Runners are an oft-injured bunch. It’s estimated that 85% of all runners are injured annually. That number is vastly higher than in any other sport—even full-contact sports, such as football. As runners, we have been conditioned to expect these injuries as inherent to the running process. In all other sports, if we get injured, we look for a reason, and we make adjustments to our technique. In running, if we get injured, we wait out our recovery time and simply return to running again.
It is said that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In every physical activity, besides running, we constantly fuss over our technique; from swimming to throwing a baseball. In running, our culture tells us that “we just run how we run” or to “just do it”. So despite being constantly injured, we don’t change anything or consider our form to be an issue. We just keep running. Are we all insane?
As humans, we evolved over millions of years moving across this planet in a field of gravity. All forces on Earth are a derivative of gravity. When you run, despite what you may think, gravity is propelling you forward, not your muscles. It’s physics. And physics governs everything. Gravity is a law. It’s not open to interpretation.
If you run and observe the laws of physics, you completely eliminate the impact on your joints. The impact is placed on your muscles instead—where it should be. You also eliminate braking forces that cause unnecessary impact and impede forward progress.
Without getting too dense, here are some things to think about when you lace up for your next run to help you reduce impact and keep you injury free:
- Have an awareness of your general center of mass (GCM). In running, you always want to fall forward leading with your GCM (essentially your hips). Many runners fall into the trap of bending over at the waist. This poor posture forces you to counterbalance around your GCM with your feet. Typically a runner bent at the waist will leave their feet far behind their GCM, causing an over-stride and much longer time on support—where all running injuries occur (they’re not happening during the flight phase).
- Keep your strides short and your cadence high. We like to think of stride length as the distance between our feet while we’re running, but that is inaccurate. Stride length is how far your GCM travels between footfalls. If you’re reaching out in front of your body and heel-striking, you have to spend a lot of time on support while your GCM travels in front of that leg and you can begin your next stride. Time on the ground only increases injuries.
- Pull your feet up under your hips. The more you can keep your GCM aligned with your feet and shoulders (you should be able to draw a straight line from the ball of your foot, through your GCM to your shoulders and head) the less impact your footfalls will produce. When your feet deviate from being under your GCM, that is when the impact begins. If you keep them under your hips, you can run impact and joint-pain free.
So next time you run, ignore what the popular running culture is telling you (“Just Do It”) and spend some time thinking about how you do it. You’ll be a better, happier, less-injured runner.
By Bryan Jolly, Bay Club Pacific Palisades Level 3 Professional Trainer