Improving Movement & Fixing Compensations

Balance is important. Not only for running, but life. It’s surprising how many athletes are unable to balance on one foot. Completing this seemingly rudimentary task can be shockingly difficult. Harder yet is completing the task without compensation. Compensations are often subconscious. The more we compensate the more our body perceives the compensation as ‘normal’ movement, further building the movement subconsciously and making it more difficult to correct–or notice for that matter.

If you compensate with lower functioning tasks (balancing on one foot), you can only imagine how this carries over into more strenuous and higher functioning activities (running). Worse yet, fatigue and pain can cause our compensations to exaggerate. Fatigue during a hard workout or race will exaggerate poor movement. Pain associated with injury or exhaustive works can also exaggerate compensations. Without identifying and implementing corrective exercises it’s nearly impossible to correct a compensation. Remember: most athletes are unaware of their compensations. Simply throwing more stretches and strength workouts into the mix many not be the answer, either. Although most compensations are built off a foundation of weakness and/or restrictions in mobility, fixing underlying cause may not improve your compensations. You’ve learned to move this way, remember. You’ll need to unlearn it.

Getting Back to Basics

Back to the basic movement of standing on one foot. This simple task can give you a glimpse into your movement. You won’t need a pair of trained eyes on you, either. Stand facing away from a friend, spouse, or child. With no other direction than standing on one foot, balance for 10 seconds while a video or image is captured. Then it’s analysis time:

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The above image displays a common compensation for hip weakness: lateral lean. The left image is unsupported and was performed with no verbal cues. A lateral lean shifts your center of mass closer to the hip joint, effectively decreasing the lever arm of the lateral hip muscles. Decreasing the lever arm reduces the force required from the pelvis stabilizers and is a common compensation for weakness. This movement happens during gait and will eventually become deemed ‘normal’ movement–a hard habit to break.

Carry Over into Running

You shouldn’t be shocked to hear that balancing one foot is far lower functioning than running. The compensations highlighted above carry over into running quite well. After all, the run cycle includes a period of single leg stance with every step. Usually the cause of the above weight shift is weakness in the hip and leg. The shift compensates for the weakness and allows your body to stay balanced over the supporting foot. Eventually, the shift becomes ingrained into your movement and the neuromuscular system perceives it as ‘normal’. Once the strength has returned to the supporting leg the movement needs to be fixed.

Fixing Movement

Gaining strength is far easier than breaking poor movement patterns. Fixing a movement error, particularly one that has been used for years, is fairly difficult and takes mental fortitude. You’ll need frequent if not constant focus and conscious awareness. Fading to auto-pilot is a recipe to run with compensations–literally. The brain will tap into stored, learned movements and hit the repeat button. To fix movement errors repetition and focus are a must. Start easy. Practice feeling your movement with the above test (balancing on one foot) a few times a day. Try not deviate or lean to one side. You should also refrain from allowing your pelvis to drop. Next, carry it over to walking and finally running.

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First Toe (MTP) Extension and Running Mechanics

Would you ever think something as miniscule as big toe mobility could plague your running career? Well, start answering yes. All of our joints are part of a bigger picture of movement and function. When we lose motion, balance, or strength our body compensates. Compensations are seamless, automatic, and subconscious. They are perceived as ‘normal.’ Your body has one goal: task completion; however, task completion doesn’t correlate to efficient and correct movement. If you want to stand from a chair you can stand up driving from your hips or through your knees. Both get you to standing (task completion), but each loads your body differently. A good chunk of the population believes that the way they complete a task is most efficient, because, well, that’s the way your body decided to do it. While I’m not looking to start an argument here, I can tell you you’re wrong. Ok, maybe I am looking to start an argument.
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The first toe, or big toe, but plays a crucial role in balance and locomotion. As we push off our big toe extends. The extension draws our plantar fascia taut, effectively stabilizing the foot through what’s termed ‘the windlass mechanism.’ [See Image to Right] The benefits of a stable foot at push off are fairly obvious. Stability at push off gives you a rigid lever in which to generate large amounts of force. If our big toe lacks extension, not only will our foot lack the stability needed at every push off, but something up the chain (i.e. the foot, knee, or hips) will compensate for this lacking flexibility. Here are a few compensations that result from lacking first toe extension:

