By: Dr. Scott Simpson, Physiotherapist
Forward we go!
“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths” Walt Disney
Running is a simple sport, but it’s clearly not easy- this is what makes it such a great challenge. I’m a strong believer in doing preventative independent exercises as a means building a strong foundation. They are free, relatively easy and specific to the task of running. In my opinion this is the best way to fine tune your body for success. Lets break these foundations down a little- so we can build them up!
Firstly, we want to harness as much of our energy as possible in the forward direction. Energy that is spent on vertical, lateral or torsional movement slows us down and makes us more susceptible to injury.
With this in mind, we all have unique running styles, but when running, we want to move forward efficiently. Secondly, we want to ensure that all of the joints in the body have adequate range of motion, strength and stability. Most injuries that occur while running are repetitive strains and do not typically happen in isolation. In other words we can’t simply treat an injury, to a knee for example, we have to treat the individual’s movement pattern, because it might well be that something happening through the foot or hip, the knee problem.
Let me give you an example. How about I ask you to stand on one foot. Now close your eyes to take away all those visual cues. My guess is that you will feel vertical, lateral and torsional movement through your foot and ankle. This exercise would be considered a stability exercise. Since we know that these forces predispose us to injury, and that these stresses are magnified when we run, this is a very good exercise to practice. In fact, studies have shown that practicing standing on one foot with your eyes closed can help prevent ankle sprains. It all happens because there is that split second when your foot hits the ground and either you roll your ankle, or you catch it. By doing these exercises you train your body to reflexively know where your foot is relative to the ground, and thus stand a better chance of preventing the ankle sprain.
Now lets move further up the chain and visualise the knee. Anatomically, the knee is classified as a hinge joint. In other words, we are only supposed to bend it in one plane of movement- in fact we have a slew of structures that prevent it from moving in any other direction. If these structures have to work too hard they get upset. Essentially, we want our knee to track over our second toe providing movement exclusively in a forward direction. Torsion and lateral movement are the knees biggest enemies, and can lead to problems like runners knee, patellar tendonitis or IT band syndrome. So here is a good strengthening exercise to reinforce this movement pattern. Stand on one leg and try to bend your knee over your second toe. It’s not as easy as it sounds! You will feel those force enemies in action. A lot of you will feel your knee twist inwards towards your midline- this typically demonstrates a lack of strength in both the thigh and hip musculature, making us more susceptible to the aforementionned problems.
My third example would be to consider the effects of too much range of motion. For this one we will look at our mid section. I’m quite sure you will agree with me that when we run we move our lower extremity and opposite upper extremity in unison.It’s called the reciprocal gait pattern. With this in mind, we have a counterbalance system with the mid section being the zone where forces are transferred. If we have excessive movement through our upper extremity there will be an equal yet opposite force through your lower extremity. Try this, stand with your arms at your side, elbows out. Try an exaggerated wide arm swing. How does it feel on your back, hips, knees, ankles, even your feet? This is excessive motion that can lead to injury. Now try this – keep your elbows tight to your body and have your thumbs up. Move your forearms on forward plane. How does this feel on all those areas I mentioned before? Big difference eh. What’s one of the biggest causes of back pain? Twisting or torsion. It’s a lot better to prevent back pain through proper exercise, becoming self sufficient, rather than becoming dependent on treatment.
So to sum all of this up- we always want to think about the direction of movement. I’ve never been in a race that is measured in a vertical distance, or sideways, or twisting for that matter. You want to harness as much of your energy as possible in a forward direction. Above I have emphasized exercises that promote proper stability, strength and range of motion. Of course, considering we all have different running styles, there are many other specific complementary exercises that can be performed for specific weaknesses. If you can master these concepts however, you will be much less likely to get injured and you will also be able to move more quickly in the right direction.
Henry Ford once said “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself”
Enjoy finding your path to success!