialising in manual soft tissue techniques, Active Release Technique, movement and performance enhancement. For more information please see his website www.brucebutlertherapy.blogspot.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bruce will be attending our Barefoot Ted seminar, taking place on 24 May 2011. If you want to find out more about how to get into barefoot running and how to get the most out of your performance, book tickets now at http://barefoot-ted-eventbrite.com. Over half the tickets are already sold; get yours quick to benefit from our early bird offer (a third off ticket price!) which ends tonight!