Is Running a Trainable Skill?

Is Running a Trainable Skill?

wolRunning is an outwardly simplistic activity, one which could be observed as no more than a process of putting one foot in front of the other, and yet, it is fundamentally complex. It is distinguishable from walking due to a flight phase where both feet leave the ground and is therefore regarded as a ‘spring-like’ action.

We have a deep-rooted ability to run long distances. Our body coordinates multiple joint and muscle configurations, all whilst precariously balancing a large frame over a significantly smaller base of support.

It is a skill that comes naturally to us and it is one that is shaped by numerous factors including tissue condition, previous experiences, training history, movement history, and habituation, thus our running style is unique to us. For example, to see the most gain in tissue flexibility, the roller should be applied in a slow manner to facilitate change to tissue extensibility. 

Yet, without consistent practice, we lose the ability to run effectively.

To give some context, recreational running carries a high injury risk which sees more than half of the recreational running community sustaining an overuse injury per annum. Some consider this to be a result of factors such as incorrect footwear, foot and ankle motion, poor gluteal activation, or 'a weak core’. More likely, it is a combination of factors that lead to poor interaction with the ground resulting in an overload of key muscles and joints.

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Why it matters!

The foot makes contact with the ground between 800 and 2000 times per mile. In this time, the body is subject to forces between 1.5 to 5 times bodyweight, and given the knee is a primary shock absorber during running, it’s understandable why it is the most injured site of the lower limb.

When the foot lands below the body (rather than out in front of the body), the limb is better positioned to manage the high forces associated with ground contact.

Therefore, running is about setting the limb to find an optimal landing position. The same can be said for other actions that might require high amounts of force absorption (double-unders, box jumps etc.). Optimal landing position also affords us better propulsion and ultimately can enhance our running fitness.

There are a number of modifications that can be made to running style to increase efficiency and reduce injury risk. Examples of trainable modifications include; changing the position of foot strike in relation to the body (i.e. avoid over stride) and modifying stride length and frequency (number of steps per minute). As with any changes to skill/technique, these changes should be introduced gradually. It will take time for these changes to be ‘learnt’ so, like any skill practice, consistent practice is important.

Tips for/recommendations for modifying a running style 

  • Have your running style assessed. Even the most experienced runners can benefit from having their running pattern analyzed. In doing so, it is possible to identify where greater efficiency can be sought.
  • Make changes gradually. You need to afford the body sometime to adjust to any pattern changes. Too much too soon can create unwanted stress in the body which may result in injury.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of coaching. As with analysis, working with a coach to inform training practice can be beneficial, and will aid any changes to running performance. 

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