The Equation Of Running And Winning Free Of Pain

The Equation Of Running And Winning Free Of Pain

Today, I met with the track coach of a local parochial High School who is blessed with having some top runners.  Unfortunately, like many track coaches, he sees some of these top athletes get injured and stay away from running, the sport they have the potential to master.

The big problem has to do with body mechanics.  In the maturing athlete in High School, many of these students are still growing, which will exacerbate some inherited traits which many of them stretch and rehab, trying to avoid becoming a statistic.  The sad fact is that many of them succumb and stop running because it just hurts and the harder they train, the more injury and pain they endure.

The great news is that we can overcome these problems before they begin by properly screening the students, understand why they hurt and also understand a little about the physics of running.

Leverage – an important concept.

Everyone who coaches runners want those who are fast naturally and can push themselves to the limits that allow themselves to stand out.  The problem is, we are all built different and a one size fits all approach of stretching and strengthening does not work on everyone.  As a result, we lose runners who are in pain.

At the point of impact with the foot on the ground, we must be able to transfer our forces from our bodies to the ground efficiently.  If this does not happen, energy is wasted and we develop problems in the muscles in the hips, back and legs leaving us prone to potential joint injury.  There are two strides, the lower body and the compensatory upper body stride.  If we are asymmetrical in the lower body, we will be asymmetrical in the upper body which will waste energy as we run and make us slower.  It is therefore important to work toward gait symmetry to improve speed, running efficiency and improved transference of energy from the body to the ground. Poor symmetry will cause a tightening of the myofascia (the sheaths that covers the muscles and our organ systems.  As per Thomas Meyers book on Anatomy Trains, the myofascia controls muscle coordination, rather than the individual muscles as many of us learned in school. Since the myofascial molds itself according to the forces placed upon it, if your gait (the way you walk) causes the fascia to torque in the core muscle (lower back region), you will lose leverage since the core and hip flexors fire first and the legs fire second. The eventual effect is a shortened stride, slower times and pain with what are referred to as overuse injuries (although I have an issue with the term overuse).

Since we know this, and since poor core stability causes poor firing patterns (coordination of movement), we get poor transference of power to the ground and it makes us slower and creates painful conditions in the leg such as IT band syndrome, plantar fascitis (short stride, slamming feet into ground), hip pain and upper back tightness and pain after running (usually 4-5 hours later).

The solutions
1. Correct body mechanics with better shoes and orthotics (some people require custom, others don’t).  I do not recommend custom orthotics with growing children since they will grow out of them.
2. Correct the core with myofascial release treatment.
3. Solve problems using myofascial release, Graston or other soft tissue methods in the legs.  Instrument assisted soft tissue treatment is terrific for problems in the tendons, plantar fascia and it band.
4. Screen athletes before the season to spot mechanical issues early. You will lose fewer exceptional athletes to injury.
5. Understand that each athlete should have their mechanical weaknesses noted and a rational path must be taken to help them overcome those limitations.  Few of us are perfect bio-mechanical specimens. Taking some of these steps can help us cheat mother nature and by understanding how leverage affects runners, we can create superstars or bring runners to new levels by tweaking their inherited traits to work more efficiently, transfer energy better resulting in faster speeds, better runs and reducing further injuries.

The results
1. Faster runners – efficient gait = faster times.
2. In short runs, where impact off the block can make the race, there will be greater force upon launch giving the athlete more speed.
3. Greater flexibility – very important for hurdlers.
4. Less dependence on stretching, which in the past has been depended upon, but now has been replaced by better warm-up regimens. Years ago, I visited SPRI institute who had an affiliated doctor Domingues and Gajda who wrote the book Total Body Training  This book was written in the 1980’s and set the direction away from stretching and toward better warm-up routines for stronger runs. Their ideas, now universally accepted were truly ahead of their time.

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