Exercises For Knee Pain In Runners

exercises-for-knee-pain-runners

In our last article on knee pain and injuries we talked about how to manage your knee pain as a runner, but not only. Before that we talked about the 10 causes of knee pain in runners. It’s good to read those articles first to understand the following exercises and why you should consider them.

Let’s begin…

 A. WARM UP

A study in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physiotherapy found that warm up performed at 60% of maximal effort resulted in 6% improvement in aerobic performance and a 7% improvement in anaerobic performance. (Source)

Another research has demonstrated that intense exercise preceded by a warm up resulted in less accumulation of blood and muscle lactate. A review in the journal Physician and Sports Medicine concluded that warming up reduces the risk of injuries, which is what we’re looking for here.

Your pre-running warm up:

1. Raises your heart rate.

 Have you ever felt really tired for the first 5-10 min of your run? Really feeling you just couldn’t do this? Then after 10 min or so you could just go on and on? That’s because it took your body, the whole system about 10 min to warm up and ready for the physical act of running.

Your body is like a furnace. To get heat from a furnace you have to put the wood in and light it up. It won’t give heat if there is no fire, will it? The same goes for your body. It will not give you the running energy you need until it’s prepared. You prepare it through warm-up.

Don’t be afraid to run out of breath in your warm up. You won’t get fatigued in 10 minutes. That’s just a common misconception.

2. Raises your body temperature. The synovial fluid we talked in the previous article becomes less sticky through movement. It is then able to squeeze into in the joint capsules, soaking the cartilage and providing a protective cushion.

3. Enhances neuromuscular pathways, increasing speed and efficiency of muscular contraction. Warm up switches your brain on. (Source)

 4. Improves coordination

 5. Improves elasticity and contractibility of the muscles, so they can fire up and get you running efficiently

6. Increases cardiovascular and respiratory systems efficiency

Your warm up should mimic the movements you will be doing in the main session. Static stretches are not recommended before running. In his book “Stretching Scientifically” Thomas Kurz says that “doing static stretches for a workout that consists of dynamic actions is counterproductive, and it certainly doesn’t prevent injuries (Shrier 1999; Pope et al. 2000)”.

Indeed I have read research on this topic before. There is still some debate whether pre-running static stretching increases or decreases running performance though. When I find the source, which skips my mind right now (although I looked through all my running books) I will come back and update this article. For now just know that for a dynamic movement workout you want a dynamic warmup.

There are countless warm up routines out there. Here is a quick warm up routine we use and you can use as well:

  • Light 10 min jog or brisk walk (depending on your fitness levels) to get your body moving
  • Fluid movement stretching to mobilise the joints, bring flow in your movement and allow the body to slowly open up and stretch out. This is something I learnt from my natural movement fitness coach and still utilise it today.

Running specific stretches. Find a 30-50m surface/runway and run up and down performing the following drills:

  • Butt kicks
  • High knees
  • Three steps and a jump – take 3 steps and then jump on the fourth (i.e. jump on the left leg and raise the right knee towards your chest)
  • Three steps, jump and lift the opposite arm – the opposite to the leg that’s off the ground (i.e. jump on the left leg, lifting the right knee and left arm up as high as you can)
  • Skipping on each leg – like a preschooler, you still know how to do that, right? – same as point 3 but skipping/jumping on each step instead of just the 4th
  • Skipping on each leg and lifting the arm opposite to the leg that’s up – same as point 4, but jumping on each step
  • Cross overs – this is a side movement, crossing the same leg in front and behind the other leg:
    1. Step 1: step with your right foot to the side
    2. Step 2: cross the left foot over/in front of the right foot
    3. Step 3: step with your right foot to the side again, in the direction you are moving
    4. Step 4: cross the left foot behind the right foot
    5. Repeat

Perform the cross over leading with the right leg (as in the example) and then leading with the left leg.

  • Tiptoe walking – just as it says, walk on your toes; warm the calves
  • This is the final stage to get your cardiovascular system ready for launch. Look for a 250-300m relatively flat surface and:
    1. Run out at 20-25% (or 3/10) of your max speed
    2. Run back 50% (5-6/10)of your max speed
    3. Run out 20-25%
    4. Run back 70% (6-7/10)
    5. Run out 25%
    6. Run back 80% (7-8/10)
    7. Run out 25%
    8. Run back 85% (8-9/10)

Strides are to be done after all the prior warm up. The % is approximate of course. The idea is to get the “engine” running.

B. STRENGTHEN

Specific to runner’s knee are strength exercises. If you already have knee problems it is even more important to ensure you keep your stabiliser muscles strong and flexible (that’s the next topic).

Strong stability muscles ensure the knee stays aligned, moving smoothly in its groove and, as a result, helps to reduce wear and tear.

Exercises to consider are:

1. The Clock – the first most important exercise for me and my clients; when done properly it strengthens all stabiliser muscles including the glutes maximum, medius and minimus, adductors, as well as core muscles. It also strengthens the ankle and foot muscles.

2. The 360 Degrees – the second most important exercises for my personal knee maintenance so to speak

 

3. The Dunking Duck (or the Seesaw)

 

4. I’ve recently discovered the stability disc. I have one in the bathroom in front of the sink. Every time I brush my teeth I balance on it. I recommended this to my clients who have been balancing on one leg while brushing their teeth for a while now. This is their progression. Note: if your struggle with balance start just by standing on one leg while brushing your teeth. This exercise has a high risk of injury, so I recommend you hold on hand on the edge of the sink and don’t struggle to balance, place your foot down as many time as you need to. Safety first

 

5. The bridge

6. Holding a squat position with the back against the wall

7. Squat without support

8. Squat on one leg with support (aka pistol squat)

9. Squat on one leg without support

10. Step-up

11. Step-down


12. The Peterson step up


13. Side lying or standing leg raise – strengthens hip abductors and hip external rotators

You can find more or our own MoveWild exercises on our online 4 weeks programme. Check it out.

 

C. STRETCH

To understand how muscle tension is related to knee pain and injuries read the previous 2 articles on knee pain: 10 causes of knee pain in runners and How to manage knee pain in runners.

In this article we go through a list of major muscles and an easy to follow stretch for each so you minimise the tension applied on the structures around the knee, and stretching in general actually.  These are static stretches and should be done at the end of each running session.

1. Adductors (inner thigh)

  1. step to one side, feet wide apart, toes forward, bend one knee;
  2. you should now be in a side lunge position
  3. chest up, look forward, hands off the legs
  4. hold the stretch for 10-20 sec
  5. repeat on the other side

This is the same stretch as the deep adductor stretch below but both feet face forward (I don’t have a picture of it at hand).

2. Deep adductor stretch

  1. feet still wide apart as the previous stretch
  2. turn one foot out (similar to the Yoga warrior pose)
  3. bend the knee
  4. relax and let gravity pull you down and you perform a deep lunge
  5. back straight, chest up, look forward, hands off the legs, shoulders in line with the hips as best as you can, avoid leaning forwards
  6. hold the stretch for 10-20 sec
  7. repeat on the other side

 

3. Hip flexors

  1. keep the feet wide apart, as in the previous stretch
  2. one foot turned out with the knee bent (similar to the Yoga warrior pose)
  3. turn the back foot to face forward and let the back heel come off the ground as you bend the back knee as well (about 90 degrees angle)
  4. relax and allow gravity to pull you down
  5. push the back heel away to get a deeper stretch (without shifting the body weight off the front leg); if you already feel a stretch with the knees at 90 degrees there’s no need to push the back heel out, do this when your muscles become more flexible
  6. you will feel a stretch on the front of the back leg, at the hip
  7. chest up, look forward, hands off the leg, shoulders aligned with the hips
  8. hold for 10-20 seconds
  9. repeat on the other side

 

For an even deeper stretch lift the arm on the opposite side of the front leg (see picture above).