Compensations at the Foot: Excessive Supination

Push off occurs through the first and second toe, but doing so requires extension. If the first toe can’t extend then push off will drift laterally to the second, third, and even fourth toes. The outside toes are not built for stability, but more adaptability when walking on uneven surfaces. As you drift away from your first toe, each metatarsal becomes slightly longer with less girth. They’re twigs to the first toe’s trunk. Push off laterally is marked with excessive supination (turned in heel) and instability. Of course, that stability will likely come from somewhere (lower leg, knee, hip, or spine). The resulting instability at the foot could cause sheering between metatarsals leading to neuromas and stress fractures at the second and third metatarsals. Plantar fasciitis has also been thought to be caused through lacking motion at the first toe; however, research has not found a correlation (yet).

Compensation at the Knee: Increased Knee Flexion

It would be simple if your knee functioned separate from your foot, but it doesn’t. First toe extension allows for your foot to supinate (heel turns in), which in turn allows your knee to externally rotate and achieve full extension. If the foot pushes off laterally at toes 2-4 the knee could fail to lock at the end stage of push off. Doing so places strain through the knee while dampening any power in your stride. Double buzz kill. Not only are you more likely to experience knee pain, but you will be running slower in the process.

Compensation at the Hip: Decreased Hip Extension

Working our way up the chain we begin to see how something as distal as the big toe can cause problems proximally at the hip. Without extension at our big toe our ability to extend our hip is adversely affected. Not only does our hip not extend if our knee doesn’t straighten (further linking entire body motion), but the shift towards the lateral toes can cause a piston-like motion at the foot that causes the hip to rotate laterally. At a time when you’re looking for strength and stability, your body responds with compensations that breed instability and less power.

How to check motion

Checking motion is fairly easy and can even turn into an effective stretch. Normal range of motion into extension measures 70 degrees but may exceed this number while running. Drop yourself into a half kneel position and flex your foot. Attempt to put your first toe flat on the ground. If you feel anything it will likely be in one of three places: your arch, heel, or joint. Feeling any tension in the arch or heel is likely due to tightness in the plantar fascia. Go ahead and stretch it. For those feeling it within the joint you’re likely suffering from hallux rigidus. No, that’s not the name of an ancient Greek warrior, but a condition often caused by osteoarthritis in the joint. A static stretch is likely to yield minimal results. An arthritic first toe may respond better to joint mobilization or external support. A more rigid shoe may help protect the toe, while a rocker-bottom can even help with push off.
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This is a real life butterfly effect. Something as seemingly insignificant as your big toe can have major effects elsewhere. Remember, it’s common practice (or should be) to assess the entire movement chain when assessing an injury. Hip pain, knee pain, and foot pain could be stemming from your big toe. If you feel tight or restricted, try stretching. As always, seeking the help of a physical therapist or other clinician who has a higher understanding of movement is always advised.

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3 Ways to Ruin a Plank

There’s no question that core strength can help you run faster and with less injury, but what happens when you’re butchering the routine? Athletes brag about holding planks for minutes on end, thinking that there’s some added benefit (there’s not). In fact, most athletes can’t hold a plank properly for longer than 10 seconds. If you’re too weak to perform a movement your body will compensate. It’s that simple. Eventually these compensations are learned movements, plaguing your ability not only to compete, but to live pain-free.

Our body is tricky. What you perceive and what’s actually happening are often two different things. You’ll think you’re good–strong. You’re holding the planks, bear crawls, and side planks without issue (notice how I didn’t say sit-ups), but in the game of core strength compensations aren’t felt. Cheating through a core routine is automatic. You won’t even feel or perceive the compensations. All of our movement is hardwired and eventually automatic. Our movements turn into habits, which in turn is perceived as normal. Since you can’t perceive yourself cheating, it’s important to throw a mirror down, reverse your iPad camera, and get to work. Getting feedback can help you correct your course and build stronger, more functional movements.

Here are Three Ways You’re Planking Wrong:

Locking In to the Lumbar Spine

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This is public enemy number one. Most athletes in my clinic will hover over the ground, locking into the joints of their lumbar spine. It’s marked with a sway in the low back and poor core contraction. Weak abdominals will lengthen and the pelvis will tip forward (anteriorly tilt) causing increased low back extension.

