Hello Sensei, Please Improve my Running Technique

I've written in the past how roughly 60-70% of runners will suffer a serious injury in a given year. This is primarily due to two critical variables: poor general movement quality, and less-than-optimal running specific technique. The terrible movement quality that most runners possess is a byproduct of musculoskeletal weakness, mobility restrictions (in key areas), and lack of stability (in key locations). When you take all of those deficiencies and utilize them to perform roughly 1,500 plyometric repetitions per mile, it’s no surprise that most runners end up injured in one form or another. When it comes down to running technique, most people don’t think twice about hiring a coach to help them. They just hop on the road and get after it. Let me ask you:

  • If you had never been shown how to swim, would you jump in the deep end for a casual dive?
  • If you had never been taught how to spar, would you enter a cage for a mixed martial arts fight?
  • If you had never been instructed on how to drive, would you just hop in the car and speed off on the highway? Well, maybe some of you would, but I digress.

Yet most of us, when we want to run, just go out and do it. Interesting, huh?

I’ve previously discussed how hiring a coach is extremely important if you’re serious about reaching a particular goal. This may be a business coach, a martial arts coach, or a strength coach (wink wink). It’s a no brainer that if we genuinely want to reach our goals as efficiently and effectively as possible, then we should hire an expert to guide us to a desired outcome.

Well, this past weekend was an opportunity for me to put my money where my mouth is. As I’m increasingly falling in love with obstacle course races, and would like to pursue this endeavor for quite a long time (and thus need to keep myself free of chronic injury), I decided to meet with a running instructor (and fellow strength colleague) John, to help me “fix my stuff.” In fact, Kelsey (my fiancée, and also a CSCS) joined in, too, so it created something fun/relaxing to do as a couple in the midst of wedding preparation.

It was an incredible learning experience for both Kelsey and I, and also a fantastic reminder for what it’s like to be on the other side of a coaching session. Given that both of us spend the majority of our week helping others with movement-related exercises/improvements, it was definitely cool to be the ones receiving the coaching cues for a change. It was also a great reminder to experience what it feels like to try something new, and go through the step-by-step process of learning a new skill.

Here is a video that John took of me running before any instruction. He just told me to run as if I was going on a nice Summer jaunt. I slowed down the video so you can see what’s actually happening.

You can see that I reach WAY out in front of me, landing on my heel and keeping my center of mass well behind my foot strike. There’s a host of other problems (that John pointed out to me), but I’ll keep it simple for now.

After John filmed Kelsey and me running in our “natural” form, he took us inside for about 75-minutes of instruction and practice. We performed drills on a wall, partner-assisted exercises, and various progressions to help us learn proper running technique. It was pretty cool and John did an excellent job of teaching us to “crawl” before we run. It reminded me of how, at SAPT, we teach someone to goblet squat well before placing them under a barbell.

Now, look at my running form after John worked with us. Obviously it is still far from perfect (you can only perfect so much in 75-minutes), but I was still amazed at the improvement in such short a time span:

You can see that I now land on the ball of the foot, keeping my center of mass over my foot strike (thus significantly reducing the impact force on my body). Again, there were MANY other improvements that John helped us with (slightly leaning forward to take advantage of gravity’s assistance, “pulling” with the rear leg, maintaining a neutral pelvic tilt, landing softly, etc.), but I’ll spare the detail for now.

I still have a LOT to work on, and the greatest challenge for me will be to resist the urge on performing 800-meter repeats (or even 200 meters) with a different running form than I'm used to. Just like we SAPT coaches won't put someone under a barbell until they've proved they're ready for it, I need to "cook myself slow" in order to set myself up for success in long haul. Rome wasn't built in a day, ya know?

Anyway, I guess the point of this post was to:

A) Give a gentle reminder that, no matter who you are, you're never above receiving instruction from someone else. It would have done me no good to stubbornly insist that I don't need help with something exercise-related because I'm a performance coach. We can ALWAYS improve on something, even if it's within the same general sphere as our "expertise."

B) Bring home the point that we need to be PROactive in our modalities for treating dysfunction, not REactive. Most runners (and lifters) tend to treat their problems only after they arrive (surgery, ice, NSAIDs, etc.) instead of taking measures to prevent an issue before it even arrives. In this case, for me, it was learning how run more efficiently (reduce ground impact forces upon landing, expend as little energy as possible on each step, etc.), in hope that I can enjoy something I love for a longer period of time with minimal interruptions.

C) There is no C, but I wanted three points, so there we go.