4. Back chain stretch (including calves and hamstrings)

  1. standing, cross the left leg over the right
  2. bend down and reach for your toes
  3. hold for 10-20 seconds
  4. repeat on the other side
  5. uncross legs, bring feet next to each other
  6. bend down and touch your toes, or get as close as you can

 

5. Calf and tibia stretch. We have a few types of stretches here:

a) Light calf stretch

  1. step forward with one leg, while keeping the back leg straight and the back heel firmly rooted into the ground behind you
  2. you will find yourself in a high front lunge (make sure you have space between your legs for better balance)
  3. slowly transfer your body weight on the front leg, keeping the body straight and the back heel on the ground
  4. hold for 10-20 sec
  5. repeat on the other side

b) Deeper calf stretch

  1. step with one foot forward, leg straight, heel on the ground and pulling toes up and towards your head
  2. keep the back foot firmly rooted on the ground and toes forward
  3. bend the back leg and transfer your body weight on it as if you want to sit on a high bar chair; stick your bum out, un-tuck your tailbone
  4. keep your back straight and your chest out and up
  5. look ahead
  6. to get a deeper stretch pull your toes up toward your head or touch your front toes (but keep your trunk straight, even if you bend from your hips)
  7. hold for 10-20 seconds
  8. repeat on the other side

 

c) Tibialis anterior stretch

1. Standing, place the left foot in front of your right foot to form a T position

2. Bend from your hips and reach for your toes

3. Hold for 10 -15 sec

4. Turn the same foot (left) to face the other way

 

5. Reach for your toes

6. Hold for 10-15 sec

7. Repeat on the other side

To learn more about flexibility and mobility check out our other articles on the topic:

Methods, Types Of Stretching And When To Stretch
Factors That Limit Flexibility And Mobility
Flexibility And Mobility – What Is The Difference
Factors Leading To Running Injuries – Flexibility And Mobility

D. MOBILISE

Each joint has its role to play in running. When joints are flexible they take up some of the impact of running, this way the impact distributes on a larger surface.

Ankle mobility

One good and simple example of how this works is the relationship between the ankle joint and the knee. If your ankles are not flexible enough to take on the pressure when you run, the pressure will be taken on by the knees. So let’s look at how to test and mobilise your ankles.

Testing your ankle mobility:

  1. Place the tested foot about 4 inches (10 am) from a wall
  2. Make sure your foot is straight with toes pointed forward
  3. Attempt to get your knee to touch the wall without lifting the heel or letting your knee move in any direction than forward.
  4. If you can touch the wall without the knee buckling in or shifting out and with the heel on the ground you have pretty good ankle mobility
  5. Test on both ankles and mark with a couple of pieces of tape (one for the left foot, the other for the right) how far from the wall you are so you can test again

How to increase or improve your ankle mobility:

1. Stretch and foam roll the soft tissues around the ankle – often the ankle mobility is limited by the soft tissues around it (i.e. calf, tibialis anterior). Below you have a classic but very effective calf stretch from GMB with a straight and bent leg. In the video you will see the exercise performed with a straight leg and with a bent leg. When bending the leg you load the ankle more which works on the joint itself.

The Yoga downward dog is also a great exercise to stretch the calf.

2. Balance disc – this is a really great little exercise I do as my daily routine. I mentioned it above for knee strength exercises. Place this disc in front of the sink and every evening and morning when you brush your teeth balance for a little bit. Besides helping with ankle mobility is also strengthens your stability muscles, win-win!

As mentioned before this exercise has a high risk of injury, so I recommend you hold on hand on the edge of the sink and don’t struggle to balance, place your foot down as many time as you need to. Safety first.

 

3. Place the foot on a book, or a wedge, bend the ankle until the heel almost lifts off the ground (don’t let it come off though) and move the leg and foot in all directions for 1-2 min on each ankle

There are many ways to mobilise your ankle, but you don’t need a dozen, you need one or two to do them regularly. Knowing a dozen and doing none won’t help. Just choose 1 or 2 from the list, create a little schedule for yourself and practice them.

 

Hip mobility

On the same principle it’s important to keep all joints nice and mobile, and that includes the hip joint.

The hip is the connection, the bridge, between the upper and lower body. In order for your limbs to move freely and smoothly your hip needs to move freely and smoothly.

Think about it this way:

  • the hips and shoulders move the arms and legs
  • the arms and legs move the hands and feet

 

When running you flex and extend the hip over and over again. Without good hip mobility the hip extension is limited, and compensations begin to occur, which can contribute to many running injuries.

The hip must also internally rotate during the running gait to get that hip extension and glutes optimisation. The glutes can’t function effectively if the hip extension ability is limited.

One of the compensations occurring as a result of limited hip rotation and subsequent hip extension is knee hyperextension and lumbar extension.

The video below gives more detailed information and exercises to improve your hip extension:

 

E. DIVERSIFY

…. your training sessions and exercises to continue making progress and shift the degree of impact.

While being consistent with your training is imperative for success, doing the same thing over and over again can lead to plateauing and eventually even regression.

Let’s go into a little bit more detail to understand how the body adapts and what we need to do to continue making progress, whatever our goal may be.

Hans Seyle described the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), which looks like this (this is a graph I created myself based on the original):

 

Let’s understand what this actually means, keeping in mind how this applies to your knee health.

 

The Stimulus

This is your new training routine, or knee exercise, or when you come back after months or years of not training. Even if you have always been training, when you start a new routine, that’s the stimulus that (re)starts the adaptation process.

 

The Alarm Phase

Whether we talk about a new diet, lifestyle, training routine, or exercise for the knees, this is when the tough gets tough and where most people give up.

The alarm phase follows the beginning of your training routine, or a new training routine, the initial stimulus.

Any stimulus will initially lead to a decrease in performance in the alarm phase. And this phase can last for days or weeks. During this period, you may experience fatigue, stiffness and soreness and a temporary drop in physical performance. You may feel you’re not going to make it. This is also when the adaptations in the nervous system occur. So it’s a key phase of the process.

Without going through the alarm phase there would be no adaptation, and no progress. If you patiently and intelligently push through it, you will breakthrough to the next phase…

 

The Adaptation

If you “survive” the alarm phase, adaptations begin to occur. This is where you reap the rewards for all the hard work you’ve put in. Your nervous system has adapted to the new stimulus and now you begin to notice muscular and aerobic adaptations. This is progress in performance, this is where you knees become stronger, muscles more flexible, joints more mobile.

At this stage there are skeletal adaptations also taking place and that is why it is essential not to grow the muscle mass too much too soon, as to allow the skeletal changes to take place, otherwise it will lead to joint damage. This doesn’t apply to our knee exercises, but it’s good to know for other types of training. Either way slow progress is best. It’s about building strong foundations first.

If we talk about strengthening knee stability muscles, your muscles’ adaptive response would be becoming stronger.

 

The Plateau

We’ve all heard about the plateau. This is the stage when you adapt to a certain routine and you feel you’re not getting as much out of it as you did at the beginning.

It’s part of the adaptation process and unless you give the body another routine, or exercise, to stimulate the body, or knee, to go through the alarm and adaptation phases again, you’re not going to make much progress.

