Welcome Back!!! I have some new thoughts here for you today to build on what we talked about last week. The running world has so many facets to touch on I could make this a 10 part series and still not get to everything. Based on my experience with runners as patients, colleagues, and mentors: Here are some big thoughts to step up your training.
Cadence and Stride Length
So we understand that the most important part of injury prevention in running is shock absorption, and that the most important part of shock absorption is strength. But are there any other factors that can help with injury prevention?YES!!! There are many, but if I’m going to keep it short I’m going to stick to 2 specific factors: Cadence and Stride length.
Cadence is the amount of times your feet hit the ground per minute. The most elite runners hit about 180 times per minute. Stride length is the distance between one foot hitting the ground and the other. When you combine these 2 you end up with a pretty impressive result that has been taken advantage of by many professional runners. These factors decrease their contact time with the ground by making a quicker turn over underneath you while you run, that means less time spent during a run absorbing shock. The best runners in the world can run a full marathon and spend 75% of their time in the air. Talk about decreasing forces into your joints!!
Studies have shown that just a 7.5% increase in cadence can decrease the load going through your knees by over 10%. With the decreased forces comes decreased injury. There is one major factor that you will notice while training these variables: SORE HIP FLEXORS. Both of these factors mean you need to turn over faster, meaning you have to pull your leg forward faster then you are used to. Most people start to feel very sore in the front of their hips as their hip flexor muscles need to work harder to pull forward at a more rapid pace. This may lead to low back pain after training sessions and a hard time getting out of your car. No worries, these are fleeting symptoms. Keep stretching out your hips in a half kneel to work out the soreness and get back to work.
I would suggest shooting for at least 160 steps per minute. This will increase cadence and also decrease your stride length and contact time with the ground. So on your next run, take a moment, take off the headphones and focus on what your body is doing. See if you can pick up your cadence, shorten your stride length and maintain the resilience and longevity of your joints.
Need help? Find a professional you can trust, who has been educated in running form. Find one who is experienced in the distances you want to run so they understand the mindset needed to achieve your goals.
“I’m going on a run” is probably the biggest mistake amateur runners make during their training. The mindset that if I just work as hard as I can, then I will get all the best possible results. There has been so much science and research that has gone into running and training that simply going blind into training, while ignoring said training science, is a famous and common mistake.
The problem with that declaration is that it doesn’t show any specificity or detail. There are so many aspects of running that need focus that simply “going on a run” could never encompass. I have previously mentioned several aspects of form training so I don’t want to focus on that now. Let’s focus on other aspects like speed, endurance and tempo.
Are you endurance training, speed training, or hill training? Each one of these (and many more factors) need specific attention and training. Experts have even gone so far as labelling zones in which to train based on your heart rate and lactate threshold. Your lactate threshold is pretty much when the amount of lactic acid that is being produced by your body is more than the body can reabsorb. This ends up with lactic acid build up in the muscles and acute pain and stiffness. Here is a very crude explanation of the zones:
Zone 1 is pretty much rest to active recovery
Zone 2 is a painfully slow pace (great to up aerobic capacity)
Zone 3 is usually called race pace
----Lactate threshold is between Zone 3 and 4----
Zone 4 is just over your lactate threshold and working hard
Zone 5 is the all out sprint and power
Dedicating your days and knowing exactly what your primary and secondary focus will take your running to a new level. You will end the concept of junk miles and add more time to your days as some of these factors take less time to focus on then others. Don’t just go out there and run. Focus your training with specific goals. Watch your running grow, endure longer, and get faster.
Shoulder girdle control
Who thinks about what your upper body is doing during a long run?Neck and upper trunk pains are common during prolonged running and intense training periods. Have you taken the time to focus on what your upper body posture is doing during a run? Is your head drooped forward, shoulders losing the war with gravity, or arms pumping erratically?
All of this increases the strain on your trunk and shoulder girdle causing aches and pains that one might not even feel until after the run is over. Focus in on straightening up your torso, squeezing your shoulder blades behind you and pulling your chin back to your throat. Get your arms pumping in a forwards and backwards direction. Do not let them cross in front of your body or let your elbows swing to far away from your sides. Relax your hands and calm the strain in your face.
Strengthening exercises for your back are very important if you are noticing you just can’t maintain that upright position. Check back in with your upper body and how it is reacting to the strains that running is putting on it. A lot of staying healthy while running is checking back in with your body and really figuring out how it is reacting to the stresses.
Often people ask me “How do you run without headphones?” how is it possible you can enjoy a long run without music, a podcast, or even an audiobook?
As mentioned, there are a ton of things within yourself to pay attention to while running. It’s not just turn off your mind and go running for a while. Presence is extremely important during your training and races. Be able to take in and interpret all the messages that your body is sending you.
Starting from your feet: how are you impacting the ground? How often? Are your knees buckling inwards? Is your back and pelvis in a neutral position? Are your gluteal muscles firing? Are your abs on? Is your upper body in a good posture? Shoulders squeezed? Neck back? Arms pumping properly? Is your mind in a good place? Are you getting desperate? Anxious? Scared?
I can’t believe having the focus to address and answer these questions while having Cardi B or Joe Rogan blasting in my ear drums. The level of focus and presence needed is so high that any and all distractions need to be eliminated. Take off the headphones and start listening to your body. Maybe it’s been telling you the whole time what is wrong with how you run. Maybe a little more attention to your mental state can keep you out of that pain cave. Be present with your running and don’t let distractions keep you from tuning in and performing your systems checks throughout a run.
If you want to further your exploration into how to improve your running form, training, style or mental state CONTACT ME through email, text, phone call, or over social media. Let's take those steps needed to keep you training with confidence and moving with pride.
Dr. Leo Valenzuela PT, DPT
Los Leones Physical Therapy