Most of us look at strength training or using other training models as a means to make ourselves stronger, fitter, or more mobile; think Yoga (flexibility), CrossFit (fitter), Power-lifting (stronger). While these all have unique and amazing qualities to them for their own sports or practices, we’ve seen them each as individual tools for expressing human motion under a different light for human performance. Having a simple understanding of some of the basic or fundamental shapes that a human being makes throughout their day and how those correlate to running has become the staple of our research. While I greatly respect a Yogi, CrossFitter, and Power-lifter for their specializations, like runners they all have their own “issues” too. While it’s easy to spell out the differences between someone who enjoys running and any of these other practices, let’s focus, instead, on the similarities.
First, body weight is everything, and understanding this application of body weight is involved in anything we do with movement. From standing, sitting, running, walking, squatting, pressing, throwing, kicking, etc., it all involves your connection to you. If we don’t have the proper understanding of flexibility (passive ROM [Range of Motion]) vs. mobility (working ROM), then we do not understand stability and motor control. Having a strength issue is much different than having a motor control issue. Yet everything in this universe, even your body is looking for stability. Stability is nothing more than our bodies attempt to hold a specific shape or position. We can have poor stability (think poor posture), and better stability (think good posture, where we are stacked structurally). Regardless the perfect position does not exist, which means it can always be improved upon.
An example for runners is a unstable knee. An unstable knee in running can have a multitude of issues that follow. From, a collapsed arch, IT Band issues, torn/ruptured ACL, patella femoral issues, Hip issues, to name a few… You also may show no issues or problems right now, yet still have an unstable knee. What does that look like? Sometimes these things are hard to pick up on too, and in both instances we can use something like a squat, or a jump, and even a deadlift to not only diagnose an unseen issue in ourselves, and/or we can use the these exercises to correct the issue* (*the runner will most likely need to take some time off to set up this new pattern, so that the body starts to adapt to the better position of stability). Setting up these positions (and I’m starting with body weight) we need understand the prioritization of movement. Simply put stabilizing the spine first, then working out from there.
In the squat, learning to hip hinge with a stable spine while maintaining the hip in external rotation keeping the entire foot connected through the ground will create an arch and a more optimal ‘stable’ position. The connection through the ball of foot (BOF) is how the foot should be connected to the ground through the foot.This position at the top ⅛ of the squat is something every runner needs to understand specific to running, everything below that becomes a test that allows every runner to understand what will inevitably happen when fatigue gets the best of you. Your worst position becomes your go to position with enough fatigue. So we are letting the exposed (more) ROM show us where the real problems are.
The jump is nothing more than a dynamic un-weighted shortened ROM squat. So now we get to use speed to dictate reality. If we can not descend into the proper position (¼-½ squat) to explode out, or even use a jump rope without our knees diving in (medial) than we know we need to step back to a shorter more scaled version of these to get the correct proprioceptive response we need.
The deadlift plays almost the same role as a squat but is more or less the ability to stabilize/prioritize the spine in a hip hinge with our torso almost perpendicular to the ground (more extreme lever). The reason the deadlift gets a bad rap is because when people can not prioritize the spine, the back tends to do what the hip should be doing, flexing. This is of paramount concern for any human being looking to be in a more stable position, especially running, as over-extension and too much flexion of the spine can and will lead to compensatory reactions up and down stream. The deadlift also gives us the ability to understand hamstring ROM, and what happens top down when we load. Maintaining the hip hinge is crucial to keeping your posterior chain involved in “true extension” (when running, your support leg and foot must support your body weight in front of it, and keeping your posterior chain involved is critical so that smaller muscle groups don’t pick up the slack of the larger ones = compensation).
There are an infinite amount of examples in human movement; the fact is these movements have helped out numerous people with running when used appropriately. We need to understand how to move, and not just move in one special way. So let’s start here with an overall understanding of the majors…
True extension plays a major role in keeping the body stable for most things we do. Leonardo Da Vinci’s depiction of the anatomical man was spot on, in that the shoulders and hips sit in external rotation. I am not relying on Da Vinci here as the interpreter of what stability is, but when we look at the best or the youngest in anything, we find the exact same things we do with the best in any sport. When a child learns to stand, walk, run, press, etc. the shapes that are needed, and instinctual, are mimicked by the best runners, powerlifters, and gymnasts in the world. A gymnast performing various explosive overhead maneuvers can express as much, if not more, force than most Olympic Weightlifters can get overhead. Running is a knee forward sport, meaning the knee is bent at landing causing us to be anterior chain dominant (flexed). In order to counter this our posterior chain needs to be developed to maintain proper stability in extension (running). Your hips keep you upright, and if they don’t, your hip-flexors and quads will. We see that most runners end up learning to stabilize only internally as a result of lots of logged miles with no other guidance on movement.
Your hips and shoulders are probably the most important joints we have, so we need to get them to full ROM or optimal ROM / mobility as best we can. This is why we squat (get up off the seat), and this is why we jump, deadlift (pick up something), press (reach for something overhead) or pull (climb)… They are everyday movements that can be mimicked with strength and conditioning. The great thing about all of these movements is this: If you don’t see any problems with your running, meaning no injuries or pain, and you find you are having trouble doing any of the mentioned movements in the manner I have described, we have most likely made something that was invisible visible and can prevent injury and pain down the road. On the other side, if you are experiencing problems when currently running then we can almost guarantee we can show one or some of these positions are compromised that we’ve gone over. This means you’ve screened yourself and you can, more than likely, stave off a future problem by addressing this issue in another fundamental human movement with the squat, press, pull, or just picking something up.
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