Friday, January 6, 2012

Two Simple Exercises to Recover your Running Form

Jenny Hadfield over at AskCoachJenny writes on How to Transform your Running Form with One Simple Exercise. I have seen the single-leg balance mentioned many times as an assessment and balancing exercise, but Jenny adds a tweak to it that is very sensible to me and I can feel its immediate effect when I use this exercise and her tweak. Previously I have seen this as simply a balancing exercise. "Stand on one leg and hold." Jenny has you activate your glute with a simple move. I can feel it work when I use it. This is what Jenny says about the single-leg stance:

The single leg balance activates  and strengthens your stabilizing muscles from your feet and ankles all the way up to your hips and improves your balance too!  If you sit all day like most of us do, that deactivates your gluteal muscles which stabilize as you run stride for stride.  When these muscles atrophy (decrease strength and stability) they no longer engage and support your leg and hip as your foot lands on the ground.  It has a ripple effect in translating to wasted energy as your hips move side to side and increases the friction in your ITB (Iliotibial Band).
Those sound like the things that I need work on. Here are her directions for doing the single-leg stance. The fourth bullet is the key maneuver for me particularly letting the hip relax and then tightening it up again. I can feel my glutes activate when I do this.  Make sure you check out her directions as she gives further advice in the comments on her page:

  • Stand up with your feet hip width apart.
  • Keep your arms out to your sides for balance.
  •  Lift your left leg a few inches off the floor and hold for 30-60 seconds.
  • Engage your hip muscles to create a long, neutral line up your body. If this is confusing – try letting your hip relax out to the side and then tighten and contract it to align it under your shoulders – this is also another great exercise hip huggers.
  • Repeat 2-4 times on each side. You will feel all the muscles in your foot, ankle and hip fatiguing in seconds!
  • When this is easy progress to wearing no shoes.
  • When that gets easy stand barefoot on a towel, pillow or pad to further challenge the muscles and balance.  If you get to SuperStar status, close your eyes (very hard).

 Running is basically a single-leg balancing movement where you transition and push off between legs as you run so this type of exercise makes sense. This reminds me of another single-leg exercise that has received much press lately, the 100 Up. Back at the beginning of November, Chris McDougal of Born to Run fame wrote an article in the New York Times called The Once and Future Way to Run in which he rejuvenates and old drill as found in an late 1800s text on running. Here is a video demonstrating the 100 Up. I have done this off and on for a few weeks more as an exercise to work my creaky hip (labral tear operation last July). It certainly can't hurt and it only takes a limited amount of time to do. Both of these exercises can be added to your tool bag of simple exercises to improve your running form.

The Stark  Center at the University of Texas has a PDF copy of the old 100-Up Exercise book written  by W.C. George in 1913. Find and download it here. They also have  a related chapter on running training by Mr. George published in Training for Athletics. Find and download that here.

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