The Fix: You’ll need to focus on flattening your low back through an abdominal contraction. Think about flattening the curve in your low back slightly. You should be able to balance a class of water on it (although we don’t recommend trying it).

Hips are Too High

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Although less common than above, having your hips pressed to the sky is another sign of weakness. Doing so recruits shoulder muscles to compensate for weak abdominals. Sticking your rump up also makes you shorter, decreasing the effect of gravity. We’re not doing downward dog here, are we?

The Fix: You may not be ready for planking on your toes. Sorry. When the hips/butt stick up in there it’s a huge sign of weakness and you’re risking a shoulder injury. You’ll need to start on your knees and build strength and progress to a full plank.

Hip Drop

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Hip drop generally occurs with dynamic movements. You’ll find a lot of these during our BaseSix and RunSmart Yoga Programs. Again, your movement is likely habit and you won’t perceive the compensation. As you lift your right leg your left hip and bilateral lumbar stabilizers will fire. Weakness will cause the pelvis to lower and slant downwards. This is usually not perceived and you may be shocked when you realize it’s happening.

The Fix: You may not be ready for dynamic planking yet. Building static strength is a prerequisite to dynamic movements. Generally, athletes will need to take a step backwards or utilize a furniture slider under their toe for any leg movements. For others, simply being self-aware of the compensation can help correct it. Concentrate on changing your movement and holding your pelvis parallel to the ground.

There’s no glory in sticking it out and functioning above your capability. Compensations are built into movement and it’s fairly simple: if you’re not strong enough you’ll compensate. Your compensations will be automatic habits and routine. Your brain will perceive your compensations as “normal” and build them into sport. With every poor movement your compensations will be further engrained into your movement. The habit builds a feeling of “what’s normal” and around and around we go.

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Are Sit Ups Good for Runners?

The question is: are ripping off sit-ups worth it? Will it make you faster or are they for show? Sure, you might be the envy of your friends and you’ll always have the ‘washboard’ jokes you can let fly, but are they truly making you faster? As always, we’re looking to dissect human movement. Doing so gives us a better understanding of what muscles are firing and in what capacity. The abdominals are a perfect example.

Media sells a six pack as the Holy Grail of fitness. It has become synonymous with speed, health, and overall sexyness. I would like to cordially disagree (at least with the speed and health portion). Exploring anatomy and function we’ll see that the abdominals can function in two ways: top-down or bottom-up. It’s worth noting that they’re multiple muscles that comprise your abdominals, but when we mention it below I’ll be referring to your rectus abdominis.

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The Anatomy
The Rectus Abdominis

The highlighted longitudinal muscle is often thought of when we think “abdominals.” It spans from your sternum to the front of your pelvis. It’s often separated into two areas: upper and lower. The upper portion performs a top-down movement (crunch), while the lower portion controls your pelvis and low back (pelvic tilt). The upper portion is often the area of focus for most athletes, while the lower abdominals control more ‘in-sport’.

Top-Down Function

The majority of people view the abdominals as a crunch machine designed to peel the shoulders from the ground. Does the sit-up motion even look like running? (Please answer no) Research has already proved that sit-ups are damaging to your low back, which should be reason enough to stop, but let’s relate it back to running. As always, we’re looking to train a muscle the way it functions—again the sit-up motion doesn’t mimic a running motion. The only scenario where you fire your abdominals in a top-down fashion is to get into/out of the bed every day. The true function of the abdominals is to control rotation and extension through the spine. We’ll see this in running, too.

Bottom-Up Function

Here is the meat and potatoes. The lower fibers of our rectus abdominis control the low back. As we walk, run, and twist, our lower abdominals fire to stabilize the pelvis, indirectly controlling the low back. Remember our articles on core strength? We’ll this is a direct application and expansion on that article. As our foot advances underneath us and progresses to push off, the hip extends and our muscles fire into the ground. The movement applies a force to the pelvis that will attempt to drag it forward. Guess what controls this motion? Yep. Your lower abdominals.

The lower abdominals pull up, checking and controlling forces at push off. Without having great lower abdominal strength you’ll lose stability at push off. You’ll literally be leaking energy with every step. Injuries will range from the low back to the foot and ankle.

