Why do our joints hurt? Why do the knees ache? Why do I get shin splints? Why another calf pull? Let’s start from the top – upper body strength, and then work down to the bottom– the running shoes.
To begin with gaining upper body strength is a must for brisk walkers and runners. If we specifically train to strengthen both arms and shoulders plus have a strong core we can keep the upright posture, eliminating much impact. I am reminded of watching a top athlete teenager who after doing several quarter mile repeats began bending slightly forward as he reached his last few. This individual previously was complaining of back and hamstring problems which led me to do a gait analysis of his form. Sure enough, his core was weak. The gradual bending was creating a steady flow of impact on his knees and the flexed posture resulted in a gradual overuse and fatigue of the back muscles. Yes, even the “elite” athletes have gait and form issues due to upper body weakness. Physical pain and discomfort in the lower back and hamstrings due to a weak core will be revealed as we practice faster running and/or long distance walking.
Let’s stay with the subject of the weak upper body and point out another common running form. This is an easy one to notice – that of the “plodder”. They run with great thoughts and seem to study the ground as if there may be gold pieces along the way. That continual hunching puts so much weight on the forefoot, knees, and shins. If the plodder goes to fast the calf muscles and possibly the achilles tendon can be pulled while forces are working up toward the glute and the lower back.
Recommendation: work up to daily 1 minute planks, 3 sets of 1 minute upward weighted arm lunges, and 3 sets of 1 minute oblique twists. Let’s distribute your weight more equally around your body.
It is now time to visit the mid-point of the body. Observe the “swinger”; the person who swings arms left and right yet moves forward. Much of their energy goes outward to the left and right, vs. forward. This prevents inefficiency of movement and can also add unnecessary resistance to both left and right hips. The iliotibial band once again can tighten with significant forces down to the outside of the knee resulting in knee pain.
Recommendation: begin with forward weighted arm lunges each day for about 2-3 minutes with rest breaks in between. Forward arm lunges towards the solar plexus of another individual give more specificity for both walkers and runners if the elbow goes all the way back such that a “sling shot” movement across the waist is accomplished. I put a large safety pin of each side of the waistline which the participant must rub against each time they do a forward arm lunge. Once the movement is biomechanically repeated enough, the individual can see their hands again as they move forward. Still not sure? Put a ping pong ball in each hand and make sure you “keep your eye on the ball” as it moves back and forth. Another benefit of this weighted forward lunge exercise is that the arms and oblique abdominals begin to strengthen which helps the forward movement become more efficient and easy; especially as the legs get tired.
What about the runner who is a “feet fanner”? This is easily seen by observing one or both feet projecting outward as forward movement occurs. Generally it is one leg which makes its radical steady outward journey.
Recommendation: This participant should work on strengthening their hips to make sure they get stronger on the weak “fan out side”. Travel down forward from the hips to the upper quad; strengthen it so the weak quad equals the strength of the stronger one. A tape measure test will reveal the weak leg. Many times there is actual muscle mass differential of ¼ to an inch on the weak quad and hamstring than the strong leg. It is now time for quad lifts together with hamstring curls. Then work on the actual step forward movement with weighted ankles. As in the case of the arms, do the same forward yet lifting kick outs with 1.5-2.5 ankle weights. Have the leg come up 7” to 11” so it becomes specific to the walk to run movement. Begin for 1.5 min. of lifting the weak leg up then kick out –hold for 5 seconds, put down on the ground, and 1 min. for the strong leg. Lastly, check that your running shoes are not too light; meaning they have stability from the heel to the mid-foot. This will help stabilize the foot into landing in line with your body vs. being so light it is able to flare out. In a sense, the heavier stability shoe keeps the integrity of a good solid forward foot strike.
Lastly, can running shoes make a difference for those of us whose feet pronate or fan out a bit, supinate or go inward? Absolutely. Visualize running barefoot or on super light track shoes. This allows the leg freedom to move wherever and the foot to land accordingly; sometimes not in sync with the individual’s body mechanics which allow them to run with balanced form. Frequently walkers and runners will add orthotics so modification can be made to alter their landing strike just a bit which allows for more stability and efficiency of foot strike. Many shoes have built in “stability” bars and cushion, and are a bit heavier which helps the participant land more evenly as their body impacts the ground. Without an even or near even foot strike, injuries will occur especially doing longer distance walking and/or running.
In closing it is hoped you can identify your altercation, if any, with your walking or running form after reviewing the most commonly mentioned forms. Have a certified running coach, trained running store operator, or physical therapist do a gait analysis. A professional in the field of movement can reveal more objectively and scientifically your gait. Most of the time even those with “perfect form” can find themselves in one of the above categories as leg weariness occurs. Lastly, when we become aware of our form or lack of it, we can make those changes which will prevent future injuries occurring so we can take many more steps throughout our lifetime.
Lynn Gray, M.S., RRCA certified Coach, owner of Take…The First Step, www.FirstStepPrograms
15100 Hutchison Road, Suite 109 – Tampa, FL 33625
Lgray88@ yahoo.com – 813-453-7885
Core and More for Forty and More…My First 5K…Half to Whole Marathon Program
Author of: Conquering the Marathon, Fit and Faster, Cardio Walking for Weight Loss
Dr. Willem Stegeman, Pt. DPT. MTC. CEAS
Optimal Performance and Physical Therapies
813-418-7350 - http://www.theoppt.com