Furthermore if you stay for too long in the plateau your performance will slowly begin to decrease as you reach the exhaustion phase which can lead to over training. Here’s the picture again:

 

To escape the plateau and elicit further adaptations you may:

  • Schedule a break from training:
    • complete rest and recovery and regeneration or
    • an active break where you can engage in other types of training like balance and fluid movement or try a different sport such as swimming or cycling if you are a runner
  • Changes in your routine:
    • Progress specific exercises in your routine
    • Change your whole routine or just some of the exercises
    • Change only certain variables in your routine:
      • number of repetitions of the same exercise
      • number of sets
      • less rest between sets
      • longer time performing each exercise
      • increase weights
      • increase resistance
      • change running terrain (i.e flat to hills, off road to road)
      • change your pace
      • change running route

Quick note here: if you progress your routine it is recommended to change only a variable at a time (such as number of reps or sets) and only by 10% or less to avoid injuries.

Six to eight weeks it’s usually when you should consider progressing or changing your routine.

In the strength section for knees pain I shared with you several exercises. You can choose 2 or 3 to work on for a 6-8 weeks, then change to another 2 or 3 for the next 6-8 weeks, then come back to the first ones, or finds others.

 

The Exhaustion Phase

According to Hans Seyle’s General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) continuous exposure to the same routine, or stimulus, will eventually lead to overtraining. This is due to the inability of the body to tolerate the cumulative stress of the same stimulus over a period of time.

This is one of the reasons I consider variation is key.

The exhaustion phase is characterised by a decrease in physical performance, as well as monotony, soreness and fatigue.

So the aim is to keep the body in the adaptation phase as long as possible. And to do this you need:

  • periods of rest scheduled into the programme
  • change the stimulus on a regular basis

See the Plateau Phase for details on how to do this.

When you change the stimulus while in the plateau phase your graph would look somewhat like this:

 

Observe how you continually change the level of adaptation, it goes up and down , up and down …. but it never comes all the way down again, it just keeps going.

The same process applies to strengthening your joints, in this particular case your knees. Use the exercises provided in this article, or others from other professionals, stick with those you feel are right for you, discard those you feel are not, and keep in mind that diversifying your training is an important aspect of joint health.

Nerve flossing, running form and optimum pace are all ways to manager your knee pain. I explained in more detail in my previous article How To Manage Knee Pain In Runners.
If you’d like to take on a Move Wild exercise programme we have 2 routines, each 4 weeks long, ready for you:

 

 

Check them out, sign up and let us know how you’re getting along.

Sources:

  1. Sam Murphy and Sarah Connors “Running Well”
  2. Danny Dreyer with Catherine Dreyer “Chi Running”
  3. Nicholas Romanov “POSE Method Of Running”
  4. Nicholas Romanov with Kurt Brungardt “The Running Revolution”
  5. Ross Rucker and Jonathan Dugas, Runner’s World “The Runner’s Body”
  6. Danny Abshire “Natural Running”
  7.  Thomas Kurz “Stretching Scientifically

 

 

What Is Synovial Fluid And Its Importance To Runners

What-is-Synovial-Fluid-AndIts-Importance-to-Runners

Synovial fluid is for your body as oil is for your car or the oil for you door hinges in the house. When the car parts or door hinges are lubricates they glide part each other, there is no impediment to movement.

You also know that when lubricated you also reduce the damage on the parts of your car or the hinges of your doors. They also last longer.

Synovial fluid does the same thing the joint or the parts of your body, it lubricates the joints for ease and smooth movement.

Synovial fluid has the following functions in the body:

  1. Lubricates the articular cartilage at the ends of the bones in the joint
  2. Supplies nutrients to the articular cartilage, or a thin layer of protective cartilage in the joints.
  3. Helps diagnose the cause of joint inflammation in the body – In joint diseases like arthritis, the synovium of the joint is the main place where inflammation occurs. But this isn’t the topic of our article.

The warm up before you being your running or any type of training ensures you get the synovial fluid flowing and lubricates the entire joint.

It is also important that you take your joints through their full range of motion so that the whole joins is lubricated.

This is one of the many important parts of your training as a runner to ensure your joints stay healthier for longer so you can run for longer.

One way to do this is through the full squat we perform at the beginning of each lesson.

The full squat takes the ankles, knee and hip through their full range of motion. It also moves, stretches and mobilises the spine, getting it ready for action.

You can use the full squat today, from our Wild Workout free exercise samples. Click here to start using the full squat now.

 

 

How To Manage Knee Pain In Runners

How-To-Manage-Knee-Pain-In-Runners

In the previous article on knee pain we’ve identified 10 Causes Of Knee Pain in Runners. It would be helpful if you read that one first and then come back here.

Impact, or rather repetitive impact, is what causes injury in runners. Forces of about 2-4 times your body weight travel up through your leg, knee, thigh, hip, pelvis and up into your spine, each time your foot strikes the ground. The problem is not only the impact, but the fact that it’s repetitive.

These forces shake and disturb the tissues of your lower body just like an earthquake shakes the walls of a building. But just as some buildings remain standing while others fall, impact from running does not equally disrupt all the tissues they pass through. The damage is concentrated in a few areas of great susceptibility (Source: The Runner’s Body), knees being one of those areas.

I became very passionate, a bit obsessed some might say, with what caused my knee injuries (meniscus damage) as a young athlete Karate-ka. Over the past 5 years I’ve learnt a lot from my coaches, personal experience, books, and even clients about what causes knee pain, knee injuries and how to best manage them. I’m not a therapist or doctor, just a runner, athlete and personal trainer, who has been there, learnt about it, shared the information and got results, and now eager to share with those who cannot train directly with me. If you have an injury it is always best to consult a therapist or GP before anything else.

Don’t get me wrong I am aware that certain injuries never heal, in fact no injury ever heals to bring the body to where it was before, however, we can manage those injuries so we are not in pain and the injury doesn’t aggravate too fast, too soon. We also want to keep training and competing.

The body also finds ways to work around an injury so you can perform the same exercise, at the same intensity, even after injury. The body is amazing at adapting, so don’t lose hope.

In this article I will recap some of the advice from the previous article on knee injuries, but go more in depth with each one, as well as including information which was not previously mentioned in any other article.

Let’s understand why knee injuries or knee pain occurs, what to do and how to manage it so we can continue running.

 

1. “Lubricate” your joints. Do your pre-running warm up.

Movement lubricates the joints as oil lubricates the parts of your car so your car runs smoothly and you don’t worry about it breaking down on the road.

If a car would have no oil the components would grind against each other, wearing out faster. Well, it’s the same with your knees and any other joints.

Synovial fluid is the lubricant in your joints. You want this fluid to be present in the joints, everywhere, especially before you begin a physical activity, but not only. That’s why it’s important to take the joints through the whole range of motion on a regular basis.

One of the ways we do that here at The Merisoiu Technique Institute is through the full squat. All the way down. If you can’t go all the way down you may use a little wedge, such as a thin book or a little stick, just so you go all the way down.

If you do have a wedge under your heels, to not shift your bodyweight too much on your toes as this will transfer the weight and pressure on the knee joint, rather than the quads and glutes when standing up.

Ensure your heels are rooted into the ground throughout the squat.

When you squat, you bend your knees and go straight down as if you were going to sit on a small nursery chair placed right underneath you.

The full squat is not only good for the knees, it also takes your ankle and hip joints through the full range of motion. In the same time it activates the stability muscles, which are very important for runners, and not only. We will talk more about stability muscles later in the article.

Another exercise you could so is to lie face down on the floor and slowly bend your leg behind you at the knee, breathing out on the lift. I do that particular exercise before I go running, about 20 times each side. If you do this exercise standing it’s slightly different as the knees are not on the same line. Try both and observe the difference.

Warm-up is critical to reduce early joint wear and tear. Get those joints oiled and they will stay healthy for longer.

 

2. Nourish

You didn’t see that coming, did you? Maybe you did. We think nutrition is only about recovery and weight loss, but it does more than that. Good nutrition means nutrients for the body, including your joints, and that includes your knees.

