Running Science: The Bio-mechanics of Efficient, Injury Free Running
By CEO Robert Forster, PTBecoming the efficient running machine that evolution has intended requires a sound strength & flexibility program and a basic understanding of a few simple laws of physics as they relate to the movement of our extremities. Improper running technique often results in injury and always results in an inefficient use of energy stores which is one major reason people “hit the wall” and wind up walking the last several miles of the marathon! Running Mechanics are governed by some simple laws of physics. Human locomotion is a cyclic repetition of extremity movement performed to transport the body from one place to the other with the least amount of energy expenditure. Evolutionary changes in human anatomy occurring 2 million years ago allowed humans to run long distances in search of food. These changes in body type from ape-like tree dwelling creatures to the way we look today, provided for an efficiency of movement that improved our chances of survival. The arms evolved to be shorter and balance the cyclic movement of the legs better. The larger muscles of the leg migrated upward toward the hip to allow a lighter lower leg to swing through the air with greater ease and less wind resistance. The feet became bigger and provided more surface area of the sole to absorb the shock of the body crashing down on the earth and the lumbar vertebrae became larger to withstand the greater forces generated by a more upright posture. It is now clear that the ability to travel long distances economically in competition for food is the key trait that forever separated humans from our predecessors and destined us to succeed like no other species to dominate the planet. We were born to run and have many anatomical features and specializations that permit us to run well. However our sedentary lifestyle has robbed our bodies of the strength and flexibility necessary to exploit these built in efficiencies. It takes specific training to regain our potential for efficient and economical long distance running. ABC’s of Running Mechanics: You will reach your highest genetic potential as a runner only by training your body to be able to attain the proper bio-mechanics. This requires an effective stretching and strengthening program to reestablish proper mechanics and harvest all the built in energy savings therein. It is never too late to improve mechanics and your economy of motion. At Phase IV we focus on these three aspects of bio- mechanics and create a personalized program of strength and flexibility and running technique drills that work together to create smooth and efficient running.
A) Arm SwingContrary to what you might think, the upper extremities play a big role in the act of running. The arms move forward when the opposite leg swings forward to minimize trunk rotation and save energy. The arms must swing like a pendulum with all the energy savings built into the pendulum like action of the upper extremity. The elbows should not open and close but remain at a fixed angle.
B) Knee RiseThe degree your knee rises when the swing leg comes to a forward position and before it hits the ground is critical to minimize the braking action that occurs with each foot strike on the ground. Every millimeter in front of your center of gravity that the foot strikes the ground the more this event brakes your forward momentum and wastes energy. The swing leg must not hit the ground moving in a forward direction but instead after reaching peak knee height in the front of the body the lower leg must start to move backward to land as close as possible below your center of gravity to minimize the lost of energy that occurs with each foot strike.
C) Stride FrequencyThe number one cause of injury and energy inefficiency is over striding i.e. foot strike way out in front of your center of gravity. This is also a function of the number of steps you take per minute while running. Stride frequency and stride length are inversely related. The more steps you take, the shorter the stride length of each step and the closer under your body your foot will strike the ground, and thus less energy is wasted on braking your forward momentum. Secondly, the more steps you take per minute, the less time the foot spends on the ground each step. This limits the time the foot has to pronate and prevents the energy lost to over-pronation. Limiting over-pronation also serves to help prevent the myriad of injuries related to this common bio-mechanic condition.
Run Gait Analysis
Few people would take up tennis or golf without first taking some lessons with a pro. Most runners, however, mistakenly think that because running is a basic human function, and since we all did it as children, we do not need to be taught how to run. While it’s true that the human body has evolved to be an efficient running machine able to cover long distances with an well honed economy of motion, our civilized life style has robbed us of the built in efficiencies that evolution has provided. Our muscles have shortened and weakened, our joints have tightened and movements have become corrupted by hours of sitting and a lack of stretching. To exploit the gifts that evolution has gifted us, we need to learn to run in a way that benefits energy conservation and keeps us protected from injury. The PHASE IV Run Gait Analysis is performed by Physical Therapists with expertise in joint function, human movement patterns, and the myriad of ways that runners get hurt. We will video your stride frequency, knee rise, foot and leg position at foot strike, and upper body carriage to identify biomechanical deficiencies and inefficiencies and correct them. We will assess whether your shoes are appropriate for your mechanics and provide you with drills to maximize your efficiency and increase your speed.