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Ian Adamson - Stability, Mobility and Strength for Running

Ian Adamson


Stability, Mobility and Strength for Running by Ian Adamson from Healthy Running

(Ian Adamson is 7x World Champion, 3x World Record Holder, X-Games Gold Medalist, President International Obstacle Racing Federation, former editor at Winning Magazine, writer for Triathlete, Inside Triathlon, Competitor and senior contributor to Adventure Sports (since 1996)

In the last article we took a cursory look at why modern runners may get injured. This edition gives suggestions on what to do about it.

When we examine the essential requirements for runners, most athletes in our population fail. We will now look at what we need as runners; simple evaluations, diagnosis, treatment and proscription to run better and with reduced injury risk.

It is useful to understand the basic requirements for a human to be able to run efficiently, so we’ll start with basic gait mechanics. In running, we alternate between a stance phase and flight phase each step. In effect we hop up and forward by pushing down and back onto the ground every step (there can also be a significant elastic component, depending on your gait style). If you video yourself running in the sagittal plane (from the side) you can see how this happens.

One consequence of the flight-stance cycle is oscillating vertical motion. In flight phase we are unsupported by the ground, gravity takes hold and we fall back to the ground. The resulting force is equivalent to two to three times your body weight every step on level ground (less up a hill and more down a hill). Step rate and other factors come into play, but the net result is a lot of force on your body every time your foot is in contact with the ground.

Maximum load actually occurs in mid stance, not at contact (or foot strike) as many people think, since you body has not fallen to its lowest point. It is only when you change direction in the vertical axis that the force tops out. Forces occur in all three planes when running, with about one quarter of your body weight side-to-side (laterally) and a about half front to back (260% / 20% / 50% is what a lab generally measures for an efficient runner on level ground.) Anatomy for runners, by Jay Dicharry, describes clearly, and in detail, the forces involved in a running gait, something we will examine more in subsequent articles.

To see what happens for yourself, try doing a series of shallow single leg squats (with good posture and foot flat to the ground) until you fatigue. Watch what happens the alignment of your hips, legs, knees and spine, and your balance. If you are a normal runner (not necessarily strong or healthy), you will likely see your unsupported hip drop, your knee bob to one side and get a little unstable. This is simulating a running gait, but with very low force, close to one body weight. Now consider doing this 450 times on each leg every K (at about 11 kmh and about 90 steps per leg per minute.) This requires strength, balance, coordination, range of motion (ROM) at the joints and endurance. We can simplify this to stability (strength and balance), mobility (coordination and ROM) and aerobic development (or fitness).

Do you have the stability, mobility, strength and fitness to do this every step of a long run? If you can’t maintain perfect balance, alignment and coordination in the single leg squat exercise above, the answer is probably no. If this is the case, then contemplate what might happen to your joints and the supporting musculature and connective tissue as you load two to three times your bodyweight on them every step during a run.

Here are three things to look for in the single leg squat exercise:

1. Is your knee stable and does it track straight?

2. Does your pelvis stay level (no hip drop, lift or rotation)?

3. Can you maintain alignment of your body column, all joints and limbs head to toe?

Watch five-time World Champion and Kona course record holder Craig Alexander’s running form from the side and from behind, and notice how he maintains near perfect alignment at all points during his gait cycle.

Next article: how to improve your alignment (and reduce overstressing your joints)


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