My personal definition of Running is a stride forward to cover a distance, a personal purpose, an escape from the grind of reality.
Running performance is maximised when we are one within, our breath, alignment and thoughts float in harmony with the ground.
If you resonate with the above description and consider running as your time for sanity and optimal health then I invite you to bear with me as I dissect the fundamentals of a great running frame presented in a series of short blogs and videos designed to prevent and manage injuries and niggles that come our way.
Today’s topic covers:
- Keeping a functional line striding forward to optimise energy efficiency.
- What foundational liabilities exist in injury prone runners, and how to address them by improving spatial awareness.
Before we dissect this further, let’s quickly introduce you to your Center of Mass (COM), what is it and where it should live. Our COM lies approximately 4 fingers below our belly button, just in front of the L5/S1 lumbar spine segments.
There is a general consensus in the running coaching industry that leaning slightly forward while running is most energy efficient and injury resistant. Simply put, running is a forward motion, thus the best cue that may exist out there is to fall forward and allow your steps to brace your momentum. Trust your running!
Practically, what does this mean? It means leaning forward from the ankles, not from the waist – this is vitally important. So as we lean forward the ankles, knees, hips, trunk and head are in alignment whilst our COM moves in a forward direction ahead of where we are going. Compared to an upright running posture where the COM is under more of a downright gravitational pull, placing our COM forward is much more energy efficient.
When running, if our foot drops too far forward from our COM, our heel will most likely be the first to strike, which will cause unnecessary shock to our frame. So a forward lean with a shorter stride and a mid foot placement will nestle our frame in line with our COM during every meeting with the ground. To be able to maximise this mechanical skill we must lift our knees to mimic a circular motion and lean forward from our ankles. Think Roadrunner!
Sometimes simply leaning forward does not meet efficiency requirements, we may believe that we are until we find out that we are sticking our bottom out as if we are pushing a shopping trolley, or stick our chin out as if we are hooked to a fishing rod.
These are two of the most common tell tail signs of an inefficient running gait. This inefficient pattern causes poor usage of the body’s energy resources, causing quicker fatigue and bring forth an even more inefficient gait.
Then we wonder why our times aren’t improving, perhaps we aren’t doing enough miles! Of course, we increase the training load on an already inefficient running gait. Is there any surprise we pick up niggles and injuries of our tendons, joints and muscles that are already struggling to cope with what they are being asked to accomplish.
These two tell tail signs, besides being a sign of an inefficient gait, indicate that your body is holding compensations through the system, and in runners this is most commonly seen with stiffness in the hips and also in the ankles.
When this hip stiffness occurs it can cause pain up into the lower back and a general difficulty to open up the hips for stride. This can result in the shopping trolley analogy where one is bent over at the waist. The upper and lower body fail to dissociate, reducing core strength, to which is kind of important for running!
With regards to the ankles, a loss of mobility is never too far away if there is poor running technique, mechanical issues, old injury or inappropriate footwear. If running places 3-4 X your body weight on your frame, a loss of mobility and tendon resilience sets us up for weeks of being grounded from the track. Proper ankle mobility is essential to enable us to be able to have that slight forward lean, which in turn helps propel us forward as we run. One of the possible tell tail signs of poor mobility in the ankles is the over exaggerated forward head position. In a sense we end up using our head to carry us forward rather than our ankles. When this occurs, a stiff neck and aching shoulders are never too far away. A slight forward head position but this has to be in conjunction with the alignment of the rest of the body down to the ankles.
So in a nutshell, albeit like our fingerprints, all running styles are subtly different, the general consensus to maximise your running efficiency and help with running injuries, includes having a slight forward lean, from the ankles (not at the waist), and a slight face forward position.