But it doesn’t really work from one day to another, it needs to be constant, so your body will absorb the nutrients, transport and deliver them in all corners of your body.

Some corners are more difficult to access, such as the medial knee meniscus. Knee meniscus is a cartilage, which is very durable and elastic. It’s like a shock absorber for the joint. It doesn’t have a blood supply, rather it gets oxygen and nutrients from the surrounding joint fluid.

There is some evidence that there are “canal-like structures opening deep into the surface of the menisci” which may “play a role in the transport of fluid within the meniscus and may carry nutrients from the synovial fluid and blood vessels to the avascular [tissue which does not contain blood vessels or lymphatics] sections of the meniscus”. Further study is needed to pinpoint the “exact mechanism by which mechanical motion supplies nutrition to the avascular portion of the menisci”. (Source: The Basic Science of Human Knee Menisci – Structure, Composition, and Function – Alice J. S. Fox, MSc, Asheesh Bedi, MD, and Scott A. Rodeo, MD)

If this is true then nutrients can reach the menisci and other cartilages throughout the body which don’t contain blood vessels, as well as to everything else from bones, to tendons and joints.

The question is: what type of nutrients will your injuries receive? Bottom line…it’s in your hands, it’s a matter of choice.

Thus good nutrition = healthy joints

 

 3. Strengthen

Ensure your stability muscles in and around the joints are strong. As my Sensei once told us: small muscles are sneaky, large muscles are lazy. Small muscles don’t want to work and “ask” large muscles to take on more work.

Those small, microscopic muscles are very, very important when it comes to joint stability. And I have my natural movement fitness coach Michael Cohen to thank for introducing me to this important aspect of training.

Thus it is important to ensure you train those small, microscopic muscles so they stabilise the knee joint, not letting it go out of alignment and wear too fast, too early.

To do this it’s not enough to do hundreds of squats, jump and run, you need to work on slowing down your movement, practice all sorts of balance, strength and body weight transfer exercises regularly, whether you do it as a standalone routine, in between your other exercises or while waiting for the train or brushing your teeth (careful with balance exercises, safety first), do it regular, be consistent and you will reap the rewards of a fit and strong runner.

Small muscles are important but so are larger muscles which keep the knee from maltracking, such as the adductors and abductors, inside and outside the thigh respectively.

An imbalance in the strength of the muscles in the inside and outside of the thigh causes maltracking of the knee cap (patella) which sits and moves in its groove. This maltracking leads to patellofemoral pain syndrome or anterior knee pain, as it’s most popularly known.

Besides the adductors and abductors another important muscle to look after is the gluteus medius, located up on the hip and on the outside of the thigh. We all focus on strengthening the gluteus maximum, the buttocks, but the medius and even the minimus are important in stability. The gluteus medius work with the other muscle to keep the leg and knee aligned, preventing it from roll in.

If the knee rolls in, the vastul medialis and gluteus medius are not working properly, so the TFL takes over. If the TFL is overworked it can pull in the ITB, increasing the lateral pull on the kneecap. Because the ITB connects to the outside of the patella, the lateral pull in the kneecap can cause this tissue to become sore and inflamed. (Source: Running Well by Sam Murphy and Sarah Connors). Quite a vicious cycle isn’t it?

Remember one important thing: if one thing goes wrong in any part of your body it will have consequences throughout your body. Nothing is isolated from the whole. And injury is never really localised, it’s sends ripples throughout the body.

Also if there is an imbalance in any of the other body systems – physical, mental, emotional, chemical – the other systems will take resources, which should be used for specific tasks, to address the emergency and thus those tasks are not completed. If the resources are re-directed for too long then the whole system is thrown off. Makes sense right? I can’t really tell you the source of this statement because I’ve read so many books and articles that this is more of an intrinsic type of knowledge.

Let’s take an example:

  • You experience an injury in your right knee – physical
  • Your body starts sending more nutrients to the right knee to help recovery – chemical
  • Your mind starts paying particular attention how it’s moving, to protect the right knee from any further damage, so it takes some of the weight bearing responsibility usually met by the right knee, and places it on the left leg, causing you to limp – this is the mental / psychological system
  • If you limp for too long the left leg muscles will begin to store tension and your hips and spine will begin to alter their movement and alignment as well
  • If the injury lasts for too long, your mind is still busy with it, you can’t do much physical exercise, you can’t really run too much, you probably find it difficult even to go down the stairs. You begin to put on weight, you feel stressed, sad, maybe some signs of depression, anger, frustration etc – this is the emotional system affected by a physical injury

However we can’t avoid all injuries and this chain reaction, this just happens, it’s part of life. What I am trying to impress on you is that when injury happens you should take the necessary steps, even stop training for a week or two, to recover. Do not train through a serious injury, thinking you can “shake it off”. If you don’t recover properly you risk months of break from training instead of weeks.

I know it’s difficult and frustrating, I have been in that situation numerous times. Sometimes I take breaks, other time I’m stubborn and I don’t. Something I take the correct decision, other times I pay for my stubbornness.

Although anti-inflammatories or RICE-ing the injury works, as a temporary solution, you must find out what caused the problem to occur. As mentioned in the previous article on knee pain, if you haven’t been in an accident, haven’t had a fracture, or any other obvious reason for your knee to hurt, it could very well be one of the following reasons:

  • Foot overpronation
  • Inward rotation of the hip
  • Tight calf muscles
  • Weak gluteus medius – which can cause the leg to internally rotate more
  • Tight quadriceps – which can increase the loading of the patella, the shorter they are, the greater the pull over the knee
  • Knocked knees – knees falling in

 

The best thing to do when you suspect injuries is, of course, to see a physio, a sport medicine expert or even a GP and assess your injury, running form, muscle strength and flexibility.

We’ve only mentioned the anterior knee pain above. In the previous article I went through a few other possible caused of knee pain. Make sure you check it out.

However, bottom line, seeking professional advice and strengthening your knee and rehabilitating after an injury is essential. Keep you stability muscles strong and you can reduce the risk of knee injuries.

In a future article I will give you some exercises that work to strengthen your stability muscles and stabilise the knee joint.

 

4. Stretch

As we’ve seen in the previous article on knee injuries in runners there are muscles that connect to the knee cap.

Sometimes we experience knee pain because those muscles pull on the knee joint because they’re too tight, too short, because you don’t take the time to ensure they come back to their regular length through stretching and mobility exercises.

To help correct reduce the risk of knee injuries you have to stretch each part involved in stability, protecting or moving the knee. When you stretch have this list in front of you and follow it after a few runs. At a minimum you should stretch the following muscles:

  • Adductors (inside of thigh)
  • Hip flexor (from of thigh, at the hip joint)
  • Hamstring
  • Calf
  • Tibial muscles
  • Glutes
  • Quadriceps

In the next article I will share with you our MoveWildTM  post running stretch movements which will stretch almost every muscle in your body.

 

5. Mobilise

Ensure that your body is not only flexible but the joints are mobile and move smoothly through the whole range of motion. Remember the synovial fluid we talked about right at the beginning of this article, yes? Take the joint through the whole range of motion to “oil” the whole joint.

Besides the knee joint itself, particular for knee pain and knee injuries is the ankle joint. If the ankles are too stiff they can’t absorb part of the impact and it sends more of it to the knees.

If you are a minimalist runners your ankles should feel like they’re going through the whole range of motion – it depends on how you run of course.

If you are a heel striker chances are your ankles need a bit more mobility work.

This article is getting waaaay to long so in the next article on knee pain I will share with you a method of testing your ankle mobility and a few ways to improve your ankle mobility as well.

