Proper running techniques
Last fall, we posted an entry about how to avoid running injuries, focusing on how your exercise routine can help you stay healthy. Now that temps are warming up and more people are lacing up, it’s time to pay attention to how you run. Here are a few things to look at:
form | foot fall | stride | shoes
hydration | training regimen
warm-up and cool-down
“Poor posture while running can affect running efficiency, as well as breathing efficiency. Stand up tall with a big chest and your shoulders back,” says Jeff Rothstein, an exercise physiologist and Director of Sports Enhancement at the PT Center for Sports Medicine, a Physiquality network clinic in Akron, Ohio. Poor posture may also be a cause of side stitches, cramp-like spasms that will bring your run to a close quickly.
You should also make sure that your knees stay in line with your hips and ankles (rather than collapsing in), and that your running pattern is symmetrical, that is, that you’re not landing harder on one side than the other. Both mistakes can lead to pain and injury.
Chris Nawrocki, a physical therapist and COO at The Center for Physical Rehabilitation, a Physiquality network clinic with four locations throughout Grand Rapids, Michigan, notes that landing heavy on the heel, far from the center of mass, is believed to be a potential cause of injury. A recent study published by the Skeletal Biology Laboratory at Harvard found that those runners that land on their heels while running were much more likely to suffer injury than those who land on the forefoot, or the ball of the foot.
Does this mean that you should change your foot fall? Not necessarily. Dr. Daniel Lieberman at Harvard’s SBL says that if you haven’t had any injuries, then it’s probably not necessary — “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” But if you are a heel-striker and have had several injuries, you may want to consider trying to run as a forefoot-striker, to see if you have fewer injuries. Just be careful and adapt slowly; changing your gait is not easy. You may want to consult with a physical therapist to help you adapt your strike in order to prevent injury.
According to Chris, “The farther away from the body that we contact the ground, the higher the initial impact forces are on the joints.” A longer stride may improve your time, but it may also increase your chance of injury. A runner can reduce this impact by landing closer to her center of mass and increasing her cadence through quicker turnover and shorter steps.
While several studies have shown that expensive shoes aren’t necessarily the best, our PTs agreed that the proper amount of cushion and support are essential to avoid injury. Try to find a store that caters to runners for a proper fit. You need to make sure that your running shoes are snug at the heel, but not across the arch. They should also be larger than your everyday shoes.
Peter Kluba, a physical therapist and the owner of Global Physical Therapy, a Physiquality network member with 2 locations in Michigan, reminds us that all runners need an adequate amount of nutrition and fluids to assure proper hydration during running activities.
If you’re running on a particularly hot day, you might want to consider drinking a slushie before your run; a recent study showed that drinking a slushie before intense exercise helped runners go longer than after drinking cold water. For more tips on how to exercise safely in extreme temps, take a look at our entry from last spring.
Chris reminds new runners that doing too much, too fast can lead to aches and pains that would discourage them from running. And many who train for marathons never make it to the actual race, due to overtraining and pushing their bodies too hard. Chris’s general rule of thumb is increasing your mileage by no more than 10-15% each week.
Marsha Berger Grant, a physical therapist and a managing director for Apex Physical Therapy, a Physiquality network clinic with locations throughout Pennsylvania, also cautions every runner to listen to his or her body. Pain is your body’s way of saying “take a break.” And if you take that break for 1-2 weeks and you still have pain, it’s time to see a physical therapist.
- Your warm-up and cool-down.
Before and after your run, Jeff recommends stretching, stretching and more stretching. He says that as a strength coach, “The vast majority of runners I see have terrible flexibility in their hamstrings and in the muscles surrounding the hips. This can lead to a less efficient gait and make the athlete more prone to fatigue and subsequent injury.” He advocates focusing on the hamstring, glutes, groin, IT band and hip flexors.
Check out the video library for Excel Physical Therapy for more stretching ideas; you’ll find an entire section for runners at the bottom right.
And, as a reminder, Physiquality also has partnered with several companies that offer products beneficial to runners:
- Archmolds insoles offer additional arch support customized for your foot. The heat-shaped inserts can even be shaped inside your favorite running shoes, and since the insoles can be replaced more cheaply than your shoes, will help you go longer before replacing your kicks.
- Use the Indo Board to develop balance, coordination and increased leg strength while enhancing your core fitness. Keeping the board from touching the ground for extended rides is both the goal and the challenge.
- Many of Medi-Dyne‘s products can be used to help runners stretch and strengthen, but one in particular stands out. The ProStretch Plus is designed to stretch the calves, feet, heels and toes. Stretching these muscles results in improved flexibility and range of motion, helping to avoid plantar fasciitis and pain.
- Polar heart monitors are for athletes ranging from the beginner to the elite. Whether you’re trying to be more active, increasing your fitness and distances, or maximizing your training for a marathon, Polar has the right heart monitor for you to reach your running goals.
- Massage tools from Pressure Positive are a great way to reduce aches and pains after long runs. The Tiger Tail Rolling Muscle Massager allows for easier self-massage of such leg muscles/tissue as the calves, IT band and glutes, while the Original Backnobber II® allows you to work on the otherwise unreachable trigger points in your back.
Marsha Berger Grant, PT, DPT, OCS, is a physical therapist and the managing director of the Chalfont location for Apex Physical Therapy, a Physiquality network member with locations throughout Pennsylvania. A certified orthopedic specialist, Marsha is an avid runner.
Peter (Piotr) Kluba, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist and the owner of Global Physical Therapy, a Physiquality network member with 2 clinics in Michigan.
Chris Nawrocki, PT, MS, MDT, OCS, is a physical therapist and COO at The Center for Physical Rehabilitation, a Physiquality network member with four locations throughout Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Jeff Rothstein, MS, CSCS, is an exercise physiologist and Director of Sports Enhancement at the PT Center for Sports Medicine, a Physiquality network clinic, in Akron, Ohio.
For further reading, look through our selection of articles on running and marathons, in addition to the below links:
Reynolds, Gretchen. Does foot form explain running injuries? New York Times, February 8, 2012.
Preventing running injuries. Physiquality, November 1, 2011.
Reynolds, Gretchen. Are we built to run barefoot? New York Times, June 8, 2011.
Chan, Amanda. 5 running mistakes you didn’t know you make. MSNBC, March 14, 2011.
O’Connor, Anahad. The claim: Side stitches? Change your posture. New York Times, February 28, 2011.
Alderman, Leslie. For running shoes, it’s fit first and price last. New York Times, October 22, 2010.
Helliker, Kevin. Why trainers say, “Slow down.” Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2010.
Kolata, Gina. To beat the heat, drink a slushie first. New York Times, April 26, 2010.
Erickson, Jeff. Overuse injuries in runners. Pressure Positive, July 28, 2009.
Branley, Alison. Don’t do it; pricey running shoes not worth it, study says. Sydney Morning Herald, March 12, 2009.
Excel Physical Therapy. Excel video library.
Note: Excel PT has an extensive section on exercises for runners at the bottom right.
Ten tips on avoiding running injuries. (PDF)