Remember, the force is applied to the lower half of your abdominals, not the upper. You’re always looking to match your strength training with the sport. Nailing off sit ups might seem a like a great idea, but you’re not in grade school PE anymore. Actually, you may be accelerating degenerative changes in your spine. Work your lower abdominal strength with dynamic planking and lower-ab specific exercises. Stop the crunches. Stop the madness.

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Is Pronation Bad for Runners?

Pronation is a well-known running term; however, both its definition and application have been buried under pages of bad press from critics with little to no understanding of anatomy and applied function. Neutralist’s and minimalist’s have waged war on orthotics and stability shoes, overshooting from a period of time when your foot was given a stability shoe regardless of your foot type. You have a flat arch? Try this motion control shoe. Your arch is high? Try this stability shoe. We slowly evolved into a community of haters on the back of minimalist movement. Books and companies began flipping the script. El natural was the way to go. After all, who doesn’t like new technology? For a few years these absolutist’s touted human function, “our body was designed to run with minimal (if any) support.” But who’s right and who’s wrong? You’re likely not surprised to hear–it depends.

If you weren’t confused about the pronation thing already, then hold on tight. Research has been all over the board. Recent studies have concluded that shoes mean far less than what we once thought, while others prove their ability to control for foot motion and loading speed. Before we get all jumbled in shoe fit and name calling, it’s probably important for you to know the specifics about pronation and its importance. If nothing else, you’ll have a perfect understanding to argue through your next runner’s anonymous meeting.

The Gait Cycle

For simplification we’ll describe to foot to be either ‘supinated’ or ‘pronated’. Pronation is sandwiched between two phases of supination. When you hear ‘supinated’ I want you to associate it with rigidity. Our foot is supinated at the beginning and end of the gait cycle (initial contact and push off). Pronation is synonymous with a flexible foot. Our foot pronates as we load through mid-stance. This should make sense, right? When we land you ideally want a solid, rigid foot. A rigid foot is sturdy and solid, ready to accept up to three times your body weight. The transition through pronation allows your foot to adapt and disperse forces. Your foot with absorb landing forces, spinning into and off of the ground.

A Glimpse Into Pronation

Pronation is important, but like everything in life, too much of a good thing can in fact be bad. Runners generally fall into three categories of pronation: not enough, too much, or just right.

Not Enough Pronation

Remember that pronation allows you to shock absorb. Without it you can experience higher, more rapid loading rates. Without pronation your bones can’t roll, spin, or glide. You’ll be locked into a position that limits shock absorption. Restricted pronation can occur for a few reasons.

High Arches

High, rigid arches are incapable of pronating. The foot is restricted anatomically and will likely not improve with stretching. Easily said, your foot is incapable of pronating or flattening. Generally, we find that runners with high, rigid arches fair better with a shoe that provides support. A supported shoe will build the dead space between the arch and the ground.

Overbuilt Shoes or Orthotics

In severe cases, some runners are hit with a double whammy. The dreaded orthotic and motion control shoes. Although some runners may require both, it’s definitely a small minority. A flexible foot should be allowed to be a mover and shaker. Locking the foot into supination with an overbuilt shoe or orthotic blocks your ability to shock absorb and distribute landing forces, sore knees ankles, and hips often result. It’s almost like wearing 2×4’s under your feet.

Too Much Pronation – Low Arches or Neutral Arches

Over pronators are what most runners associate with the word pronation. Magazines and clinicians paint a picture of a foot that mangles itself with every step. Remember, pronation is a good thing, but too much can be problematic. A foot that pronates too much is often too flexible and not married with enough strength to control said flexibility. A pronated foot requires strength, balance, and control. During instances of extreme pronation or weakness, external support from an orthotic or supported shoe is warranted.

The Right Amount of Pronation – Low arches or Neutral Arches

The Goldie Locks of Pronation! Neutral, flexible feet are ideal. A flexible foot allows proper loading from initial contact to push off. It also requires little to no external support from an orthotic or supportive shoe; HOWEVER, this is only true if you have the strength to support your foot with your own muscles. A weak, flexible foot will fall into the above category: too much pronation. Low arches can also fall into this category if their feet are strong enough. A simple test to determine foot strength and balance is to put a sock on without sitting down. This dynamic movement is a quick glimpse into strength and overall balance.

