Monday, August 17, 2009

Working on Improving Running Form and Efficiency

Track and Field: 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics

No that is not me, but wouldn't it be nice to have form like Kenenisa Bekele? For the past couple of weeks I have been learning about and playing around with the Feldenkrais Method to try to restore proper movement patterns to my body and to relearn how to run properly. I am very intrigued with the system having tried just about everything else out there to rebalance my body with only limited success.

On one hand I find the Feldenkrais routines easy to do and learn and on the other I have experienced some pretty positive results and an almost instant reawakening of more proper movements patterns. I have only had one visit so far with a Feldenkrais teacher, but there are a lot of ways to learn the movements patterns that you can do on your own. While the Feldenkrais Method is not a running technique (think POSE or Chi Running) it is a way to rethink or replay movement patterns that will positively effect your running. It is not stretching, but I feel much looser. It is not a strength training strategy either. As best I understand it, it seems to help repattern movement in your body. It also helps the brain take in the new patterns so that you can use them in your movements and running. Basically we get stuck in patterns that we think are correct, but may not be the most correct or efficient way to move. We get stuck in routines of movement and "forget" how we used to move. For years I knew I had bad movement patterns, but I didn't know how to change them because they feel "natural" to me.

Ir you are an efficient well balanced runner, than Feldenkrais may not be for you. However if your running form is impossible to fix, like mine than this may be a solution to relearning how to move. Here is what one Feldenkrais website suggests how Feldenkrais can help runners:

The connection of the shoulder and pelvis in rotation;
The ability of the lower back to lengthen as the leg comes forward, but also how all your back can share the work as the leg goes back (and so avoid back pain)
The connection of the foot pushing the ground away through the extension in the hip joint and the back (esp upper back) to the propulsion of the chest forward. Extension of the upper back also frees the lower back from doing all the work.
The mobility, alignment and passage of weight through the foot, ankle and hip for the safety of the knee, shock absorbency and propulsion
The ability to rotate freely and quickly in the spine
Differentiation, loosening and freeing of the chest and shoulder girdle.
Freer, easier breathing.
Greater awareness of running as a movement of the whole self and accompanying ease and power.

Here is what I have found to help me better understand using the technique. First you may want to get the book Running with the Whole Body: A 30-Day Program to Running Faster with Less Effort. I have had a copy of the book for over 10 years. When I first used it, I did not understand the concepts or how to do the routines. I did them in typical "runner" fashion, quickly going through the movements to hit the "payoff" last movements. I also pushed very hard to try to make them work better. While I had a great year of running the summer I used the book, I only now realize I really did not tap the potential of the routines. I learned so much more about how to do the movements when I bought the audio version of the book. You can get it on CD from Amazon or get an audio download of "Running With the Whole Body" like I did already in mp3 format.

I have gone through all of the audio lessons once, and will do so again. Some are in a different presentation than the book. The book includes additional lessons that are not on the audio version. However, in following the audio, you learn the pacing and simple efforts needed to do the lessons. It is hard to read a book and do the lessons. But it is much simpler doing the book lessons having practiced the audio lessons first.

There is also a website that has free audio Feldenkrais lessons, The Open ATM Project Feldenkrais® Awareness Through Movement® Lessons. Sharon Moyano, a runner and Feldenkrais teacher, has over 50 lessons there including 6 lessons from a runner's workshop. I tried the "freeing the hip joints" lesson from the runner's workshop last night and I found it simply amazing for helping my body and mind "see" new ways of moving from my hips. Whenever I do a lesson I feel extremely loose and free, a much different feeling than what I would get from a stretching routine, but strangely it is exactly how you would want to feel after stretching. I find that I walk and move different after a lesson. I feel it also is helping to change my running, but my running form is so messed up that I can only hold onto a proper movement pattern for a short time before losing it. I expect that my form will keep improving, but that it may take quite awhile to get every lesson to hold as my muscles have to adapt.

After a good week of running and dieting, I couldn't wait to see what would happen at tonight 5 mile trail race. For the first time all year I felt like I was racing when the gun went off. I had a great first mile (in the lead) until Mike Wade realised I was not doing the 5K. He passed at about 1.5 miles and I stayed close. Greg Indruk caught up at about 3 miles and Mike was still in view. He had to stop to deal with a loose dog and at about 4 miles I was only about 5 seconds behind Mike and Greg. Then it was the rough trails of the last mile. I took it easier in here not wanting to trip again and the other two guys raced ahead until they were out of sight. Despite the heat and humidity I only ran 5 seconds slower than my best time of the year on the course. I liked that I felt loose for a change. The terrain and twisting nature of the course is not the greatest course for someone trying to learn how to run smoothly again. The hills, roots, twists, and turns kept throwing off my stride pattern, it will be interesting to race on a smoother surface.

On a dieting note, I had to pig out a bit yesterday as I was losing too much weight too quickly. I had dropped about 5 pounds in three days and that was not good.

I hope to continue learning movement patterns through Feldenkrais lessons and when my rib is fully healed I hope to go visit Charlie, the Feldenkrais teacher again. Charlie also teaches a version of Feldenkrais called the Anat Baniel Method. So I have been reading her book called Move into Life: The Nine Essentials for Lifelong Vitality. It is very interesting and although not necessarily a book for athletes, the lessons can be applied throughout your life, including sports. I am also interested in the brain learning in the book as well as the Feldenkrais movement lessons that go with each chapter.

I am having a great time following and watching the World Championships in Berlin, both on the Internet and on TV. It is so much fun not having track and field conflicting with other sports on TV like during the Olympics! Kenensila Bekele won another championship medal with his 10,000 meter win today.

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