 

6. Diversify

Running on the same route, same surface and same direction over and over again you place roughly the same stress on the same joints over and over again, thousands and hundreds of thousands of times. No wonder running is associated with knee injuries and not only. It’s the repepetitive stress the same way in roughly the same place that causes the problem.

  • Change the surface you run on. Running on different surfaces will also challenge your musculoskeletal, neuromuscular and cardiovascular systems in different ways
  • Change the route every once in a while
  • If you run on a track change the direction you run in
  • Run on grass or asphalt rather than concrete, where possible.
  • If you run on the side of the road, run on the other side as well, balance it out, especially if it’s a cambered road

I emphasize to my clients to “balance it out”. Everything you do on or with one side of the body, do it on or with the other side of the body as well.

Try brushing your teeth with your other hand from time to time, challenge your body and brain to do things differently.

 

7. Nerve flossing

Nerves form the communication network between your brain and the rest of your body. They send information from the body to the brain, and vice versa, about movement, digestion, pain, injuries, body position and so on. They play a big role in your posture and perception of pain.

This is proprioception – “sense of self” – which was developed by the nervous system to keep track of and control the different parts of the body.

Nerves can get sore and inflamed, just like muscles, and can affect movement. We cannot stretch the nerves as we would stretch muscles, but we can mobilise them. If there is anything bothering the nerve along the way, or the nerve gets stuck (as it can happen to the sciatic nerve which travels in and out of joints and muscles), “nerve flossing” or nerve mobilisation can help with that.

Of course it is always recommended to see a therapist or GP to ensure there isn’t a more serious case going on.

We can’t touch nerves as we touch muscles, to stretch and move them around. So we have to “floss” them instead. Nerve flossing means putting the nerve on tension and then move a structure of the body (i.e. the head) around, which moves the nerve in and out of the tensed position. It’s a sort of sliding or gliding motion that creates motion between the tissues.

Think about sliding the dental floss in between your teeth. If we compare the dental floss with the nerves and the teeth with the muscles, the difference is the dental floss (nerves) will be stationary, and the teeth (muscles) will move forward and back, essentially creating a similar movement.

However keep in mind that the nerve should never be held in a tensed position as it can damage it and the blood vessels supplying it. It is also important for the movements to be performed very slow. It’s better to perform the exercises slow and less of them, then fast and cause damage.

The two most important nerves for runners are the sciatic nerve and the femoral nerve (Source: Running Well by Sam Murphy and Sarah Connors). Both of them emerge from the vertebrae of the lower back.

I haven’t created any videos on nerve flossing myself but here are 2, one for the sciatic nerve and another for the femoral nerve, you can try:

 

Sciatic nerve flossing / mobilisation

Above the back of the knee the sciatic nerve divides into two nerves: the tibial and the peroneal nerves. The tibial nerve travels to the foot and innervates the heel and sole of foot. The peroneal nerve travels sideways along the outer part of the knee and into the upper foot. This is the connection with our knee discussion.

Femoral nerve flossing / mobilisation

The femoral nerve supplies the front of the thigh, quadriceps muscles. The quads assist with knee extension.  All quadriceps attach to the patella (knee cap). If you have a non-specific knee pain it’s worth considering the femoral nerve. As always when it comes to nerves it’s best to see a therapist or GP.

 

These exercises can also be incorporated as post running stretches if you don’t already have a stretch routine or want to build on the one you have. Try them out and see how it goes.

 

8. Running form

Foot strike

Pronounced heel strikers are more likely to develop patellofermoral pain syndrome, just like new runners are more likely to suffer tibial bone strains because they have not achieved the bone adaptations yet. (Runner’s Body)

Heel strikers seem to experience greater impact shock than even the knocked knee runners – those whose knees rotate inwards as discussed above.

 

Overstriding

Overstriding can also be a possible cause of knee pain.

There is some evidence that altering a runner’s form and strengthening certain muscles (i.e hip abductros and hip external rotator) may reduce the degree to which impact forces concentrate in particular areas, in our case the risk of patellofemoral pain syndrome PFPS or runner’s knee. (Runner’s Body)

If reducing the impact is a mean to reducing the risk of knee pain then shortening your stride and landing with the foot flat under your hips instead of in front of your body is worth the work.

Nicholas Romanov’s Pose Method of Running and Danny Dreyer’s Chi Running technique take the same approach, shorter strides, landing under the body.

Using your quad muscles will lead to overstriding, heel striking and knee pain. Instead use the hamstrings to lift the ankle on a straight line under your hip and have a slight lean in the body (from the ankle). Here’s a video on how to “pull” your leg up under the body.

 

9. Stride frequency or optimum pace

The faster we change support the less we interrupt the gravitational pull and the faster we run as well.

A faster stride will keep your stride length short and enable you to land under the body, instead of ahead of the body as discussed above.

Furthermore as you land under the body the only way you can land is flatfoot. You can also land on your toes, but keep in mind that your heels touch the ground ever so slightly, just “kisses” the ground.

The less we counteract with the gravity and the less time we spend on the ground, the less load we place on joints, ligaments and tendons which in turn reduces the changes of injuries. For those running high mileage this is crucial.

A high rate of stride frequency does not demand a huge muscular effort, on the contrary, you actually use less muscle. Of course at the beginning it will be difficult, any changes you make to anything will be difficult at the beginning until the body adapts.

To use less muscle we need to take advantage of the pull of gravity. Why work against gravity by pushing the whole body forward, when we can use gravity as free energy to PULL us forward. Being pulled by something is a lot easier than you pushing your body to move.

To take advantage of the pull of gravity we must understand how the lean works. It’s actually simple really:

  1. Stand facing a wall about 10 cm away
  2. Hold your body straight and look forward
  3. Hold hands in front of you to meet the wall
  4. Lean your WHOLE body from the ankle and catch yourself with your hand, letting your elbows bent as if you were doing a press-up against the all
  5. Push yourself back and repeat
  6. Then do the same on one leg only
  7. Then do the same but it a bent knee and bodyweight slightly distributed more on the ball of the foot (a little, as in 55% of your bodyweight, not too much)

Also have a look at this video.

Attention to:

  1. Your body alignment, do not stick your bum out behind or push your hips forward
  2. Avoid sinking your hips as you meet the wall, hold your abs tensed
  3. Don’t lift yourself on the heels. The heels come off the ground as a consequence of you leaning, you don’t lift your heel to push your body forward.
  4. Think about the leaning tower of Pisa – that’s how your lean should look like, at a smaller scale of course, we need to learn only a few millimetres to harness the power of gravity

 

The optimum pace or stride frequency is 180 steps per min (counting left and right) or around 90 steps counting only one side.

But hold one a second, won’t this be hard work? Yes, it will, going from 150 or less to 180 is quite a jump.

As a recreational runner the easiest way to do this is to get a stop watch or a metronome app and learn and practice the rhythm. Run with the metronome and count 1,2,3,4, 5,6,7,8 alongside the metronome. Develop a counting rhythm so that when you go for your regular runs you just count and don’t need to worry about turning the app on.

At times throughout your run pick two points (i.e. from where you are to a bench, a tree, the corner of the street etc) and run at 180 beats per minute to that point. Then run as you normally do. This is Fartlek training. Short bursts of faster runs. This will ensure a smooth and gradual transition to the new pace without burning yourself out.

For the more competitive runner, you can have a separate interval session. Run at 180 bpm for 30 sec or 1 min, or 5 min (depending on your fitness less and your current pace), then make the recovery run your regular pace. In time your body will learn the new pace as it gradually transition. Remember your goal is to get your body accustomed to the new pace. This will be your new comfort zone. So don’t make the intervals super difficult, it’s not that kind of running interval session.

