What Running Teaches Me About Movement

I hope my life never reaches the physical or motivational tipping point where I lose the passion for running.  Over the last six years, I’ve developed great friendships, revisited my roots in exercise physiology, and improved my health dramatically.  I can honestly say this simple activity has transformed my life.

Can you tell I’m a bit fired up?

One of my favorite stories from this weekend running the Half at the Austin Marathon came from my friend who is a pretty strong runner.   Upon finishing his first marathon on Sunday, he could not believe how many from the “AARP Brigade” (his words) were passing him up on some particularly difficult stretches of the course.  Another great thing about running…it’s humbling!

As much as I get caught up in the wonder and enthusiasm of a good race, my mind inevitably circles back to the fields of rehabilitation and movement science.  Watching people of all shapes and sizes make their way through 26.2 miles of running is a goldmine of information from areas of motor control, barefoot/minimalist running, fatigue, and common running-related injuries.

I hope to expand on some more of these ideas in later posts, but thought I’d at least get a few of them out there while they are on my mind.  Feel free to comment or provide feedback.

  1. It may already be cliche’ by now to say we are born to run, but cliche’s only get that way if they’re true.  Whether we were designed to run on concrete for 26 miles or more is debatable of course, but our legs are capable of moving us through space with incredible reliability and durability…if we allow them through proper training.
  2. If you want to improve your running form, run faster.  Feel free to run on a treadmill in front of a video camera and have someone who thinks they know what’s happening tell you what to do.   But practice running faster (within reason) and you’ll get the kind of feedback no “specialist” could ever match.  If you must run in front of a camera, please do it in Delaware where folks know what they are talking about.
  3. Running in minimalist shoes such as the Vibram Five Fingers, Nike Free’s, or even just plane barefoot is here to stay for many good reasons.  But enthusiasm should never trump logic, and runners too often leave their brains at the door when it comes to their own training.  Poor training leads to predictable results no matter how you are shod.
  4. Static stretching before running or any other physical activity accomplishes nothing worthwhile and may actually reduce force potential during athletic events.  Please stop as soon as possible.

There are others that didn’t make the cut such as “If you have a newborn, stick to training for a nice 10K”.  I also learned that some mens’ nipples are apparently directly connected to their aorta.  Some guy was bleeding so badly from his right nipple at mile 25, I thought he was going to need a transfusion.  Disturbing stuff.

In all seriousness, I think running is a great avenue for studying movement.  Running can also reveal a great deal about injury and why people move less as a result.  However, in pursuit of answers to why people get injured running, I think we’ve missed out on an even more interesting question:  Why do so many people NOT get injured?

We often focus on injured runners in the hopes of designing better rehabilitation programs and injury prevention strategies, but that seems misplaced.  Think about what we could learn if we spent more time focusing on the un-injured runner!  It might start transforming our inadequate notions of prescribing footwear or illustrate just how normal  “pronated” feet and “tight” hamstrings really are!

Just some food for thought.  More soon!

About Roderick Henderson, PT, ScD

I am a board-certified orthopedic physical therapist and strength and conditioning specialist with a passion for delving deeper into our understanding of movement and how it affects our lives.

Posted on February 22, 2011, in editorial, quackery, research, running and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. No way will I consider a marathon or a half… I applaud all who get out there and do it though.

    Just like you, when I do the little 5K’s and compete in triathlons, I am SO amazed at what I see too! The AARP Brigade is amazing!

    Have you paid attention to more than what you actually visualize? Have you noticed differences in what you hear? Some runners bam the ground with every step. Truly, I cringe as they pass me! I have a burning desire to ask them about their medical history. Do runners who audibly wham the ground with every step have more injuries?

    Running hurts… doesn’t it hurt everyone? So… you have an excellent question – why do some runners have injury after injury while others do not? I wonder if research would support some of the things we are learning in other venues – the impact of perceptions, beliefs and expectations.

    I was talking about you yesterday with a patient. Somehow marathons were brought up… I mentioned a colleague was doing the Austin Marathon and openly wondered how you did! Were your ears ringing??

    Glad to hear you got out there!


  2. Great post! Happy to see someone else thinks your gait can be overanalyzed by “experts.”

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