These are the moments when I’m glad to have an internet voice (read: blog). Without this outlet, I would be sitting at home, contemplating some grisly response to all of the tweets regarding “Running Injuries.” My frustration has reached new heights, seeing more and more articles/posts advocating the surefire way to lessen the pain of running. With each new piece of peer-reviewed university research and advice pouring out of the mouths of esteemed doctors, scientists and therapists, one would assume that the war against running-related injuries would have already been won. The problems (despite better shoes, better training and better rehabilitation) continue to plague us. Like most things in life, the answers are right in front of our faces, but our eyes are closed. Listed are my 8 pet peeves regarding running and injury prevention. Hopefully, I can dispel some of these myths, once and for all, and help you become more aware of the truth.
1. Stretching prevents injuries – Late last week, a NYT article suggested that stretching had no more effect on reducing injuries than not stretching. In essence, a true statement. Proper running form doesn’t require flexibility (look how many people run and can’t touch their toes!), however, being more flexible will always augment your freedom of movement. Any restricted part of your body will inevitably become a problem area, due to a lack of mobility and the consequence of compensation. Your subconscious will always “favor” this area, affecting the fluidity of your running. That being said, I do believe in a warm-up (like jumping rope) that prepares the body for running. It’s always a good idea to “check” your flexibility as well: making sure that your joints are free from restriction and safe to proceed with activity. Arguing over static vs. dynamic flexibility greatly misses the point.
2. Running on softer surfaces – Although this sounds very logical, the surface only matters with respect to your running inefficiency. Pound the ground and the ground will pound you back. Very simple. Studies have shown that you can decrease impact with an improved stride that focuses on a forefoot strike landing underneath your body’s center of mass. Remember, movement occurs predominately from gravitational propulsion which allows our bodies to fall with less muscle effort. We need to learn how to use gravity as our ally.
3. Find the right shoe – Once again, the “correct” shoe relates to your “style” of running. All of the common causes for correction (most notably over-pronation) are coming from errors in form. When your foot lands ahead of your body, reaching for the ground, there exists an opportunity for the foot to excessively move and adjust (think of the trouble kids get into afterschool before their parents get home). It’s too much time wasted, especially for the heel-striker who must land, flatten, roll then release. In any movement, time on support is precious. A shoe can only mask these mistakes, conceding running economy for “what feels right.”
4. Running is natural – Running is no more “natural” than skating, golfing or swimming. Actually, I do believe that it is natural for man (as a bipedal animal) to run and run very long distances. Our early history would suggest man running on grassy plains and dirt trails, chasing and running from prey in barefeet. The overcivilization of our species – the development of roads and the wearing of shoes – probably had much to do with our current circumstances. I’m constantly reminding people of how babies first begin to walk: hold on, release, lose balance, staccato short steps then hold on to something else. At our earliest age, movement is realized as falling.
5. Mid-foot striking – With a reborn interest in running mechanics (see Pose Method of Running), I’ve been hearing a lot about mid-foot striking. What is the mid-foot? The mid-foot is the arch, and I dare anyone to actually land there. I realize that much of this has to do with ego (“Oh, you run on your heels? Well, I land on my mid-foot!”). It’s been explained as a simultaneous landing of the whole foot – which would be a flat-foot landing. Any frame-by-frame analysis would reveal a forefoot or heel-first landing.
6. Muscle imbalances – Having strong muscles is never a detriment, but never a guarantee either. Most speed coaches are proponents of athletes having really strong muscles. Therapists want runners to have stronger cores. In my experience, most runners and athletes lack the necessary hip and hamstring strength to run effectively (longer and faster). But, this is found out AFTER I’ve made corrections in their technique. Running better means falling farther. The hips represent the integrity of your kinetic chain, and your hamstrings the muscles most responsible for lifting your foot from the ground. The human body is a perfect design, properly balanced for the myriad of tasks it can perform. Who says every muscle needs to be on par with every other? Perhaps these imbalances are actually necessary for proper functioning?
7. Reduce mileage – I think by now, you can guess my answer. I will say, that there is way too much emphasis on mileage, endurance and conditioning. The results speak for themselves – up to 85% of runners suffer injuries. Too many bad miles, will leave the body overtrained and hurt. Yet, run with great efficiency and the sky’s your limit. I will agree that even in the best circumstances, there should be variation in anyone’s routine, changing tempos and distances to challenge your perception and skill.
8. Cross-Training – Another one of the “band-aids” used to fix injuries and keep the athlete in-shape. Instead of being a solution, cross-training (cardiovascular-wise) opens up another can of worms. Many athletes suffer additional problems associated with the ill-conceived mechanics of most cardio machines, while other activities, like cycling and swimming, are mistaken as just non-impact options for the laid-up runner. Trying to take away gravity isn’t the answer. Without gravity, we wouldn’t exist. In a very real sense, we need gravity (its support, its security) for our survival.