So there you have it. Pronation is an important and required part of the gait cycle. In an ideal world we would all have neutral arches with strong feet, but we know that not to be true. For those with low arches or weak feet, you should work on foot strength and, if needed, external support from an orthotic or supportive shoe. For runners with high, rigid arches, seek a shoe or orthotic that builds the dead space between your arch and the ground.

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Hip Flexibility and Run Performance for Runners

There are countless articles mentioning the detrimental effects of sitting, whether it be for sport or life in general. The static posturing that consumes our life essentially immobilizes us. In general, the pressure in our low back increases, our thoracic spine (mid back) stiffens, and our hip flexors shrink. Sitting at work only compounds the problem. Add the time up. Go ahead. You sit to for three meals a day, to drive to and from work, while at work, and to relax before sneaking into bed. Somewhere in the middle you ambush your body with a high functioning skill like running.

Despite being under attack from your chair, you still run. The complexity of our anatomy allows it; however, step after step can cause stress to the system and eventual failure. Tight hips can easily be linked to low back pain and countless overuse injuries. The overuse injuries aren’t limited to the hips either. A good clinician can link tight hips to injuries as far away as your foot. Injuries aside, the tightness can also result in slower running. To produce force your bones must move through an excursion. Tightness at the hips can limit your proximal stability (as seen through this article) or even cause excessive upward oscillation in your running. Runners with tight hips typically have a bouncy stride.

It’s always great when you can get faster without having to train more, right? For some, simply freeing up a restricted joint or enhancing movement can allow the body to move more freely. A body that moves well can generate more force while asking for less help from surrounding areas. Really, you’re getting a two for one deal. You’ll run faster and also help reduce your risk for injury.

Are my hips tight?

A few motions are cause for concern when checking hip mobility. Generally, you’ll want to evaluate your hip rotation and extension (hip flexion is rarely tight). The best option is to have a skilled clinician evaluate your hip mobility. Flying solo can be tough. The hips are sneaky and may litter your movement with compensations, disguising your tightness.

If you don’t have someone to check your hip mobility I suggest finding a physical therapist to lend a hand. For those of you DIY’ers out there you can use these few positions for a self-check (although we suggest you find someone to explain the results, as well as any corrective exercises).

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Hip Extension

Lay on your back at the edge of the bed. Hug one knee to your chest. Does your other leg lift up? You’re looking to see if your knee drops below your hip (good flexibility) or pull up above your hip (poor flexibility). The knee should remain bent at 90 degrees.

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Internal Rotation

Lay on your stomach with your knee bent to 90 degrees. Slowly let your ankles drop outwards. Roughly 45 degrees is normal; however, most female runners have more range. You should keep your pelvis flat to the floor and your knees in line with your hips.


External Rotation

Sit with your ankle on your opposite knee. Generally most runners will find a huge difference between their right and left sides. Be sure to sit with good posture and a neutral pelvis. You should be fairly symmetrical and able to drop your knee parallel (or close to it) with the floor. Thank you for being in this picture, Bailey.

How does this affect performance?

The key here is to identify if your hips need to be stretched. For some, their issue is strength, not flexibility. Identify your weakness and movement errors to be a faster, more durable runner.

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Off Season Recovery for Runners

The season is coming to an end, at least in the northeast. Many of us are leaving 2013 with PR’s or plan to in the next 4 weeks, while far too many are looking to forget the terror that 2013 served. Runners scarred with a nasty limp or distinct recollection of lugging around a sweaty walking boot. Whether 2013 was plagued with countless injuries, subpar performances, or presented you with PR’s, all of us are looking to start fresh for 2014. Face it, this past summer was rough. You beat yourself up even if your avoided the injury bug.

Every runner developed or worsened dysfunction this past summer, likely piling on from previous years. Dysfunction is a term we use to define less than ideal movement. It could be as simple as a weak hip or tight ankle, but the effects can ripple throughout the body. Don’t freak out. It’s ok. Your body can handle short time frames of dysfunction. It’s cool like that. What it can’t handle is years of compensated, ugly, poor movement.

