Loudoun County, Va. — The way we run is a matter of energy and efficiency. We may ask ourselves how some people can run farther, faster, and make it seem effortless—the trick is in how their body moves.
Our body is like a spring; it stores energy at one point in our stride and releases it to move forward. If our body is strong, flexible, and coordinated, our muscles and tendons act like elastic bands. If we aren’t flexible or strong, then our muscles have to work too hard, leading to fatigue and setting us up for injury.
Tips to Help Improve Your Ability to Run and Prevent Injury
Find Your Stride
Everyone has a natural stride that they feel comfortable with. Work on finding the stride that feels most comfortable for you. Try to focus on your stride so that your heel hits first. If you find you are foot slapping with each step, then you need to work on improving this aspect of your stride. While it is good to run with others for company, trying to match someone else’s stride can actually throw you off your normal rhythm. Match yourself with people of equal speed when running with a partner.
Improve Your Hip Rotation Strength
The hips play a big role in the efficiency of your running and ability to absorb shock from the pounding on the ground. A great way to reduce knee and back injury is to work on hip strengthening, especially hip rotation strength. A simple exercise to perform is lying on your side with your knees slightly bent. Lift the top knee, while keeping your ankles together forming a clamshell. Feel the muscles deep in the hip working as you perform 15-20 repetitions of this exercise on both sides.
Improve Your Breathing Efficiency
In today’s world, we function in a world of stress. This changes our breathing patterns to work more of the rib and shoulder muscles, instead of your powerful diaphragm muscle. Engage your diaphragm when running by trying to breathe from your upper abdomen and keep your shoulders relaxed. It is also good to practice breathing while lying flat and still in bed, so you can really practice just using your diaphragm muscle. To further improve your breathing, you need more rib cage and upper back movement. Lie on your back and gently reach up overhead to feel a stretch through your ribs and upper back. Repeat this 10 times and incorporate a deep breath in at the top to create a nice stretch through the ribs. The greater flexibility you have in your rib cage and upper spine, the deeper and more efficient your breathing becomes.
Do Dynamic Stretching
A lot of research points to doing a small amount of dynamic stretching after a brief warm up. Walk for 5 minutes before your run then do a set of mini-squats, arm raises, heel-toe stretches and lunges. Work with a physical therapist to discover a dynamic stretching program that works for you.
Note from our sponsor: Physical therapy is the secret to helping athletes perform at their peak. However, you don’t have to be an athlete to benefit from training with a physical therapist. Physical therapists are movement specialists and can help you move better and more efficiently without pain. If you want to run, walk or even just get back to the activities you love pain free, physical therapy is the right choice!