Hi all! Sorry for the slight hiatus with posting. After receiving feedback, my hope is to have more video with better explanation and demonstration of the topics presented. So…if you’ve ever struggled with hip pain, or wish you had better strength in your core or glutes, here’s a video for you. Please let me know how you like it and what topics you would like to see covered in the near future. Happy trails!
When running, it’s easy to grasp that one joint can affect another. Throughout the whole gait cycle, we see all the joints of the entire body moving as one poetic fluid motion. Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to be. But what happens when one part misbehaves? How many other joints are affected? More importantly, how do you tell which joint is the instigator, and which ones are feeding off the original? Essentially, when multiple joints appear to be working incorrectly, which is the chicken, which is the egg?
This brings us to AJ’s story. He is a former collegiate runner who has struggled with right lower extremity issues for several years, including knee and hip pains. Let’s see what he looks like initially.
Notice his right foot, specifically that it’s turned out to the side. Also, the landing/loading phase of his right leg looks like it requires more effort. It would be easy to conclude that he could fix his gait by simply pointing his right foot straight forward. But again, what if the root of the issue is in his hips, causing the whole lower extremity to turn out? As we got deeper, this certainly was the case.
For AJ, this pattern is due to limited mobility around his hip region, especially with external rotation. This is causing difficulty during the loading phase. His lack of proper motion is directly affecting his stability at the moment of ground contact. He also demonstrated a moderate overstride as shown by seeing the bottoms of his feet as he’s running toward the camera.
So, what to do about the hips. First, a couple stretches for the outside and posterior right hip.
And another hip flexor stretch, these can be very helpful for proper striding.
Part of the fall out from his foot turning out is that the calf and ankle bones can become restricted, so he also did a calf stretch with a twist.
Next, he ran holding his arms to the right and left. We used this as a test to see which direction promoted better alignment through the hips and feet. See which one looks better to you!
Comparing the sides, when his arms are rotated to the right it increases the turn out of his foot and difficulty with loading of the right hip. When his arms are rotated to the left, it causes better alignment of his right foot and hip. This indicates that the muscles along that pattern need to be strengthened, so what better way than to simply have him run with hands rotated left and holding small weights. He doesn’t look quite as graceful, but that’s okay at the outset of this drill.
Lastly, he also did a modified butt kick drill to decrease the overstride. The important aspect of this drill is to keep the knees equal to each other at the beginning, this promotes feet landing underneath your body instead of out front.
After all this, here’s the new and improved AJ!
His right foot is not turned out as much and his overstride is significantly decreased. Both of these indicate that he is using his hips more effectively, especially during the landing on the right side. With consistent attention to these areas, his foot position and muscle balance should continue to improve and decrease stress on the cranky areas. Great job AJ!
There are many aspects to running efficiently. Among those is having proper bending of the knee during the swing phase of running (while your foot is in the air). This makes it easier to land and push-off more easily. In order to have excellent knee drive, it’s imperative to have hip flexibility and strength.
This brings us to Jodi’s story. She is a runner who has had limited flexibility in the outer part of her right hip. This has made it difficult to run regularly and participate in 5k races. Let’s see what her form looks like.
As she runs, her knee drive is a little slower than ideal, but on closer inspection, it appears that weakness in her hips is an underlying factor. More specifically, during the loading phase, she has too much rotation of her hips and pelvis, which indicates that her lateral hips are not engaging quick enough. This slowness to engage will make it more difficult to push-off. This can translate to a more shuffling type of gait, rather than a quick/clean push-off with knee drive.
So here’s what we did, first a simple A drill to practice knee drive, first while running in place, then while running forward.
Next, we did a simple stretch for the hips to ensure improved flexibility.
She also did a drill to strengthen the landing phase, forcing the lateral hips to fire more quickly to stabilize.
Lastly, she did a simple high knee running drill. Again, this dials her hips into moving more quickly during the loading and the knee drive phases of gait.
After all this, here’s the new and improved Jodi!
Notice better quickness of her hips and feet during the landing to push-off stretch, and improved knee drive. She generally looks more efficient through her lower core as well, with less hip side-to-side motion. Her arm swing is also more straight forward, which is a sign of improving stability as well. Overall, these changes don’t look natural yet, but will become so with consistent practice of these drills. Expect great things to come, excellent work Jodi!
