Are your shoulders slumped? Both Mom and your favorite drill sergeant don’t take kindly to poor posture. Outside of looks and respect, posture has a huge effect on your running form. If you ‘d like to know how it impacts you as a runner, and how you can fix it, check out my article in this month’s October edition of Running Times – on news stands, or click here to view it now. Now stand up straight!
If you’ve read our blog in the past, you’ve seen our findings on successful transitions to minimal and barefoot running. Running Times magazine approached myself and Dr Mark Cucuzzella to write a piece for the upcoming April edition. Lots of good wisdom, pics, and video to come……. But that has nothing to do with why this post is cool.
Do you ever wonder what it takes to get those cool cover shots you see on all the mags? Perfect lighting, perfect smiles, perfectly trained runner’s bodies lightless treading through the viewfinder…. Likely with a full hair and make-up team, and a full catered spread for lunch….. Well, I’m here to tell you otherwise. All you need is:
1 fast career runner ( something like 25 years of marathons under 2:45, PR of 2:24)
A subaru with a pilot, flash operator, One closed downhill subdivision road, and our fearless cameraman, Joel Wolpert. Here’s Joel at almost 20 mph downhill on my longboard. It’s rain/misting and slick as anything. Notice he’s focused on the shot, not the road. That my friends, is zen.
Here’s to all of you and your inner paparazzi !
When most runners, coaches, running shops think of the single biggest problem that affects runners- the answer usually points to the most feared word in running – “over-pronation.” However, we told Amby Burfoot (link here) that our years of experience quantifying running mechanics through the use of 3D gait analysis has shown us otherwise.
While it’s true that some of us out there may pronate more than others, it isn’t exactly what we’d call an epidemic problem in America. We’ll estimate that less than 30% of runners truly over-pronate (excess motion in the foot) their feet while running. To find the real answer, we need to move up eyes up and look at the hips. About 80-90% of runners don’t extend their hips.
What is hip extension anyway?
Lifting one knee up to the chest moves the hip into flexion. If you extend the hip the opposite direction (past vertical) that is hip extension. The goal is to do this without extending your back. Stretching your hip flexors to get more motion is the key
So why don’t most runners extend their hips?
We tend to sit. A lot. We sit in class. We sit at work. We sit in our cars. Cyclists, you spend all your time on the bike sitting in hip flexion. When we continually sit in hip flexion, the hip flexor muscles become tight. So tight that the overwhelming majority of runners can’t extend the hips. “Now wait a minute” – you might say –“I see all my friends and their leg does get behind them when they run – so they must be extending their hip right?”
Tight hip flexor muscles cause you to get your leg behind you not from extending your hip – but by arching your lower back. This can cause injury since an arched lumbar spine compromises our ability to use core muscles while we run. This sets us up for a host of leg injuries and also is the most common cause of low back pain in runners. Further, lack of hip extension compromises your running efficiency. As we increase speed, the bulk of the work supplied to the legs need to come from the hips. Well, if you can’t extend the hips, you are missing out on critical force to move your body forward.
So how do I get hip extension and is it really that simple?
You’ve got improve your range of motion of the hip, and your ability to control the new motion. The best hip stretch is a kneeling hip flexor stretch. Beware though, a lot of the videos on-line show incorrect form for this stretch and you don’t actually wind up extending your hip flexors at all (they stretch the quads). Check out the July 2010 issue of Runner’s World for an article we helped them put together. It shows correct technique to stretch the hips, and some simple exercises to learn to use your new range of motion.
Should I stretch? Should I stretch before or after? Will stretching make me a better athlete? Will stretching make me a more confident public speaker? We get these questions a lot. Don’t worry, we are happy to help and the confusion is not your fault. Seems every media outlet out there wants the BIG STORY. The headlines read “best new stretch”, “best way to stretch”, or maybe even “stretching is killing you” –they really want you to by their magazine! So should you stretch or not? Is it OK to be tight? Is it a benefit? Is it possible to be too flexible?
Muscles, tendons, and ligaments shorten and lengthen as our joints move. Therefore, the amount of mobility you need in these tissues is pretty simple to define. You need enough for the tasks and sports you do, and nothing more. Is it really that simple? Yes – and let’s look at what happens when structures around our joints are too tight.
- Tightness in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments around a joint causes increased strain in the tissues. Think about a rubber band. You can stretch a rubber band back and forth from slack to fairly taught all day and it will be OK. Think about how much tension is in the rubber band as you shorten and lengthen it. Now imagine pulling he rubber band taught to 80% and then pulling it as far as you can. Do this for a while and look at the rubber band. If it hasn’t popped yet, you’ll notice that the rubber band actually begins to fray a bit – the increased tension inside the band causes damage. This increased tightness inside soft tissues limits our ability to withstand chronic strain inside our muscles – and leads to muscle strain and tears.
- The attachment points of your muscles, tendons, and ligaments form a bag of connective tissue around each and every joint called a capsule. Tightness in these structures can change the way the joint moves. Think about door pivoting open and closed on its hinge - there is an axis on which the door moves. The door has no problem opening and shutting. Now imagine a force trying the twist the door as it opens and closes. This twisting force tries to move the door in a way that the hinges are not set up to pivot around. If you keep trying to open and shut the door, something will fail (the hinges will loosen, the door will warp) – the point is that trying to move a joint in a manner that does not use its normal axis will cause pre-mature wear on structures. Tight soft tissues change the axis of mobility through the joint and cause excess wear on he surfaces of the joints – the is the mechanism for the development of arthritis.
So now that we know the problems associated with tight tissues, all of us should stretch right?…. because the magazines say that stretching causes you to be more agile, stronger, recover faster, and warm up the tissues? Not a single one of these claims has ever been substantiated. You need “enough” mobility around a joint for the sports you perform. A runner and a gymnast have entirely different needs for mobility. Having more flexibility than needed for your sport has never been proven to be an advantage. In fact, we see just as many injuries to people that are hyper-mobile (have tissues that are too loose) as people who are tight.
Stretching a muscle is tearing tissue. Do I advocate stretching? Breaking down the structural integrity of our body is not something we should do unless its needed. Would you tear holes in your clothes for the fun of it? When an individual needs to stretch areas of their body that compromise their ability to perform, stretching is 100% part of their plan. But if there is no restriction on soft tissue mobility, there is no evidence that stretching will provide any benefit at all. In our next post, we’ll tackle the different types of stretching. For now, “enough” is enough.