We build dysfunction through breakdown that naturally occurs through training. Something as simple as the crown of the road can create excessive mobility of your right foot, while preventing movement at your left. Mile after mile the two sides of your body are altered, hardwiring dysfunction into your gait and movement. Left unaddressed it can easily gift wrap you an overuse injury. The combinations are endless but they happen.

How does dysfunction affect your ability to run?

Weakness or hypomobility cause compensated stresses at other areas, degrading and softening tissue. The tissue literally becomes load intolerant. More than injuries, dysfunction prevents you from punishing the ground at the end of your stride. You lose your explosive propulsion as joints compensate, drag, and lose stability. Dysfunction causes injury, yes, but it also yields slower running.

Remember this: the absence of soreness doesn’t equate to ‘recovered’. Your legs can feel fresh if your hips are weak. You can still run pain free with an ankle screaming for help. November through February is where the foundation is laid for a successful summer. You need to rebuild from the war you fought on the roads all summer.

The right combination comes in the mix of rest and run specific exercise. We’re not talking about going to the gym and racking off squats, knee extensions, leg curls, or crunches either. You’re far better off with bodyweight supported exercise. You need to back off on training too. For many it means backing off completely to rebuild, for others the recipe is one part slow running three parts strength training. Again, your strength training should equate to bench press, biceps curls, and sculpting your triceps, but run specific, deliberate, exercise that address common running dysfunction.

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Recovery at the end of the season is for just that, recovery. Go out and have fun. Run a festive 5K or take the pooch out for a trail run. The old rule of thumb, “A day recovery for every mile raced” is a great rule to follow. Just remember that recovery doesn’t mean you have to sit on the couch and pack on the freshmen 15. Recover actively through easy runs and cross training.

Fighting dysfunction can be easier than you think. Most of us have overlapping dysfunction as we develop into a sitting society. If you can’t get your hands on a skilled clinician, you should, at the very least, work these few exercises into routine throughout the winter.


Hip Tightness

This yoga move promotes both stability and flexibility. Lunge backwards with your right leg and keep your weight balanced between the front and back leg. Arms straight and reaching overhead, sit into the lunge until you feel a stretch in the front of the right hip. Hold 10 seconds, switch sides. Repeat 5x.

Be sure to keep your weight balanced and your front knee should be stacked over the ankle.

runsmart off season recovery running

Unilateral Deadlift

Posterior chain weakness plagues most running careers and can even lead to a variety of knee and lower leg injuries, including Achilles Tendinitis and Plantar Fasciitis. To perform this move, hold your arms out wide. Keeping your spine straight and maintaining a natural curve, hinge from the hip until your feel a pull in the back of your leg. Without holding, return to the start position. Repeat 20-30x or sets of 10.

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Pronation Control

If you can’t control the ground forces at the foot and ankle consider yourself toast. This exercise will teach you to control loading forces and a slower, more manageable rate. Balance on your left foot. Rotating outwards tap your right heel to the ground and return to balancing on your left foot. Repeat 10-20x on each side. Be sure to balance and reach with the exercise, you shouldn’t be leaving a dent in the floor from where you hit your heel.

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Core Strength for Runners – Don’t be a Mush

Core strength for runners is important.  You’ve heard the running magazines and doctors tout this universal fact for years, but why?  A strong core sounds flashy and sexy, but the answer lies deeper than looking good.  Sure, you might be able to wash your laundry on your stomach, but don’t mistake that for strength that matters. Run-specific strengthening for your core will not only help you ward off injury, but also help you get more bang for your buck with every step.
In fact, most runners who have a ripped midsection are functionally weak.  Muscle heads are strong but it certainly doesn’t make them a fast.  If a race was a sit-up competition they would win every time.  Luckily, for my sake included, it’s not.  When most runners think core they think six pack and chiseled obliques.  A powerful supporting cast is often neglected.  Deep abdominal, low back, pelvic floor muscles are certainly less appealing than a solid six pack, but they undoubtedly play a lead role while running.

A strong core can accomplish two things for you.  First, and most importantly, it can keep you healthy.  Second, a strong core can help you run faster.   The activation of your core muscles gives you stability.  The best visualization resides in this quote:  “You cannot fire a cannon from a canoe.”  This simple phrase defines the purpose of core strength.

“You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe.”

