I have often heard this inner dialogue in my head, and know that probably everyone else has also had it as well: “I just want to run, why do I have to do anything else?” Are we spoiled or what?
All runners need to be strong in their core, all runners need stability, and all runners need to realize that if they don’t take care of these other aspects of the sport then they aren’t going to be running into their old age. More likely they’ll be limping.
Think of what it takes to be a good runner like this: You own a business where you employ at least six other people. For the purpose of this analogy we will call them: Mr. Leftleg, Ms. Rightleg, Mr. Core, Ms. Rightarm, Mr. Leftarm, and Mr. Potato Head.
You not only have to tell these employees what to do each day, you also have to schedule them, keep them on task, and also help them enjoy what they are being paid to do (otherwise they go on strike). If you ignore them for long periods of time then chaos starts to reign.
Mr. Leftleg and Ms. Rightleg decide that they are just going to spend the day sitting around watching tv, surfing the net, or driving through town for hours at end. In the meantime Mr. Potato Head starts to spend more time looking down, napping or also staring at his computer monitor. Mr. Leftarm and Ms. Rightarm are along for the ride, and as time goes on they start to look like popsicle sticks. Then there is the Mr. Core. He’s just turning into mush.
In the meantime your business is going to hell. You’re running your business (so you think), but your employees are miserable. You limp on each day, and each day just gets worse. You contact a consultant to find out why this is happening. They look around and see nothing wrong, or they may tell you that your employees are unhappy (and how to fix this), but you ignore them as well. After all, you’ve been running this business for years, and the employees were always happy before.
I know that this is a long drawn out account of what happens to your body when all you do is run, but sometimes these analogies will hit home more effectively.
There are two issues that I want to deal first before I can correct someone’s run form because unless you have the (1) Stability, (2) Range of Motion, you will not be able to recruit the muscles needed to perform the correct movement.
Issue #1 – Stability
I want you to take your shoes off. Yes, now, and you might as well take your socks off too.
Now put your hands at your sides, pick up one foot about 3-6 inches off the ground, and see how long you can stand there without using your arms to balance you or at least not fall over.
Can you hold it for 30 seconds? Yes? Well, now do it with your eyes closed. Whoa….right?
So what does this mean? Well, it means that you don’t know how to recruit your big toe, you don’t have the strength in your gluteus medius to help stabilize you, and your core is most likely like mashed potatoes.
To fix this you should do the following whenever possible:
- Take your shoes off or at least buy a pair of shoes that are flat (no heel counter). Whenever possible stand on one foot, squeeze your glute medius, and press the big toe into the ground. Occasionally close your eyes to test yourself.
- Do these clamshell exercises at least 1x a day, and see if you can build up to 100 on each side.
- Take off your shoes and do Toe Yoga – if your big toe is inflexible, then there is no way you will ever be stable.
Issue #2 – Range of Motion
Today I’m just going to direct your attention to hip extension, as this is probably the biggest issue I see with athletes on a daily basis. In order for your leg to swing back once the foot leaves the ground you need to have the range of motion in your hips to accomplish this action. If you spend your life sitting in front of a computer, in a car, a desk, or generally do no core strength or stretching, chances are that your hip extension is like that of an 80 year old.
The test of this is simple, but to be most effective it is good to have a partner here, and to also make sure you’re wearing a pair of comfortable shorts that won’t dig into your hip bones.
- Lay on your stomach, and have your partner press your right (or left) hip into the ground. make sure that the pelvis is glued to the floor.
- Bend the leg at the knee so that the bottom of the foot is facing the sky (same position your leg would be in if you were running). Now see how high you can lift the knee off the ground WITHOUT taking the hip off the ground or arching your back. What? You can’t get it off more than an inch? Hmmmm….looks like you need to do some work there!
Probably the easiest way to correct this is through a couple of exercises you can do whenever you warm up for your run: Pendulum Extensions and The Tebow Squeeze, and making friends with your lacrosse ball each night while you watch tv by working on your quads, the front of your hip, and your inner thighs as well (there are also a lot more video’s on the web that address hip extension – go at it!)
What about Mr. Core, Ms. Rightarm and Mr. Leftarm you ask? Well….we’ll address them at a later date.