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Running Coaching and Injury Prevention

by Stephen Braybrook(more info)

listed in exercise and fitness, originally published in issue 215 - July 2014

Introduction

Running is a widely participated in activity and is accessible for any age group and level of fitness. Because of its accessibility it is practiced by a wide spectrum of people, from participants looking to generally improve their fitness levels through to being used as a training tool for more sports specific fitness and as part of a programme for sportspeople and athletes. Because running is so popular, being used by people as a leisure activity, a fitness tool and a training modality and the uptake is so high for both sportspeople and non-sportspeople, there is also high correlation and incidence of injuries occurring with people that participate in running as part of their training.

Because the very nature and action of running is a repetitive series of movements if technique is inefficient then the likelihood of injury is dramatically increased. Examples of running related injuries can include: shin splints; achilles tendinitis, runners knee; iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS); plantar fasciitis; stress fractures and hamstring issues. All of these conditions can cause pain, inflammation and increased likelihood of other postural issues or injuries developing as the body attempts to correct itself further up the chain. If the cause of the pain is not eliminated then the exacerbated injury may even result in individual having to cease their running practice.

Different areas of the leg where people commonly experience shin splints

Different areas of the leg where people commonly experience shin splints 

Injury Focus - Shin Splints

Shin splints are one of the most common forms of running injuries. This exercise-induced leg pain is also known as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) and is characterized by general pain in the lower, front part of the leg between the knee and ankle. Two reasons why this may occur are overworked or inflexible calf muscles and poorly controlled pronation (flattening of the foot). This will then place too much stress on tendons as well as the muscles in this area, which then starts to pull upon the bone in the lower leg. There is a sheath around the bone called the periosteum, and this can get inflamed as a result of this pulling away action, which eventually leads to pain. If left untreated this may cause a stress fracture. Beginners are the most susceptible to shin splints for a variety of reasons but the most common is that they are using leg muscles that haven’t been stressed in the same way before.

One way in which you can assess and prevent this from occurring is through biomechanical coaching.

Treatment - Biomechanical Coaching

In today’s world of running, the use of biomechanics and technical analysis has become the norm. These types of coaching skills have evolved to a sophisticated level where technical running errors can be highlighted, assisting runners in maximizing their running efficiency and reducing the rate of shin splint injuries amongst others. This is because biomechanical analysis allows you to identify areas during the running pattern that are working inefficiently or are being over worked in their attempt to control the forces entering and leaving the body.

It is advisable to video a runner from each available position as this will allow you to watch the technique back time and again at different speeds and allow you to locate areas for improvement. And although it is difficult to define the way each individual runs, minor corrections can make a big difference in performance and injury prevention.

Technique

The good news is that there are some general simple coaching points that an individual can adhere to, to increase their likelihood of pain-free running without the need for video analysis or fancy equipment:

  1. Brief surface contact time with the floor - this allows the runner (with good posture) to remain in the air longer than on the ground, which correlates to a longer floating phase and a shorter support phase;
  2. The foot landing under central body mass - this allows for brief contact time, which prevents over striding and therefore decreases the breaking forces and the reduction of impact stress. It also promotes a middle to forefoot strike, shortens the ground contact time in stance, help to avoid the breaking forces of a heal striker, which therefore maintains momentum built up during running and provides muscle reactivity;  
  3. Using a small range of leg movement - this prevents the legs going through excessive motion at numerous joints. Consequently, energy is preserved as slowing down and accelerating a greater range of movement uses excessive energy in the system. To achieve energy conservation, the running motion will become more efficient if the supporting leg is not allowed to move too far backwards and the swing leg is not lifted too high forwards. This motion allows the swing leg to extend in preparation for contact without unnecessary moments of inertia associated with the excessive movement of the hip. This assists the stance leg by increasing propulsive forces at push off along with the stance leg going into extension;
  4. Holding the trunk upright/posture - keeping the hips directly beneath the shoulders, with the back erect will result in the ability of the abdominal and iliopsoas muscles to lengthen. This is important as it allows the body to produce optimal vertical displacement seen by the way the runner moves his/her body vertically. This point is also closely associated with point one as in spite of this vertical motion both ground contact time and vertical push off phase should remain short;
  5. Optimal use of arm action - when compared to the backward swing, the forward movement of the arm should be smaller. The elbow position should not move beyond the trunk and is optimally held at 90 degrees, which can be used as a control point for the body. The reason the arm is moved backwards with a forceful extension is due to the synchronization with the scissor-like motion of the legs. This action supports torsion and the reactive loading of the abdominal muscles as well as influencing the lower extremity during stance and swing phase.

These five simple biomechanical coaching points can be used by anyone who participates in running and provides a simple analysis checklist to enable the runner or their coach to understand the basic techniques in optimizing efficiency. But more importantly these points will help to identify any problem areas in people who are experiencing running related pain and will help individuals to implement corrective measures to their running style to assist in minimizing injuries so they can enjoy pain-free running. 

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About Stephen Braybrook

Stephen Braybrook BSc MSc also know as The Movement Man is a highly qualified and experienced health, fitness and sports professional with a passion for the study of human movement, optimization of sporting performance and rehabilitation.  His area of special interest is human biomechanics and is currently writing a book and devising courses based on a modern look at biomechanics. Please see www.themovementman.com for more information.  Stephen may be contacted via Tel: 07890 263149; braybrookstephen@gmail.com

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