 

10. RICE your injury

When you do get injured, injuries must be given the appropriate attention. Ensure you rest, ice it, compression (strap the joint) and elevate. Read this article on RICEing your injuries.

 

11. Anti gravity

Running in shallow and deep water as part of you running training reduces the impact on your joints.

Or better yet here is an antigravity treadmill

Have you had the opportunity to try an antigravity treadmill? ILeave a comment below and let us know how it is.

Of check out this underwater treadmill

These are all good ways to either recover from injuries or get a good workout without pounding the ground.

 

There you have it, how runners can manage their knee pain. There is much more I would have liked to cover here, but I hope it will give you a better idea of knee pain and injuries.

Keep in mind that I am not a therapist or medical professional, so take this article, and all article on running injuries, as general information. The author takes no responsibility for any injuries and damage occurred as a result of following the advice from their article and books.

Sources:

  1. Donna Finando and Steven Finando “Trigger Point Therapy”
  2. Sam Murphy and Sarah Connors “Running Well”
  3. Danny Dreyer with Catherine Dreyer “Chi Running”
  4. Nicholas Romanov “POSE Method Of Running”
  5. Nicholas Romanov with Kurt Brungardt “The Running Revolution”
  6. Ross Rucker and Jonathan Dugas, Runner’s World “The Runner’s Body”
  7. Danny Abshire “Natural Running”
  8. Kinetic Health
  9. The Basic Science of Human Knee Menisci by Alice J. S. Fox, MSc, Asheesh Bedi, MD, and Scott A. Rodeo

5 Running Books Every Runner Should Read

5-running-books-runners-should-read

Whether you are a recreational runner going for your regular 5k runs, in preparation for a marathon or ultra or obstacle course racing you should consider knowing a little bit more about the runner’s body, your runner’s body.

Understanding the basics of how your body works at a muscular, skeletal and cardiovascular levels will enable you not only to get more out of your training, but to understand why running injuries happen and what do to if they happen.

Of course a professional, such as a physiotherapist, can look at injuries better and in more detail, prescribing a suitable treatment. And you should check with a professional when you are injured. Nonetheless you should also have an idea of what’s going on.

Some running injuries happen because of repeated movements, if you understand what movements cause your injuries then you can eliminate or change them and, as a results, get rid of the injury and avoid it in the future.

Furthermore one way to reduce the impact on your joints and tension in your muscles is to uncover a form of running that does just that.

Below you have a list of, what I believe, are the top 5 books you should read if you are a runner, regardless of the distance you run. There are many great running books I’ve read but these are 5 of them that left an impression on me. Keep in mind that this list and the descriptions are subjective, you may find you will discover something else in these books, but it will give you an idea of which book to choose.

I also organised them in an order that, I believe, will transition you to the mechanics of running in a way that will make sense even if you know nothing about anatomy.

Once you start running consistently wear and tear takes place. If you can reduce that then you can run faster, for longer and with less risk of injuries. In short you will run smarter and more aware of your runner’s body, which is what we begin with:

1. The Runner’s Body by Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas

This book takes you through everything that happens in the runner’s body. From how muscles work and fire, to the skeletal system and common running injuries, to the cardiovascular system, metabolic system – where they talk about nutrition and hydration, how the nervous system works and the runner’s immune system.

I find this book very detailed and educational. But you needn’t worry if you  don’t know much about mechanics and anatomy. They explain everything in easy to understand terms. Just read through it and you will catch the information that is most valuable to you at that particular time.

Click on the image below to check out The Runner’s Body by Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas on Amazon:

2. Running With The Whole Body by Jack Heggie

This book introduces us to the Feldenkrais Method applied to running. It’s a very, very interesting and important book in my opinion. It’s a short book but each chapter has a series of detailed exercises meant to “reset” your nervous system.

In short through these exercises you re-wire or re-educate your body’s movement to be more efficient not only when running but also when walking and moving in general.

The big picture I took from the book is the connection between the upper and lower body through the hip. Understanding how the hips works with the shoulders to get you to run lighter but also faster and reduce aches and pain will be an eye opener for you as it is for every one of my clients.

The reason this book is on the 2nd place is because running is a whole body movement, and, unless you understand that – understand it not only mentally but also physically, in your body – you cannot develop an efficient running form, in my humble opinion. So check out Running With The Whole Body by Jack Heggie clicking on the picture below.

3. Natural Running by Danny Abshire

Natural Running by Danny Abshire introduces us to the three gates: walking gate, running gate and sprinting gate. But also how to examine your own running form, educating the reader on on foot imbalances and the evolution of the running shoe as well as how to choose your running shoes.

What sets the Natural Running book apart from the others is the explanation on foot biomechanics and the three gates. I also liked the way Danny Abshire approaches the more common overuse running injuries.

Then he goes on to detail the physics of running and whole body kinematics.

You will also find a chapter on exercises to help you develop the natural running technique and an 8-week transition plan.

This is also a good book if you want to learn how to transition to barefoot running or minimalist running (with “barefoot shoes”)

All in all a great book to introduce you to the world of running mechanics. Check out Natural Running by Danny Abshire by clicking the picture below.

4. POSE Method of Running by Nicholas Romanov

POSE Method takes you through a step by step technical approach to more efficient running mechanics.

It describes exactly how to place your feet on the ground, what your legs should do afterwards, how to hold your trunk and much more. There are plenty of exercises to help you develop this particular running technique.

Although it emphasizes the mechanics of running it also dedicates a few pages to the  “thinking, seeing and feeling” process, basically the internal aspect of running.

It also takes the reader through the most common running injuries, why they happen, from a POSE Method perspective, and how to adjust your running technique to reduce the risk of it happening again or in the first place.

This technique will also enable you to run barefoot or run minimalist.

There are several elements of the POSE Method we incorporate in our own running mechanics here at the Merisoiu Technique Institute. Check out the POSE Method of Running by Nicholas Romanov below:

5. Chi Running by Danny Dreyer

Chi Running has its roots in the art of T’ai Chi, “based on the centuries-old principle from T’ai Chi that ‘less is more’ “.

The focus here is on breathing and relaxation in general, as it is in T’ai Chi, going “limp”, opening the stride behind you and letting your body flow.

It emphasises the idea of listening to your body and on patience and consistent practice.

It also talks more about the upper body movement. So take book #2 and put it next to Chi Running and you will develop a very efficient upper body movement which will help you on your toughest runs, including hill running.

Chi Running method  will “give you a physical understanding of how to put it all together in a unified movement”. Check out Chi Running by Danny Dreyer clicking the link below:

 

Hope you will take the time to read a few, if not all of these books. I assure you it’s time well spent. These books don’t only teach you about running but about movement, and movement is what you do every single day.

By the way the amazon links are affiliate links. 

Running Technique – Body Position For Optimum Performance

Running Technique-Body-Position-For Optimum-Performance

When it comes to runners who clock miles and miles every week on a regular basis attention and care needs to be directed to how they run  so they don’t get put off training for stress fractures, ankle sprains, knee injuries, shin splints, Achilles problems, back pain, or anything else we runners face. Of course nothing is guaranteed, but the more you look at how you run the less injuries and time of training you will have to ensure.

I have the habit of giving you a lot, a lot of information, and very detailed. I do this because I hope you will take 20% of what you read. Sometimes even that 20% is better than nothing.

That being said let’s talk about how you position your body to enable you to glide over the terrain, rather than stomping. And we begin with…:

A. ALIGN

This is a good exercise to practice before you go for a run. It’s connects you to your own body. With practice you will gradually bring it into your run.

A good alignment means you are “stacking” the body in the correct position, and, if you manage to maintain that your run will feel amazing. Trust me, it will. When it clicks, it clicks.