We all want a strong core right? We can all agree that having a strong core is necessary for running efficiently. So does this mean that simply strengthening our abs will accomplish a finely tuned core? Or is it possible that other factors are involved in affecting your core’s function while running?
This brings us to Jacob. He is a superstar high school runner looking to make his form better and eliminate shin pain. In watching him run, his calves and shins do not jump out as the area needing the most improvement. Let’s see what he looks like initially.
What stands out most is the forward lean and side to side swagger of his upper body. What this indicates is that he is not using his hips and hamstrings properly during the loading phase of running. This is causing his core to work differently to absorb and rebound that load. Essentially his core is not able to function properly, and no amount of crunches or planks can overcome this pattern. In order to correct this pattern, he needs to have improved hamstring flexibility and improved loading through his gluts. Only then, will his core muscles be able to fire properly and work as it should to make him a better runner.
So, here’s what we did about it. First, a simple dynamic hamstring stretch. This could easily be done on a stair or bench if one’s available. A key component to this also (which Jacob is demonstrating so nicely!) is to keep the low back straight instead of rounding, this helps ensure that the movement comes from the hamstrings instead of the low back.
Next, a hip strengthening exercise to develop stability in a lengthened range. This element is critical for teaching the gluts to be strong while they’re being loaded. This exercise looks a little goofy, but it’s intended to be a modified version of a deadlift with a twist.
Next we did a few simple drills for his running form. First, he ran holding bricks out in front of him. What this does is increase the forward load, which forces the hamstrings and gluts to kick in more quickly and brings his upper body into a more upright position.
Next, he ran with the same bricks with his hands overhead. This forces his gluts to load more quickly while running in order to keep his core in a neutral position, essentially decreasing the side to side movement of his upper body.
So after all this, here’s the new and improved Jacob!
Unfortunately the video cut out a little too quickly, but there are improvements with his upper body. The side to side swagger is decreased which indicates that he is using his hips more effectively. He is also leaning forward less which indicates that his hamstrings are doing a better job of controlling the loading phase.
Again, at first glance it would be easy to conclude that he needs to do more core work, but if he’s not using his hips appropriately, his core will always be off balance. With constant attention to gaining flexibility in his hips and teaching them how to work correctly, this will make life happier for his core and translate into more efficiency with running. Great job Jacob!
We all want to run as efficiently as possible. In order to do this, we need to cut down on any movement that doesn’t contribute to our feet moving forward. Does this mean that arms and upper body movements should be minimal, or nil? Or does activity of our upper body contribute to the lower body?
This brings us to Tyler’s story. He is a high school runner looking to make a splash this fall in cross country. His coaches had been in touch with me about his form, more specifically that he seemed to have a lot of excess arm motion. By the time he and I were able to meet up, his form has improved a lot with utilizing some of the drills covered here, but appreciate the change would likely have been more dramatic if we were starting from scratch!
Here is footage of him initially.
Again, it’s not too dramatic at this point, but he has excessive upper body movement side to side (frontal plane), as well as an asymmetric arm swing. Is this affecting his efficiency? Or deeper still, are his arms tattling on issues further below? With excessive upper body movement, it’s usually a sign of core or hip weakness, so we need to sort that out more.
Here is a simple drill for testing hip stability with side to side movements. Notice that with landing on the right side, his hip stays more rigid, and doesn’t load as gracefully, than the left.
Here is a simple exercise to build strength in the hips during the loading phase of gait. As strength improves, it will make it easier to keep the upper body more efficient. He is holding bricks, but any object with a little weight will work!
We also used the bricks for form drills to increase the lever arm of his upper body. This forces his hips and core to dial in more effectively.
After all this, here is the new and improved Tyler!
Again, the change isn’t as dramatic as it would be, but there is still improvement. By teaching the hips to load properly and using the drills to force his core to stay more centered, his form is more efficient. The best way to tell is watching his arms, as well as hips and shoulders to contrast how much side to side movement is taking place.
In ideal running, there should be brief but minimal side to side movements. These should be taken care of in the hips and lower core. If the upper body has swaying side to side, it’s a good bet the hips are misbehaving. On the flip side, if we can use our upper bodies effectively, it can act as a lever to help propel our lower bodies, which will make as more efficient runners.
With further constant attention to these things, Tyler will continue to make excellent gains. Great job Tyler!