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Thursday, December 23, 2010

11. “Core” specifics for Runners & Triathletes

The term “core” has become so ingrained in the psyche of the exercise community as an end, in & of itself, that the implications for the need to stabilize the pelvis as a platform off of which we then drive and elastically release our legs during running, has been somewhat lost. Even this is simplified – the pelvic set & hips are key “rebounders” & the joints need to be positioned so that we can accelerate the foot to the ground with the glutes & quads & then drive & hold to bounce/release to toe off with as little leakage/dissipation as possible.

It is essential that when we do stabilization exercises as runners we see them as improving the “hold” & thus anchor points off which the hip, then knee, then ankle & plantar fascia accelerate & bounce off. So often we wish for things to be black & white & there are some populist models that would have us believe that there is no push in running. Clearly there is; muscle myography has proved this time & again.

A case can then be made for doing the majority of this “core” work while standing or balancing on both & preferably one leg, (& balancing on the mid foot to boot!). Even then there will be a need to graduate to a more plyometric approach where the pelvis is put under pressure with hopping, jumping & bounding & having the stabilizers deal with those drops & torques as a functional conditioning response.

For this reason these exercises should not only be considered as those for our abdominal muscles (obliques, rectus and most importantly transverse abs), but also the back stabilizers – most importantly the quadratus lumborum (QL) and multifidus. Also include hip flexors, glutes, groin and even knee stabilizers. And last but not least, in order to remain “stacked” through the gait cycle our upper back muscles & our thoracic spine stabilizers must be equally conditioned & trained.

Consider also the Spiderman suit that is our fascia – this needs to be released & balanced – no amount of strength or conscious effort will overcome stooped shoulders, a kyphotic (rounded upper) back & lack of extension ability/mobility with our hip flexors. We need this handled so that a lifetime of desk work & poor posture does not hold us back from our most efficient running ability

The more taught the pelvis is held dynamically, the less the loss of elastic energy (dissipation) and the greater the elastic return – so that you can SPRING forward.

Stay stacked, short in all the right places & “bouncy”!

Bobby McGee – Bobby McGee Endurance Sports

Thursday, December 2, 2010

10. How should my foot interact with the running surface?

This has been a subject of great debate lately, as the book; Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall has brought the concept of bare foot running sharply to the fore. There are also shoe companies designing footwear to force changes in foot strike & individual methodologies being marketed on how to run properly & a lot has to do with the nature of how the foot hits the surface/should hit the surface. Most runners who started running as a fitness activity simply extended their walking gait, which is a heel first strike, into running & were allowed to get away with this because of modern running footwear with well cushioned heels. “Natural” runners gravitated to the sport prior to the 1970's running boom & tended to be smaller, lighter, which is part of the self-selection process for running if NOT helped by footwear.

In running the foot should land as close to underneath the center of mass as possible, landing on the outside (lateral) edge of the bottom of the mid foot (just on & behind the pad behind the little toe). The heel will then roll down towards the surface & either lightly touch (load) as in distance running, or not, as in sprinting. The foot then rolls inward over the strong part of the outside edge, loads the arch (connective tissue/fascia & some muscle) as a spring & a shock absorber & then onto the ball of the foot before coming off the ground with the middle to big toe leaving last. Equally suitable is landing slightly further back with the “whole” outside ridge of the foot, i.e. mid foot proper – pad behind little toe, extending to just in front of the heel.

However, if you DON’T naturally run like this, be very careful & gradual with the process of doing so if you decide to change, as your plantar fascia & achilles tendon could no doubt become injured if you are too hasty, (as well as possible foot stress fractures). If you do strike heel 1st, try to have the forefoot follow VERY quickly & consider the sole of your shoe as curved like a partial car tire & rolling from the microsecond the outside of the heel hits the surface till the inside toes leave the ground. This is similar to the fore foot strike, but starts at the heel, rolls across the outside of the foot & then inwards (also loading the arch) towards & onto the ball of the foot & off the middle to big toe. Some elastic return is lost from the achilles & plantar fascia in this manner I suspect, but it is still an effective way to run & many top runners do so, albeit being more reliant on the footwear for some initial cushioning & not the achilles, plantar fascia & calf muscle complex.

More important currently in my mind is the angle of the shin – it should be vertical upon contact & not leaning rearward. This is a purer indication of not over striding & indicates well the relative position of the impact point to the dynamic center of mass (inside the pelvis) & is the point of least braking & friction.

This process is far more multi-dimensional than I have described & surmized here, but should serve as a guide to the reasoning of runners wishing to observe & experiment. 

©Bobby McGee – Bobby McGee Endurance Sports