I am one who is convinced that some running injuries might be the result of faulty running mechanics or running form. What I want to explore with this article is the possibility that if you can correct some of your running mechanics you could eliminate some of the nagging injuries that runners get.
I do agree that there can be all sorts of factors that could lead to injuries while running: shoes, previous injuries, the surface that you are running on. Too quickly people look to these factors as the reason. Ultimately though, I think before you jump to conclusions with one of those factors, we have to look at the running mechanics.
Some of these running stores will have treadmills there to watch you run. They will then get the shoes formed to fit your running form, how your foot is striking the ground, etc. If you are getting orthotics, they form the orthotics to help correct the running issue that you may have.
The question that comes to my mind is have we looked to the reason why those issues are there in the first place? I don’t want an orthotic or special shoe to eliminate the pain if I’m still doing the same thing mechanically that caused that pain. Let’s try to eliminate the mechanical flaws, see if that corrects the running issue, then if that issue is still present we can look into special shoes or orthotics.
One of the reasons why barefoot running is starting to gain a lot of momentum is because its supporters say it forces you into running properly. I will discuss why I belief a little in this philosophy later, but I don’t necessarily think you have to switch to running barefoot in order to run properly. I can barely walk down my driveway to the mailbox without hitting some little stone that agitates me. Or maybe I’m just a little wuss when it comes to walking barefoot on pavement.
If we are going to examine the running mechanics, then let’s take a look at a few of the issues that seem to cause injuries:
- Over Striding
- Excessive Heel Strike
- Very Rigid and Tight Upper Body Movements
The first two can almost be combined as one running mechanic problem. A lot of times because a runner is over striding he/she lands on his heel. The heel isn’t designed to absorb a lot of shock. That is more in the mid to forefoot. That is where your padding is and where a lot of the shock absorption happens. In fact, a lot of running shoe companies realize many people run on their heels, so they design their shoes with the heel padding extra thick. That is where the barefoot running comes into play.
If you are running barefoot, you had better place your feet accordingly on the ground or it will be a short-lived run. In order to have the least amount of pain, you make sure you are landing on the balls of your feet. You also want to shorten your stride up so you aren’t over striding when you run. A nice compact stride landing on the mid to forefoot allows for a lot of shock absorption. But, like I said, I don’t think you need to run barefoot in order to reach this type of proper mechanics. You just need to understand the mechanics.
Landing with the heel strike and excessive over striding can lead to several issues. Landing on the heel sends shock waves up the leg. This has been known to cause knee issues and problems all the way up through the back (lower, mid, and upper). If you are tight in the upper body, you also probably don’t have good arm mechanics and this can lead to muscle tension. Over long runs, this can cause potential pain in the pelvis, spine, and restrict breathing.
Why do people inherit these faulty mechanics?
I think it is part inflexibilities in certain muscles and part lack of strength in the lower extremities. I’ve talked with several people who run with those shoes that look like feet. With those shoes, you are essentially running barefoot, but with a little support between you and the ground. When people first start using those shoes, they usually can’t run very far because their calves give out. They aren’t strong enough to keep them in proper position. I think that is the biggest reason you see many people running on their heels. The proper muscles aren’t strong enough to hold them in position.
I see this a lot with my athletes. They try to sprint, but because they are weak in the legs, they can’t get off their heels as they sprint. Trying to muster so much force and not running properly does lead to little aches and pains with my athletes, so getting them re-trained to run with proper mechanics is a must.
With the upper body, you want to make sure you are flexible and your arms swing from the shoulders without crossing your face. If you are sprinting, you want to pump them hard, so they can counter-balance the power being generated by your lower body. If you are going for a long run, you don’t want to do that because you will lose energy quick. Just keep the shoulders relaxed and down and let your arms swing smooth.
To summarize, a lot of people have injuries they feel were developed through their excessive running and it now affects their runs. Don’t just immediately assume you have to get custom fit shoes or orthotics. Ultimately, you still might, but let’s try to look at the cause of the pain first. Let’s fix your running mechanics first and see if that eliminates the pain. In the end, it might save you money and allow you to do more of what you truly enjoy. Pain free runs with nothing but you and the outdoor air.