At push off you’re firing a cannon into the ground, driving yourself forward on the horizontal as you grab real estate with every stride.  Your hip, knee, and calf are your cannon, while youre core, comprised of your pelvis, low back, and trunk, provide the supporting surface from which you fire.  A weak core is your metaphorical canoe.  The weakness yields movement from above.  Your pelvis and low back will dance something ugly, shifting and moving as your muscles fail to cement them in place.  You’re literally losing your “umph” at push off.  You’re cannon loses the ability to transfer force into the ground and you lose speed.

Just as you fire a cannon into the ground, the ground returns fire at initial contact.  Within milliseconds of touching the ground your body is exposed to forces roughly three times your bodyweight.  Your body absorbs, or is supposed to at least, the force that thunders through your bones, muscles, and tendons.  Your core are the big guys that keep everything in check.  Your foot, knee, and hip strength make no difference if your abdominals, low back, and pelvic floor is weak.  Your core muscles provide the platform for which everything attaches.  A weak or unstable platform allows your hip, knee, and ankle to drag through excessive range and eventually causing injury.

core strength for runners
The above image displays this concept, showing points in time before contact and through the loading phase of gait. This runner is not strong enough to absorb her landing. A compensation develops where she leans left, kicking her arm out in desperation for balance. Her hip drops as it’s unable to stabilize the pelvis. These few compensations cause drag on the knee, foot, and ankle.

The ground and your body exchange fire with every step.  The fire and return fire foster fatigue in your core muscles.  Said fatigue then further reduces your platform stability, opening the door for injury. Your unstable platform allows dragging on your joints, muscles, and tendons.

Being a complete runner is more than the miles you log.  Your body is similar to your car.  You can only beat on it for so long before things start to break.  Working on core strength is more than injury prevention.  Run specific core strength allows you to distribute more force to the ground a push.  Being a mush (yes, that’s a technical term) yields injury and slower splits.  Don’t be a mush.

Don’t be a mush.

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Tips to Avoid a Running Injury

Injuries are part of running whether you like it or not. There’s rarely a single step that causes an injury, but rather the summation of thousands to millions of identical steps that wear you down over time. Think of dripping water eating away at ice. It’s not a single drop that causes the ice to melt, but the summation of thousands of drops over time, much the way a sinkhole forms over thousands of years. The collapse of a sinkhole doesn’t happen overnight. Soil erodes until a critical point is hit where the soil cannot support the structures on top of it.

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Hippy Runners, Not WoodStock

Are you a hippy runner? I’m not talking about Woodstock, but a term I use to describe runners without enough junk in their trunk. Hippy runners are easy to find. Chances are you’ve seen them without knowing. In fact, you may even be one. Hippy runners lack general core and hp strength, often displayed as a smashing of their belt line from side to side and a compensatory upper body shift to maintain balance.

Generally we’ll find this in our young female athletes, as they fight to grow into their body. Young runners are not the only susceptible athletes, though. Runners who are fairly new to the sport tend to lack the general strength to stabilize their bones while running. Hip weakness can be linked back countless injuries and even slower running. Think of it this way: You have these huge powerhouse muscle groups (core, glutes). If they are under developed (young runners) or weak (mostly everyone else), they can’t perform their duties during the running motion.

What does a hippy runner look like?

I’m all about analogies.

If you’re going to move you would likely ask for help (although most people are ‘unavailable’ whenever you mention “So, I’m moving…”). You (metaphorical small muscle groups) have no problem moving boxes or the lighter items, but for those heavy pieces (furniture, appliances, etc) you would love some help from your stronger, bigger, friends (metaphorical glutes). They decide to stiff you, leaving you (the smaller muscle groups) to do all the work. What happens? You are over extended and worked. For running sake, this happens day after day, run after run.

In a previous article, I discussed how muscle imbalance develops. It’s worth understanding why running more isn’t an answer, but more of brushing weakness under the carpet.

The anatomy

We’re really looking to strengthen everything inside this box below. A term we use in physical therapy is proximal stability for distal mobility. It’s a fundamental principle that applies to both sport and life. In order to generate force distally (at your foot) you need to be strong proximally (your hips and low back). Another analogy? Sure. Think about playing tug-o-war. One person is on ice (no stability) vs someone on land (improved stability). There’s no doubt that the person with better stability will be able to generate more force through their arms and the rope.

hip strength for runners

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