Spring has arrived, and with it has come more hours of daylight and time to hit the pavement and enjoy some quality outdoor time to get away from it all, clear your head, and RUN. Whether you’re a new or seasoned runner, these insights on running form and training techniques to avoid injuries and increase quality and quantity of miles is always a plus. The love of running has been ingrained in me since the age of 7 when my Dad started letting me tag along on his evening runs. I started running competitively at the age of 10 and continue to be a part of the running world today as a coach and chiropractor specializing in improving function and movement. To summarize, I love to run. The community, comradery, personal competition, ability to experience nature, and keep moving, are just a few of the reasons I love this sport, pastime, or as some may put it, dreaded form of exercise. I hope these quick tips will make your time spent in running shoes more enjoyable.
1. Breathe with the diaphragm.
Breathing. Really? That’s where we’re starting with this? Well, have no fear. While breathing seems like a simple task that we carry out roughly 17,000 times each day without a thought, a lot of people aren’t optimizing their breathing patterns and as a result burn extra energy, ignore important muscles (like the primary breathing muscle: the diaphragm), get less oxygen, and even put themselves at risk of injury.
Ideally, when breathing in, the diaphragm should move down, creating expansion of the abdomen 360 degrees around (meaning the belly, sides, and back all expand). This expansion creates a pressure chamber in the abdomen that helps produce true “core” stability for the body, engages deep stabilizing muscle groups, and protects the spine and even extremities from injuries. For the most part, we all start out breathing in this pattern—expanding the abdomen when breathing in, with little to no movement of the chest or shoulders. If you ever watch a baby breathe, you’ll see this example perfectly. They let their bellies hang out loud and proud. As we age, and start moving around in less than ideal patterns and pop-culture tells us to suck it in if we want to achieve the ideal body image, our breathing patterns change. Deep stabilizing muscles are used less, sometimes forgotten, and we begin to breathe from the chest. Chest breathing decreases stability, shortens the diaphragm muscle, can cause hyperinflation of the lungs, and even decreases the amount of oxygen taken in with each breath.
Focused practice on proper diaphragmatic breathing patterns can help to change this habit and engage the proper muscle groups to achieve ideal breathing. For more information on ways to change this breathing habit check out the blog entry, “Learning to Breathe.”
2. Don’t go down the “Running only” rabbit hole.
Running can be an addictive activity—believe me, I’ve been there. Goals to run farther and run faster begin to develop and continue to rise in levels of difficulty. And practice makes perfect, right? As a result, running can sometimes overshadow other types of exercises and activities. Try not to fall down the tempting “Running Only” Rabbit Hole. It can catapult you into a world of overuse injuries, burnout, and plenty of brick walls to block the way to your goals. The solution to this topsy-turvy world of running only, is cross-training.
Weight training and resistance training will help to improve muscle mass, which in turn will help increase your running economy, or put more gas in the tank. Functional exercises that enhance the body’s ideal movement patterns and help to properly coordinate how your muscle groups work together are also important. Participating in other sports and activities, as well as plyometrics, where you can move in different planes of motion and use your body differently than when you are out on a run are also good to keep your coordination and movement skills diversified and your reaction times low.
3. Slow and Steady Can Actually Win the Race.
This point seems to dovetail nicely with tip #2. Don’t be afraid to rest. Taking 1-2 days off from running each week is a good idea. This allows your body to rest and recuperate, helping to reduce risk of injury and burnout. Slow and steady wins the race in conditioning. Making it a point to slowly progress your mileage each week (no more than a 10% jump) to avoid topping out too quickly and injuring yourself down the line is also a good goal to keep in mind when thinking about the long game of training.
4. Run Against Traffic.
This is a safety precaution my coach, Doc, worked hard to instill in me as a young runner. Take your run on the left side of the road. Doc illustrated this point perfectly, and I still think of this every time I step out on the street. He told me, “Drivers are less likely to hit you, if you can look them in the eye.” Wise words. If you can make eye contact with the drivers you are sharing the road with, and they can make eye contact with you, then everyone has a better idea of what the other person is planning to do. Thanks, Doc.
5. Drills Really Do Work.
I didn’t really understand the significance of drills early in my running career. They were simply a part of the warm-up that I had to do before practice. And as a coach, I see the young runners in their first season of track, look on in confusion as they try to learn these strange movements and fall in line with their more experienced teammates.
Now, with my 20+ years in the world of running, I can tell you that there is a reason for drills. Drills are snap shots of each part of the running stride broken down to help train the best way to move through a run. Slow repetitive movements like these drills help to train the brain to coordinate the necessary muscle groups to carry out running gait with fewer risks of injury. So, these sometimes tedious drills with the crazy names like “Butt Kicks,” “A-Drills,” “Tin Soldiers,” and “High Knees” are the blue prints for training the best running stride.
6. Lean In: Gravity is Your Friend.
I like to think of running as “coordinated falling.” When you break it down, running is made up of single leg stances, meaning you are always standing on one leg during your run. As a result, balance plays a big role in a run, as does its relationship to momentum and gravity. The ideal forward lean of the body when running is 30 degrees. This forward lean allows your body to remain directly over the forward stepping foot as it makes contact with the ground. Keeping the body properly stacked like this, creates a more stable unit to avoid injury and to dodge unnecessary losses of energy. This ideal form can be improved upon by participating in drills and by cross training with functional exercises to help coordinate the right muscle groups.
7. Running Form Can Make You or Break You.
This last point, is really a culmination of several of the points above. There are books and articles all over the place preaching about running form and the proper foot placement, arm swing, etc. needed to excel in this sport. But, forcing these changes to occur when they do not feel natural to your body, is a recipe for disaster and—you guessed it—injury. By creating the right ratio of weight training, functional exercises, plyometrics, and running drills, running form can improve and serve as an asset in training. Find a doctor, trainer, or fitness coach who can study the way you move and instigate a program tailored to you as an individual to build you up and unlock your potential. This route will provide the tools you need to progress in the sport you love, but also enhance how you function and move in your daily life.
Change starts here. And it can start a domino effect that can last a lifetime.
Until Next Time,
Abby Scheer, DC