This article goes out to every runner who has ever been hurt or experiences pain when you run. According to statistics, around 70% of you will experience pain or get hurt at some point every year. But despite the aches and pains, you will continue to run because you love it and it fills your soul. I completely get that part, I feel the same way about soccer, and when it was taken away from me for several months due to a hamstring injury, it was as if a piece of me was missing. What I struggle with is the propensity to push thru the pain and just run. I have heard orthopedic surgeons tell patients “running is bad” as a blanket statement when what they really mean is “running beyond your body’s current capacity to handle stress”. So why do you hurt when you run? You may have been told you have IT band tendonitis or a hamstring strain, but realize these things are the result of a problem versus the problem itself. Pain is simply the body’s way of telling us we have pushed past it’s current capacity to handle stress and the damage that occurs is the end result. I write a lot about movement/biomechanics because it is my jam, but we really have three factors that affect how much stress the body can tolerate during running:
The ability to weight shift from side to sideThe capacity of the body to handle compressive forces created by runningGeneral running formAny of these factors could be a weak link and each must be addressed to ensure we able to resist stress and perform to our expectations. This not only applies to runners, but any human that propels their body thru space.
I have learned some incredible stuff recently regarding the above and I plan to use this column over the next few weeks to cover each of these factors in length.
Today, we will discuss the number one on my list (which is the gait cycle) and how to effective prepare to run or walk to ensure we distribute our weight equally from side to side.
Right out the Gait:
See what I did there? The gait cycle refers to alternation between stance (when our foot is on the ground) and swing (when our foot is off the ground) phases of walking or running as we move thru space.
This cycle—which we see play out thousands of times per day—represents how effectively we are at moving from one side of our body to the other. This cycle is also one of our most frequently referenced movements and an inability to shift to the other side is a major player in most non-traumatic aches and pains we experience.
I have worked with countless runners with knee, hip or lower back pain in a specific portion of one knee only. This typically means that instead of unloading this area as they swing to the other side, it has become the focal point for gravity and will eventually become painful.
Without getting too far in to the geeky biomechanics of this cycle, the basics are that when the foot hits the ground it has to fully extend(think pushing the leg behind the body) before we push off and flex (think bringing the knee to the chest) to swing back thru to the next step.
This basic concept of gait is important to understand because it helps us to pinpoint the capability we are lacking. So my question for you is do we have a stance problem or a swing problem? Take this test to find out and proceed to the next section!
Taking a stand:
So you took the test and you found that you cant extend or adduct your hip. Our first step (cheese balls) is to restore this basic capacity on the ground and then stand up and load this ability against gravity.
Just as a proper warm up prepares the body from slow and simple to more complex and similar to the demands of the activity, we will perform this sequence of exercises back to back twice to send a stronger signal to the body that we need to hold on to this capacity.
Included below is the exercise sequence for your enjoyment:
Perform each exercise for 15 breaths and/or 8 reps or steps.
Shorty Swing My Way:
Earlier I mentioned that as our stance side (on the ground) extends, our swing side (in the air) must flex in order to land in the next step.
The other crucial thing that happens is that as our swing leg moves through the air, we must also abduct or push our body toward the stance leg to fully accept weight on the other side.
I often relate this part to my favorite 90s jam, as every dude understand the pain of getting rejected by the opposite sex as we attempt to dance closer because we don’t have the right moves.
Now imagine the utter despair of this occurring thousands of times a day and you can understand how the knee and/or hip must feel when it becomes the focal point for increased gravitational stress due to an inability to swing off said leg.
If this is the problem you are facing, here is the sequence I recommend (Perform each exercise for 8-12 breaths or 8-12 reps or steps):
So if you are still reading by this point, I truly hope my ramblings make sense. My goal as I learn is to make complex biomechanical things simple and applicable so you can reap the benefits.
Next week, I will discuss how plyometrics and compressive loading strategies (aka landing) play in to becoming a more resilient runner. Until then,