The pressure on your joints will be at angles that don’t cause so much damage. Of course, it’s impossible to keep your body stiff in one position, but try as often as you remember to align and re-align. Also, remember, good alignment means a relaxed body, if you tense up you can do more harm. So relax and go through the exercise below.

  1. Stand with feet hip width apart
  2. Toes pointing forward
  3. Distribute your weight evenly on the left and right foot
  4. Distribute your weight evenly on the front (ball of food) and back (heel) of each foot left – keep the left/right weight distribution while doing so
  5. Soften your knees; don’t bend them too much, just lock them and then relax, you are not doing a squat
  6. Lightly tuck in your tailbone (this will also allow the knees to soften) so that, if your pelvis was a bucket of water, you wouldn’t spill water in any direction; your abdominal muscles should tense slightly and your lumbar spine should flatten slightly. These are signs you are probably in a good position. It should feel comfortable
  7. Your hip should be in line with the back of your knee cap, and in line with your ankles, roughtly
  8. Relax your shoulders and align them with your hips which is aligned with your ankles
  9. Chin parallel to the ground
  10. Head slightly pushed back until you feel the back of your neck lengthening, releasing tension and the natural curve flattening slightly
  11. Ears aligned with the shoulders

You can maintain this alignment at any angle. If you lean your body from your ankles everything is still aligned. If you lie on the floor your body is still in the same alignment. But if you stick your bum out, pull your head back or turn your toes out that’s when, in time, things start to go wrong and injuries begin to show up.

 

 

B. ELONGATE

This is a simple imagination exercise, or visualization if you wish.

Holding the body in alignment as above, imagine a piece of string tied to the crown of your head and to the ceiling, a branch or the sky above you.

Imagine how this piece of string elongates your body towards the sky. Keeping its shape and alignment though

You can begin to elongate the ankles, the shins, up into the knees, through the thighs, to the hips.

Then elongate your trunk and ribs. You shouldn’t lean back, push your chest out, pull your shoulder blades together or do anything else. Just imagine. There’s no point lengthening the front of your body while tension and shortening the back by pulling your shoulders back.

Then relax your shoulders, keep the alignment, elongate your neck and head – take care not to tilt your head back here.

Then imagine the piece of string and your vertebrae like beads on a string. Allow each vertebra to pop up, away from the one below it, and then lightly stack up on top of each other. Go from the tailbone/coccyx all the way to the neck/cervical spine and up through the crown of your head towards the sky.

You can practice this as a stand alone meditation. It will help improve your posture as well as slowly making its way into your running posture and to a better performance.

 

C. LEAN

After you practice a good alignment while standing and in movement and elongate the body, the next step is to practice a slight lean. The lean should be from the ankles, as described in the POSE Method of Running, and, on a flat ground it’s a matter of millimeters.

Remember, the key is: lean should be from the ankles, not bending from the hips. You can work this out in front of a mirror.

One of the greatest mistakes I see is bending from the hips. This is very very common, so take care, especially when you run uphill. You can easily end up with low back pain and not even make it up that hill.

Some argue the lean is not the way to go. I argue it is for at least 3 reasons:

  1. For your feet to land under the hip, in alignment with the rest of the body, the hip should be slightly ahead…..which is achieved through that slight lean.
  2. Pushing off and active landing are actually very very strenous. When you land under the body, and you do this by leaning from the ankles, you can pick up the feet and control the landing.
  3. Free energy! That’s gravity. It’s so much easier to “fall” forward than to push your body forward over and over again. Let gravity take over! It saves a lot of energy and you end up running faster, as you pick up you feet faster, as a result of landing under the body and not ahead, as a result of that slight lean.

I found this exercise in Chi Running by Danny Dreyer, which is really easy to practice.

  1. Stand in front of a table, about hip height, about 2 feet away (you will adjust after)
  2. Align your body, like a column
  3. Elongate your body
  4. Lightly tens your abdominal muscles
  5. Now lean from the ankles until you can rest your hip, or pelvis, on the side of the table
  6. Keep the column straight though, even at an angle
  7. Hold the position

You will notice how much your abdominal muscles contribute to this position, as it should when you run. This lean is a lot more than what you normally need, but if you exaggerate the lean when you practice you will do it just right when you’re out there running.

Here is a video talking about the lean as well.

That’s it for today. I wanted to write a short article but it ended up a pretty long one. Just take one exercise at a time. Print this page if you wish and practice each exercise for 1 week. You will transform your running.

Need help? I have a few ways to help you with this. One is a 4 weeks course where you go through ALL the running elements. This course can also be done in 2 weeks. Or, if you aren’t close by, I do have a series of coaching videos you can learn from, a running academy. Another option is online coaching. So there are solutions. Thus give a shout if you need help with this. If not, I’m looking forward to hearing how you implemented these exercises and how they worked out for you.

Running Technique – What Not To Do With Your Head When Running

running-technique-what-not-do-with-head

Your head weighs about 4 kg, give or take, with all the accessories (i.e. eyes, ears etc). So bobbing the head around is not a great idea for most people (Paula Radcliffe is a different story, it works for some people).

The point is that what you do with your head sends ripples down the body, all the way to the feet. This means the rest of the body has to adapt to what your head it doing. It’s a chain reaction.

Think about it this way, when you balance on a balance beam, if your head stays over your feet you are balanced. When you head goes left your whole body follows, you lost balance. If you manage to get your head back over your feet you might have a chance of re-gaining your balance.

But it’s more than that, it’s not about that kind of balance, that’s only an example, when you run your body has a different state of balance. When you run you “jump” from one foot to the other, you are on one foot at a time. Your muscles, joints, ligaments all have to activate and do their job to keep everything in one piece and going forwards. There are many elements of movement you have unaware of. And your head it an important part of this chain.

Bottom line, the idea is that your head should be nicely balanced at the top of your spine, with your neck relatively straight, don’t tilt your head backwards or forwards, left or right. Just straight.

Yeah but you need to look ahead!! You might think you need to lift your head to look forward or tilt it forwards (chin to chest) to look down. Actually the eyes are independent of the head, they can look up, forward and down without the help of the head. To a certain angle of course, after that head needs to move as well.

Most runners tilt their head backwards, so they can look ahead I suppose (I used to be one of them until recently), putting strain on the back of the neck and cervical vertebrae. Since this is a chain reaction, the tension and strain goes down through the body, ripple effect. While running there is a lot of vibration going through the body, neck and spine as it is, you don’t want your 4 kg pounding on top of your spine, do you?

That being said your head with never stay put, it has to have some movement of course. It’s a balancing act in fact. If you try to stop it you will only tense and strain your neck even more than if you don’t.

Try this when you walk to begin with:

  • keep chin parallel to the ground
  • back of neck straight
  • look forwards – eyes are independent of your head!

Actually, when you get the hang of it, having a straight neck releases that tension at the back of the neck, tension you are probably not aware of….until you straighten your neck. I know I do run faster and easier when I straighten my neck, it’s an instant shift, but you can’t tell you are tensed until you relax.

SUMMARY

DON’T

  1. Tilt head back
  2. Tilt head forward (chin in chest)
  3. Tilt head to the side
  4. Bob your head

DO

  1. Keep chin parallel to the ground
  2. Keep back of neck straight (there will be a natural curve in the spine of course)
  3. Use eyes independent of the head when possible (probably not on tough trail terrain, make sure you see where you step)
  4. Allow for the natural head movement

If you want to run lighter, faster and stronger get your head in the right place. And if you have any questions just leave a comment below.

In the meantime, keep developing your running skills.

