Tuesday, 12 June 2018

How to Run Elastically - Practical Tips

Part 2 - Practical Tips

Some of you may recall an article I wrote, 2 years ago now, about “Running Elastically” Running Elastically Part 1. Last month, I attended a practical workshop by the same Dr Wilbour Kelsick and so I would like to share some additional tips with you.

In my previous article I explained about the elastic recoil properties of fascia and when running the ability of the arch of the foot and the Achilles tendon to absorb and store energy upon impact and then to release as we toe off, creating the right amount of tension and compression for fascia’s elastic recoil to bounce us forward in the air, to run elastically and giving us “free energy”!

The stronger the release of this fascial elastic recoil, as the foot goes into plantar flexion and toe off, the less time the foot is on the ground and the body is moving freely through the air as far as possible, and this is the “free energy”. Very important result of this are minimizing ground contact means there is less impact on the body, the body’s centre of gravity is propelled forward as far as possible and we don’t lose energy into the ground and so less energy is required to run. This was the focus of this workshop, how to practically achieve this by lifting the foot and legs.

A good point made at the beginning of the workshop, and I this is in tune with forefoot thinking and Christopher McDougall’s book “Born to Run” is that we, humans evolved to walk over sticks and stones, not our current flat paved surfaces, so when we are running we should think about stepping over something.

Practical tips for running

So….. here are some practical tips to think about for training drills and when actually running to achieve this fascial elastic recoil. Starting at the foot and moving up the leg:

1. As I mentioned earlier, when we are running we should think about stepping over an object and to achieve this we need to dorsiflex (pull up) the ankle, so the top of the foot come towards our nose! Importantly though, it needs to be a movement from the ankle joint, not just flexing our toes upwards as this could strain the toes and mean we are not relaxing them for toe off.

To bring the ankle/foot upwards you first need to lift the leg from the hip and bend the knee as well, rather than just letting the foot be dragged through.

2. As just mentioned dorsiflexing the ankle requires us to flex and lift the leg higher from the hip, which naturally will increase our stride length (free energy through the air) and should mean that we mid to forefoot strike the ground and our body’s centre of gravity is over the foot and leg as we land.

The result of this lifting the foot towards the nose (dorsiflexion) at the ankle and lifting (flexing) at the hip is that:

· the ankle joint (sub-talar) naturally locks and so there is less torsion and stress through the leg and body as we land

· it pre-loads the arches of the feet for elastic recoil and release. 17% of the energy in the foot from contact with the ground is stored and released through the arch of the foot

· it eccentrically contracts (stretches and lengthens) the Achilles tendon, and the Achilles is a tendon that works very effectively when loaded eccentrically. So the Achilles tendon behaves like an elastic spring, stretched when the foot contacts the ground, and released as we toe off. 35% of energy in the Achilles is used and released from contact with the ground.

· it helps to decrease over pronation (the foot rolling inwards) as we are mid to forefoot striking.

· the hip is able to generate more power from the ground contact and then the extension phase.

3. To lift the leg higher at the hip your trunk needs to be upright and you need to be looking ahead. Keeping the trunk upright is the role of the 6 pack abdominal muscles (rectus abdominals) and also means we can breathe easier.

4. Focus on the out breath only when running, as when we blow out we create a vacuum for air to flood back in naturally and this is aided by our arms, just using them to pump backwards and let them swing forward naturally. Both of these save energy!

Core Stability

The key to all of the above movement is core stability. When you have a moment, go for a short walk round the block, slow your walk down, flex the knee and lift the leg higher from the hip and feel your core’s connection. It is essential that the body is strong enough to maintain upright posture in the air and when we land so we don’t fall over!

Also, our lumbar fascia is key to our effortless human gait, supporting the pelvis and our main abdominal muscle (rectus abdominus, or six pack) is a key anchor when running keeping us upright and resisting forces from the back to flex forward. Our gluteal muscles (buttock) also stabilise the trunk preventing us from falling forward, they swing the leg back, extending, straightening and
propeling us forward and then as we our toe off the gluteals provide pelvic stability

So as you can see it is a whole body effort to run and when training for running we MUST focus on good functional movement and strength of the whole body.

Functional Movement and Strength Tips

For strength we must consider that when we run and land the impact and force is 5/6 times our body weight. So training needs to involve resistance work to build strength so we train so there is “buffer” allow shock and impact to be absorbed. Remember, the impact of running is cumulative with every foot strike. As an example, good training exercises involve lunges loaded with weights in each hand, or weighted squats.

For good functional movement all our fascia (which is all our soft tissues including muscles, tendons, ligaments, joint capsules) need to be able to glide to be able to compress, tense and then extend and so training needs to include exercises to retrain fascia for running. As an example, in order to practice dorsiflexing our ankle (foot to nose), practice small jumps by jumping with dorsiflexion and landing softly or walking slowly lifting the leg high from the hip and taking the arms above the head and then at the same time as the foot lands and pulling the arms down to your side and these combined movement use the whole front fascial line of the body.

Wow, so these are all ideas and tips and sincemy first lecture a couple of years ago I have been trying to change, and hopefully improve my running technique! In my head I call it my “bounding and gazelle style of running” and I can definitely feel the difference in my stride and pace and the effort required. It isn’t easy to change the way you run and if you try these tips introduce them gradually, maybe one tip at a time. Great “Food for thought and running” I hope though!!!

Please note, this article is provides a brief explanation and about the importance of the foot strike and hip lift in running sports and some practical tips to try out and see how it can help us become more effective and efficient runners. This it is not a comprehensive set of running instructions and remember everyone is different!

Please let me know if you have any specific questions or want to discuss anything. nicky@nickysportsmassage.co.uk.