I know most of you are thinking, “this is a stupid sounding blog post…I know how to run.” I would have probably said the same thing about three or four years ago….let’s look at why you should probably reconsider or evaluate how you run.
To give you a bit of background: my claim to fame is that in grade 7 and 8, I went undefeated in cross country for a couple consecutive years. I then went on to do reasonably well in track and field during high school. Little did I know, I was a pretty inefficient runner. I technically didn’t need to be a very efficient runner, because other than show up at the track on race day and win events, I didn’t have a ton of demand on my running skills since I played hockey. So then why am I all of a sudden writing about why learning to run is an important skill? Let me explain:
When you run with incorrect technique, running is a hamstring dominant exercise. Your foot lands in front of your body, and you use your legs to pull yourself forward. When you run with correct technique, your foot plants under your body. This engages your foot’s natural “spring mechanism” and shoots you forward. This also makes running more glute dominant (like skating).
Given the fact that hockey players will be asked to do A LOT of running throughout the course of their hockey career for conditioning and speed training purposes, it makes sense to teach hockey players to run properly. Also, if given the choice on how to run, it makes sense to train hockey players to run with a more glute dominant running stride (since skating is a glute dominant movement).
How do you run properly then? There are a few different ways to train proper running technique:
1. Run in a shoe without cushioning. The cushioning in the heels of running shoes lets your body get lazy. Instead of using your body’s natural shock absorbing mechanism (the beautiful architecture of your foot, and your knee/hip when the foot plants under the body), it starts to rely on the padding in your shoes. Runners who rely on the padding in their shoes tend to extend their knee and heel strike when their foot comes in contact with the ground. This causes large amounts of force to travel through your knees, hips and into your back.
2. Try running with a forefoot strike. Even if you do wear cushioned shoes, you can consciously try to land on the front part of your foot. This will then cause your foot to land closer under your body, where the aforementioned “spring mechanism” and “shock absorbing” factors of the stride kick in.
What is the “shock absorber” of the forefoot strike?
The foot is designed in such a way so as to absorb force.
-lift the heel of your right foot off the ground
-lift your toes off the ground
-now put your weight onto your right foot, placing the whole foot flat on the ground
-notice how the toes and foot spreads as you place more weight on the foot
By landing on your forefoot, you allow the force of the foot strike to be absorbed by the musculature and bones of the forefoot. If you land on your heel, there is no such mechanism for distributing/absorbing force, and the force travels right up your leg/hip/back. Remember that when you run, 3 times your body weight is the amount of force that goes through the leg as it lands. Ground reaction force studies have shown that running in cushioned runners actually causes runners to produce more ground force upon foot strike than running barefoot. Think about whether you want to land on an artificially constructed foam pad to protect your body, or if you’d like to recruit your body’s natural shock absorber mechanism and absorb shocks through your entire foot and leg.
What is this “spring mechanism”?
When you land on your forefoot under your body, your heel lightly touches down. When this happens, it triggers a stretch reflex in your calf, activating the muscles of your lower leg. When your foot plants under your body, it also places your upper leg in an excellent force producing angle, allowing your glute maximus to contract optimally.
You may be wondering:
-should I run barefoot?
-should I start running with this new style (forefoot strike) all the time?
If, like me a little while ago, you run like crap (if you’re a hockey player, there’s about a 90% chance you run like an idiot), then you should not suddenly change your running style and go for a 10km rip. There are a few considerations to take into account:
-You need to prepare the musculature of your lower leg for this new stimulation. The muscles of your foot and lower leg have probably been in hibernation throughout the hockey season, and need to re-awakened slowly. Starting your running in low dosages, then working your way back up to previous volumes of running is a good strategy. If you’ve never run with a forefoot strike, you may need to progress even more slowly.
-Barefoot running (or in that style with the use of Vibram Five Fingers or minimist style running shoes) should be approached with caution. You need to ensure that your feet can handle a forefoot strike without pronating or supinating. This means that your ankle collapses in or out (most commonly in – pronation) during the foot strike. If your foot pronates or supinates, it may compromise your knee alignment and therefore your pelvic and spine alignment. So if you are going to remove your motion control shoe/arch support/cushioning, do so only in small doses at first. Start with walking barefoot, then progress to jogging for short distances, then progress to running further and faster. I would highly recommend getting someone that can assess foot control to assess your ability to maintain neutral foot posture while running. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen bouncing around in their toe shoes with horrible pronation and arch collapse…these people should be slowly removing their support while completing foot strengthening exercises in a progressive manner. (See my article Progressive Overload). While you should ideally run in a barefoot style, you need to make sure your body can handle it first. In a subsequent article, I will talk about foot control and foot strengthening.
I got onto this vein of knowledge when I first read the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall a few years back. It was a very interesting read, and structured as a narrative…so it was also an easy read. Ever since I read it, I have been on a quest to learn about correct (read: natural/primal) running technique. I have since changed the way that I run, while increasing my foot control with foot strengthening exercises. When I do run with proper technique, I feel like I am floating along, and that each step is propelling me into the next. I also notice that after running, my hamstrings are no longer sore…and instead I feel it a little bit in my glutes and calves. It seems advantageous to me to run in a way that recruits glute maximus rather than hamstring as I anticipate greater transfer to on-ice performance.
Anyway, whether or not you agree with my argument, I hope you consider how the way you run may be affecting you body. Happy Running!