Who better to give us a bit of advice on running, than Coach Matt. With numerous marathons under his belt he knows exactly what we need in order to run longer….for longer.
How much do you like distance running? Everyone feels differently about this answer but whether you’re a fan or not, it ends up having its place throughout our lives. We may use it for conditioning, weight loss, sport, or maybe just chasing our dogs. Whatever the reason may be, there are ways to optimize “distance running” to ensure we maximize our joint health and overall well-being. Here are just a few tips on how to do so:
Strength Training – Muscles are heavily responsible for absorbing forces at each joint. They also help align the joints in their correct positions (for standing and running). Proper strength training will help balance out muscles to ensure the hips, knees, and ankles all align the way they should. Having enough muscle strength will also better absorb forces of each impact (or step), improve posture, and increase overall “running economy”.
Improving cadence – Cadence in distance running refers to the amount of steps you take per minute of running. The more steps you take, the smaller the impact taken on each step. Scientists have found the goldilocks zone around 180, but this can be expanded from 170-190. Anything lower and the impact can be a bit excessive on joints, and higher typically creates a more maximal/unsustainable effort in running. The easiest way to improve this is by using a metronome or music with beats per minute (BPM) around your goal steps per minute (170 or higher). Step to each beat to hit the goal cadence!
No Over Striding! – This one often goes unnoticed and is often connected with heel striking. The problem here is that the tibia (lower leg) moves in front of the knee while mid-air and makes impact with the ground before straightening out. This creates excessive force on the knee at a bad angle and can lead to joint problems down the line. Do your best to drive the foot down and push back to create force rather than reaching out to increase stride length.
Lightly Lean into it – Though this is relatively minor regarding force disbursement, everything counts. Regarding our torso (portion of our body above the hips), some people are too upright or too bent over. This alters the center of gravity, changing which joints take the brunt of each step. Though no one will take out a protractor to measure this angle, the ideal lean is only about 3-4 degrees. Ultimately, don’t slouch over, and don’t try to stand as tall as a tree!
Foot-strike – Though this one gets a fair amount of debate, try jumping and landing on your heels (without bending your ankles). It’s typically uncomfortable. The more joint angles we create, the greater the force is dispersed through each successive joint and muscle. When individuals heel strike, they take out two joint angles: the ankle and the arch of the foot (surprise, the arch absorbs force too!). The forefoot should be the portion of your foot making contact with ground first. Think of how we perform our A-skip or Jumping Jack skip. Some of this load is shared with the Achilles and calf muscles. With a good strength base (or a program to develop one) the calf and Achilles are developed to handle such forces. Careful planning on volume and intensity is key to help the adaptations occur.
For some individuals, these tips come naturally, while the rest of us have to work on one piece at a time. When possible, have someone record your running mechanics and see what you can work on. Maybe you can watch your lean (or lack thereof), foot strike, and see whether you do or do not over stride. Regarding cadence, you can simply count one-foot landing for 15 seconds, multiply by 4, and again by 2 (or you can use a watch/phone app that may record this for you). If that number is too low, try using faster music or a metronome. The most important thing is that you keep trying to improve your running form/mechanics. The better our interaction with the ground, the more efficiently, effortlessly, and less injuriously we can run; allowing us to run the longer distances, for longer periods of time!