Running Is NOT Only About The Legs

Running-Is-NOT-Only-About-The-Legs

Running is not just a leg movement, it’s a whole body movement and a skill to develop and improve continuously.

Take for example the simple movement of arms and legs. Here are a couple of exercises for you to test the connection between your upper and lower body.

Exercise 1

Walk as you normally would over a 50-100m distance if you can.

Now walk exaggerating the movement of your arms and shoulders only, again 50-100m. Everything else moves normally. What are your legs and hips doing? How do you feel? Are you in control of your movement?

Now walk exaggerating the movement of your legs and hips only. What are your arms and shoulders doing? How do you feel? Are you in total control of your body?

Now walk exaggerating the movement of your arms shoulders as well as your legs and hips. Walk faster, then slower, then faster and notice how your feet are moving and are positioned with each step, notice the level of control you may or may not have and your overall coordination.

Now hold your arms tied to your body and your hands to your thighs. As you walk move your shoulder and whole arm forward. But remember the arms and hands are tied to the legs, so the whole side of the body moves forward, each side at a time

How do you feel? Do you feel your body is moving efficiently? I’m not looking for a specific answer, although you can guess that should happen. I’m interested in your becoming aware of what’s happening to and with your body.

 

Exercise 2

Here’s another example: walk with your arms behind your back.

You will probably notice that your shoulders still want, and struggle to move your arms but the arms aren’t going anywhere. It’s a struggle, you have to put in more energy than usual. If you continue walking like this at your normal walking speed you’d feel tired, more than you’d normally feel.

Notice how much effort the legs have to make to move you forward, how your core muscles do extra work trying, in vain, to move your arms.

Now release your hands and arms and walk normal. How easy is that. It’s just right, natural.

 

Do the 2 exercises above while running as well, you will see a massive difference between when using your arms and shoulders and when you don’t. Replace “walk” with “run” in the instructions.

 

Your body moves the way it moves because it was designed to move like this, this is the most efficient way to move, with the whole body as Jack Heggie says in his book Running With The Whole Body.

Yet many runners hold their arms tight to the sides. You don’t have to strain your arms and shoulders but they do have to move in co-ordination with your legs and hips.

When you move in co-ordination there is a spiralling motion in your spine. Certain muscles contract  storing energy, while opposite muscles stretch and energy is released. You run faster, easier, and, most importantly, you reduce the risk of injuries because your body will begin to move like a well oiled machine, rather than pushing, pulling, struggling and straining.

However that doesn’t mean you have to move your upper body excessively. It’s enough to release tension in your shoulders and allow the arms to move like pendulums back and forth from your shoulders, as if you are hitting someone behind you.

Keep your body moving the correct way, keep your joints as healthy and strong as you can and run for as long as you want.

Explore and develop an effortless and injury-free running style in our fast-track 4 weeks course 1-2-1. You will have videos and material after the course to help you continue to develop your running style. Want to know more? Just contact us here.

Pick Up Your Feet And Run Faster

Have you ever thought about what your feet and legs are doing when you run or even walk? Do you lift your feet off the ground, bending your legs at the knee or do you just drag them just above the ground, shuffling, one after the other?

If you have noticed your running form then you have already changed the way you run. If you haven’t now it’s the time to do so.

Watch the video below for a more detailed explanation, but in summary the reasons you should pick up your feet instead of dragging or shuffling:

Reason #1: You will run faster

Your legs are like pendulums. And like any pendulum, a long pendulum will move slower, a shorter one will move faster.

 

Reason #2: You will run more relaxed, lighter on your feet

If you pick your feet without lifting and leading with the knees you will not use the quads as much, thus you run more relaxed and with less effort. The work is done by your hamstrings and only at the start of the lift, after that your hamstrings should relax.

 

Reason #3: Reduce the risk of injuries

First of all if you drag your feet chances are you will trip or slip at some point. Pick up your feet and you reduce those chances, a lot.

Second if you drag your feet chances are you are landing in ahead of your body (instead of underneath), actively landing (driving your feet forward), heel striking and landing with a stiff leg or ankle. All this, in time, may lead to shin splints, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis and then knee pain and back pain. It’s a chain reaction in fact.

So stop shuffling your legs, dragging them behind you and pick them up and bend your knee.

Remember running is a skill of movement, and art. As with anything you want to create, it will be difficult and uncomfortable at the beginning but once you get the hang of it you won’t run anymore, you will glide.

Check out the video below with this particular technical element and also this article Running Technique – Elements Of Effortless Running – Lower Body:

Running Technique – Elements Of Effortless Running – Lower Body

elements of effortless running-blog

Any books you read on running technique which has the potential to reduce the risk of injuries have a few common elements. Each technique or style of running (i.e. Chi Running, Pose Method, Natural Running) has its own particular elements that sets it aside from the others, however they all state that to run with less effort and fewer injuries a runner should:

 

1. Land with the foot underneath the body 

That means DO NOT land ahead of your body because you overstride, break your momentum and increase impact. When you overstride you also have to power up by re-engaging the back muscle chains to start a new stride. More effort, more muscle tension, more impact, higher risk of running injuries.

If you can see your feet when you run (by looking down with your eyes and head, not by bending your whole body) it’s a sign you are probably overstriding, landing heavily in front of your body.

Bouncing up and down too much can be another sign. Usually, if you land under your General Centre of Mass you won’t bounce, you will move smoothly, almost like gliding.

This will also help reduce the rotational forces in the joints which lead to overuse injuries in the ankles, knees, hips, spine.

 

2. Lean the body from the ankles

This is an up-right, slightly forward leaning from the ankles, correctly aligned posture. Let gravity do the work instead of using your muscle strength.

 

3. Strike the ground with a midfoot strike

Another common element is the midfoot strike. If you land under your general centre of mass and use gravity to move forward there is no way you will do a heel strike. You will automatically go into a midfoot-forefoot strike.

That being said make sure you don’t run on your toes. You land on the balls of your feet and then allow the heels to touch the ground slightly. That’s it.

If, when you run, you listen closely you can tell whether you land with the ball of the foot. You will hear a “tap” and then you will feel the heel touching the ground. If you hear a “punding” that’s heavy landing and probably heel striking.

If you think about it pretty much all sports require a midfoot or forefoot body weight distribution: dancing, skiing, martial arts free sparring, even tennis. Look at the footwork in this tennis match, just the first 10 seconds.

 

4. Pick up the feet

Your feet are like pendulums. A long pendulum will move slower, a shorter one will move faster. So stop shuffling your legs, dragging them behind you, instead pick them up and bend your knee. 

5. Aim for optimum cadence 

Running cadence is measured by the number of strides per minute that each leg takes. The optimum running cadence is considered to be 85 to 90 strides per minute. 

If you do all of the above then you can maintain the optimum cadence.

However you have to build up gradually to this cadence if it’s not your normal. Then you keep that cadence all the time and use the lean and picking up your feet to move faster. In Chi Running you also increase the strides to increase speed. But you move faster because you lean more and relax your legs more not because you are using muscle power. You should not put effort to increase your strides, it will happen as you lean more. But first master the lean.

Running After Knee Injury – Testimonial Client Experience

Mariepaule had a really bad knee injury. She did the therapies recommended and got the OK. Then she came to work with Alexandra.

Through consistent running technique and natural movement practice, coaching and practicing by herself, Mariepaule recovered nicely and managed a 2 day walk, 2nd day combined with running.

 

This is what we look at on the Running Technique Workshop. Of course, changing the way you move and use your body takes time, but on the workshop you will leave with a few concepts that, if used, can make a huge difference.

While same results cannot be guaranteed, with practice, natural running technique will help you run faster, further, with less effort and fewer injuries.

Book your spot for the next workshop in East London, Canada Water.