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Guest Post: Distance Running

We have had some new help at our facility the last couple weeks, and it has led to some new discussions on endurance athletics.

Matt Masserant is a successful personal trainer and a competitive distance runner.  Matt graduated with a degree in health sciences from Oakland University and holds a Correctional Exercise Specialist certification from the NASM, USA-Track and Field, and USA-Weightlifting.  Matt has worked with clients of all abilities and backgrounds and continues to get more involved in performance training for athletes.

Matt put some information together for some of his clients training for endurance races, and he wanted to share that information with the USC community.

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 Identifying Common Errors in Distance Running

Recreational running is a lot more prevalent today than it was 50 years ago. With this being said, personal trainers must be able to successfully design and implement effective training programs to help their clients achieve their running goals. When running for an extended period of time it is important to take into account the demands of the sport. Common mistakes in running technique need to be considered in order to prevent injury, increase running gait efficiency, and create a higher chance of reaching a goal. The slightest errors in running technique, over time, can be detrimental to the body and achieving the maximum potential during a distance race. In order for a personal trainer to implement a successful training program, it is important to first educate their clients on ways to improve their performance in the sport of distance running.

Working on running technique is vital to successfully achieving a goal. Practicing proper form will improve efficiency, adapt to stress being placed on the body, and ultimately finishing the race injury free. Proper intermuscular coordination must be present in order for the kinematic chain to function using the least amount of energy. To better understand the common areas of misuse during a running gait cycle, the body will be broken into five areas: the shoulders and upper arms, the lower arms, the hands, the head, and the lower body.

The shoulders and upper arms work to balance the body, but when reaching higher speeds or intensities, they can assist in propelling the leg muscles at a faster rate. As the body gets tired, it is common to see the shoulders rise towards the ears and hunch forward. This creates muscle imbalances between the anterior and posterior musculature of the trunk. As these imbalances occur, the trunk will begin to rotate more, which will in turn waste vital energy. To help prevent this from occurring, it is important to constantly cue the shoulders and upper arms to be relaxed while running. With an upright chest, the shoulders should be depressed downward away from the ears placed directly over the pelvis.

Positioning of the lower arms is also very important in conserving energy and increasing efficiency during a distance race. The shoulders and upper arms, as well as the lower arms, should match the speed of the run (i.e. the faster the run, the quicker the arm swing pace). The arms should be at a 90 degree angle with the elbows tucked in close to the body. This will help keep the trunk from rotating. Swinging of the arms should be done from the shoulder, not from the elbow. If the body were divided by an imaginary line down the middle into left and right sides, the hands should never pass that line during the arm swing motion. Front to back, not side to side. Rotating the body as mentioned before will use a lot of unneeded energy. Constantly cueing the arms to swing front to back with the arms positioned at a 90 degree angle close to the body will help to prevent any unwanted rotation of the trunk as well as increase the efficiency and speed of the run.

Positioning of the hands may seem of minimal importance during running, but over 26.2 miles of energy demanding activity, unnecessary tense muscles can be detrimental to successfully reaching a goal. With the arms positioned at 90 degrees, the hands should rest about waist level, running right along the hip. The hands should be loose, but not limp. Even in the final moments of a race, your wrists should be fairly loose, your fingers should be slightly bent, and your thumbs should not be sticking up like spikes (1).

Keeping proper posture of the head depends a lot on the positioning of the shoulders. If the shoulders are slouching forward the head will more than likely be pulling forward. This can create excessive strain on the shoulders, as well as decrease the amount of oxygen able to get to the lungs and the rest of the body.  Constant cueing to keep the chest up, back flat, and shoulders depressed downward can help to take strain off the neck and shoulders.

The last section of common mistakes relates to the lower-body. There is a common misunderstanding about opening up your stride to cover a greater distance in less steps, and what is considered to be overstriding. Overstriding is a common mistake a runner can make to end their run short of the finish. Overstriding is considered to be any heel strike during running gait. Some coaches even state that overstriding occurs whenever touchdown occurs in front of the body (2).  Each time heel strike occurs the body has to brake, absorb the shock, and then transfer the weight through the mid-foot to continue running gait. This creates a large amount of wasted energy. Cueing yourself to avoid lunging forward during running can help prevent overstriding and increase the use of pawback action. In pawback, after your thigh is driven forward and the shin swings out, you bring the leg back and down so that you touchdown on your midfoot and closer to the vertical projection of the body’s center of gravity on touchdown (2).

Besides proper running gait technique, there are a lot of other factors to be considered when designing and implementing a successful distance run training program for a client. Building aerobic and anaerobic training, resistance training, footwork drills, course considerations, injury prevention considerations, psychological and physiological training, as well as having a proper diet are all areas that need to be addressed. To become an elite distance runner, or elite athlete in any sport for that matter, all variables must be working together properly in order for the maximal potential to be reached.

Whether it is a 5k, half-marathon, or full-marathon, as a personal trainer, it is vital to be able to educate clients on ways to improve their performance in the sport of distance running. Applying the principle of compound interest to running is a great way to see huge results develop over time. When little things are done consistently each day, over time these actions will all accumulate into something much larger because they compounded over time. The effect of doing these little things everyday can either develop into something larger that is positive or something larger that is negative. This principal applied to practicing good running technique has obvious returns. If good technique is consistently used, the body can work more efficiently, and faster race times can be reached. On the other hand, if poor running technique is practiced consistently, overuse injuries will develop, efficiency of running gait will decrease, and ultimately injuries will develop.

References:

1. Coe P, Martin P. “The Key to Good Running is Good Form.” Runner’s World 2013.
2. Yessis M. “Are You Overstriding? The importance of a properly executed ‘pawback’ action.” Runner’s World 29 June 2011.

 

 

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