As a physio, I see a lot of running-related injury, dysfunction, and performance loss. Depending on who you read, injury incidence among runners can be as high as 85% many of which are due to training errors and poor mechanics. In that vein, this week’s post is from Jeff Ford, a CrossFit Endurance and USA Triathlon Certified Coach, Owner and Founder of Fire Coaching Consulting, and excellent endurance athlete. Great dancer. Drives a nice car.
Anyways, check out Jeff’s post on Common Running Mistakes he sees all the time:
Working with endurance athletes on a daily basis is quite a challenge. Most of these athletes come to me tired and brain-washed into thinking volume is the answer much as I used to believe. It’s a mentality programmed into the endurance community where you’re made to believe that if you want to get faster you have to put in more miles and run harder. Not satisfied with your times? Well, go ahead and amp up the training hours. Did you ever think that “how” you may be running (or moving for that matter) could be the culprit?
Tell me this; if you were to deadlift incorrectly 40,000 times would your back hurt? Now I know you know how to deadlift correctly, but do you know how to run correctly? What’s the standard? The hard part here is that you’ve probably never been given it. It’s not your fault.
The numbers are quite daunting: Every marathon involves something on the order of 40,000 steps to complete, and every step puts up to three or four times your body weight on each foot. Now I bet you’re listening.
Runners are notorious for making common mechanical mistakes. These mistakes are not only detrimental to your training and performance, but also your body. So stop expending a ton of energy, getting hurt, and looking like the guy at the race who seems like he’s going to keel over at the end.
Spend less time on the ground and you’ll already be more efficient. Running is actually quite simple if you think about it. Run with good posture, fall from your ankles, and pull your feet from the ground. Don’t overthink it. Here are a few keys….
Alignment: The broken midline or what we call the “shopping cart” position. Our shoulders should line up with our hips and follow all the way down to our point of support (the landing leg). When runners break at their midline they place pressure on their lower back and inhibit their ability to keep their feet under their hips. Just like a deadlift, running starts with the setup. Neutral head position with the head pulled back, relaxed shoulders and a rock solid core is key to success. If you don’t get your posture right, it’ll be impossible to get your feet off the ground correctly. Think of good running posture as if there’s a glass of water on your head, if you don’t stay upright that glass will spill over quite quickly and you’re out of water.
Foot-strike: Time and time again, I watch runners on the street and I just want to pull over. A large majority of the endurance athletes I get on tape are landing out-front and breaking themselves while landing on their heels as they chronically over-stride (increasing peak forces on the body). Your heel was not meant to land first guys. Trust me. Take your shoes off and have someone video-tape you running. Your body physically will not let you heel strike. It wasn’t meant to. When you strike heel first, you land primarily on bone and lose the ability to harness muscle elasticity in your foot/ankle complex. What that means in KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) terms is that you’ve lost the ability to absorb your weight as you land. You’ve shut down your muscles ability to stretch and contract when force is applied. Not good at all, especially as the distance gets greater. So fall from your ankles, don’t smash thru them. Seth and I recommend a consult prior to switching strike patterns as this is a daunting task on your own.
Foot Pull vs Push: The last thing to look for with runners (and most likely yourself) is spending too much time on the ground and pushing off. The two typically go together, but there’s this idea out there to push off and “stride out.” Not the case gang, when you push or “pump your arms” it expends greater energy. And pushing from the ground will also send you in the wrong direction, up! Minimum cadence should be set to 90 pulls per minute (180 for both legs). This will allow your running to reach it’s full efficiency and potential. The only thing that governs your speed is your ability to put yourself in a good position. The more you can fall from the ankles, the faster you’re going to go. The foot turnover should match the degree of your fall – more turnover = more fall. Usain Bolt falls at an angle of 18.5 degrees and to keep up with that he has to pull his legs at 130 per leg – insane! He uses gravity, rather than fights it. All that said, focus on getting yourself in a good position so that you feel like you don’t have to push off. Stride is not a dictator of speed, but actually injury.
Don’t get me wrong there’s plenty of running mistakes we could delve into, but these are the big ones we’re seeing as coaches. We could pick apart any runner just like any other athlete. This is technical stuff; however when it comes to running no one seems to reference the mechanics nearly as much as they should.
I’ve just given you the standard. Now you have no excuse to get injured or to be inefficient at your next endurance event. Let’s not overthink it here but awareness of your mechanics and practicing them are crucial!
- Clean up your posture (no more shopping cart) and address spinal control, stop running like a bent-over tree.
- Fall from your ankles and consider your foot strike
- Pull your feet from the ground and quit pushing off causing over-striding and injuries
Seth’s Comments: thanks to Jeff for the run-down on faulty mechanics he sees frequently as a coach. One thing to consider for runners is that more is NOT always better. You cannot just run thru terrible mechanics and think that volume is the answer for poor performance. Practice makes permanent (not perfect) and running is most definitely a skill that will become ingrained whether you perform it well or poorly. As Dr. Chris Powers says, “You should be fit to run, not run to be fit”.
For more from Jeff, check him out at FireCoachingConsulting.com as he has a cool thing going down there.