Researchers are increasingly examining our individual running patterns to determine whether they are the cause of running-related injuries. There is debate as to whether re-educating people on running mechanics can help to improve such injuries. In this piece, we will discuss some of the current views on running mechanics and provide additional guidelines to help prevent injuries from occurring. We will focus on distance running rather than sprint or field sports.
Running is a common form of exercise with numerous health benefits such as a reduction in cardiovascular mortality (Lee et al 2014) and an overall improvement in psychological wellbeing. Unfortunately there is a high rate of overuse injuries associated with running (Van Gent et al 2007). Our running mechanics (AKA running gait or running form) is how all our body segments align at any timepoint and it can contribute to some of the injuries we tend to see. Running mechanics vary a lot between runners, due to factors such as individual body structure, muscle strength, tendon stiffness, running experience and injury history.
The common running-related injuries in novice runners are typically knee and shin splints. In more experienced runners, they tend to relate to an overload of plantar fascia or achilles. Whilst there is debate as to whether the injury or a suboptimal running pattern comes first, there are studies that show there is a characteristic running pattern associated with specific injuries (e.g. Ferber et al 2010). This suggests there are some running patterns to try to avoid or alter.
Suboptimal Running Patterns
Due to each individual’s unique differences, there is no perfect pattern that will suit everyone. However, there are some patterns to try to avoid, including the following:
- Over-striding: Foot too far ahead of the body at the time of ground contact
- Crossover gait: Foot contacts the ground too far across the body as if running on a straight line
- Medial collapse: Thigh bone and knee deviate inward too much after foot hits the ground
- Over flexed ankle and knee in stance: Sinking too much into the ankle and knee bend while foot is in contact with the ground
- Cross body arm swing: Arms are moving across the body too much
- High impact loads: Hitting the ground too heavy as you land
- Low cadence: Low number of foot strikes per minute
Advice for runners
Optimising your running cadence has been shown to improve running mechanics and reduce some of the patterns mentioned above (Cumanov et al 2012). Cadence is a measure of how frequent your feet hit the ground while running and is measured in steps per minute. You can assess your own running cadence using mobile phone apps (e.g. Strave or Runtastic) or counting it yourself (e.g. count how many time you strike the ground in 30 seconds and multiply by two). If you fall below 170 steps per minute you should slowly increase this by consciously reducing your stride length and increasing the frequency of your number of contacts with the ground. Do not increase cadence more than 5% in a given week. A metronome phone app can be a useful audio cue to train to a specific cadence or some music apps allow you to select music with a tempo similar to your cadence. Try running on the spot initially with the metronome and them replicate with running. It is suggested to allow 12 running re-education sessions when trying to alter your pattern.
Other useful guidelines to help prevent injuries include slowly building running capacity and allowing sufficient recovery. In terms of running capacity, it is important to slowly build fitness and tissue tolerance and your exercise volume should not increase by more than 10% from one week to the next. Your training should incorporate varied running intensities along with strength and conditioning sessions. The 3-2-1 formula for recreational runners suggests running 3 days a week, completing strength and conditioning (combination of strength, power, plyometrics, balance and mobility) in the gym 2 days a week and partaking in active recovery 1 day a week. Cross training also helps to improve other energy systems and movement patterns. Recovery includes adequate of sleep, nutrition, hydration and consider a rest week every 8 weeks.
If you would like any more advice on the topic discussed above, such as gym programs or running mechanics available for runners, please contact us here at Dublin Sports Clinic and we would be happy to help.
Lee DC, Pate RR, Lavie CJ, Sui CJ, Church TS, Blair SN (2014). Leisure-Time Running Reduces All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality Risk. Journal of American College of Cardiology, August;64(5):472–481.
Van Gent RN. Siem D, van Middelkoop M, van Os AG, Bierma-Zeinstra SM, Koes BW (2007). Incidence and determinants of lower extremity running injuries in long distance runners: a systematic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, Aug;41(8):469-80.
Ferber R, Noehren B, Hamill J, Davis IS (2010). Competitive female runners with a history of iliotibial band syndrome demonstrate atypical hip and knee kinematics. Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy. 2010 Feb;40(2):52-8.
Chumanov ES, Wille CM, Michalski MP, Heiderscheit BC (2012). Changes in muscle activation patterns when running step rate is increased. Gait & Posture. Jun;36(2):231-5.