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travel Updated: Dec 07, 2009 10:13 IST
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Running mechanics are a much-debated topic. While some feel you should run in the way most comfortable for you, I think it's important to run as close to technically correct as you can to avoid injury and conserve energy. The style described here is that required for long distance running and is very different from the posture of a sprinter.



Starting at the bottom

The foot is our most common contact with the ground and, as in relationships, first impressions count! Make a good first impression with your foot and the force that is transferred up your leg and into your body will be channelled correctly to produce maximum effect. Land badly and you could send a multitude of undesirable forces into your body.



Try to land on the heel of your foot (slightly outside of centre) and take weight across your foot and push off with your big toe. You should try not to roll in too soon, but to let the force travel along the outer border of your heel. You know you're striking the ground correctly when you look at the soles of your running shoes and see they are most worn on the outer part of the heel, through the centre, and under the pointy bit in front where your big toe is. If your wear print is more to the inside then you are an excessive pronator and need anti-pronation shoes.



Moving up

The knees are the next link in the chain, and you need to look out for too high a knee action. For an endurance runner, the most important part of the knee's action is from the moment the foot leaves the floor to the point it passes under the hip. At this time the knee should drive forward to give you forward propulsion. Sprinters and jumpers are more concerned with the knee action from under the hip to out in front, since they have lesser time and distance to generate speed and need the vertical component to achieve it.



The hips come next. The common mistake people make is to run with flexed hip joints. This overloads your quadriceps and calf muscles and leads to an imbalance of work and force going up the leg. Instead, visualise rolling your hips underneath you so your bottom isn't sticking out. Running with your hips forward will improve your knee drive significantly.



The pelvis is another crucial area. Imagine it as a scale -- put too much weight in the front and the scale will tip forward. This is called the anterior pelvic tilt and it exaggerates the curve in your lower back, putting pressure on the lumbar facet joints, and leading to sore lower back muscles and shortened hamstrings. If the scale is tilted the other way, it is called posterior pelvic tilt, and places more pressure on the lumbar discs, quadriceps and calf muscles. It's manifested as a shuffling gait where the runner is hunched over, with flattened lower back, looking at the ground in front and with small strides. This is not an efficient running technique and must be corrected quickly.



Chest out, tummy in

Your torso should be upright with your tummy slightly tucked in and your chest open with shoulders slightly back. To achieve this, imagine that your breastbone has a light attached to it. Your objective is to keep the light aimed into the sky in front of you. To keep myself from flagging when I'm running, I imagine my light is like the bat signal and I always have to keep it up, cause Batman wouldn't like his signal pointing to the ground! Laugh all you want, but it keeps my posture correct. Find your own super hero and try it out.



Keep that head up

Now that you're done rolling on the floor with laughter, here are the last few points. Keep your head up, and balanced perfectly on your neck and shoulders. If you look at the ground while running, your head tilts forward and throws your spine out of alignment, affecting your overall running mechanics. Look at a point on the road, 30 metres ahead of you. This way you'll hold your head up right while avoiding tripping on any bumps.



The last bit is about your arms, which also play an important role. Firstly, your shoulders should be relaxed and have a small rolling action around the side of your rib cage, keeping you balanced. You'll notice that when your right foot goes forward so does your left arm -- this is no accident and is also vital for maintaining balance; so use your arms and shoulder, but don't let either hand cross the midline as this will overbalance you. Secondly, your legs follow your arms, so when you're tired or trying to go faster, pump your arms to make your legs go faster. Your elbows should be bent at about 90 degrees.



This is a lot to implement at once, so keep the article handy, and keep modifying one aspect of your running every week. With some time and regular practice, you're bound to get it right.



Matthews is physiotherapist with the Mittal Champions Trust



The correct posture


Torso:

Keep your head up, chest out and tummy in.


Arms:

Keep them bent at about 90 degrees, moving in and out with legs.


Pelvis:

Stay balanced. Too much weight in front, and you'll have sore lower back muscles. Too much weight the other way and you'll have a shuffling gait.


Hips:

Keep them tucked in. If your bottom sticks out, you'll run slower.


Knees:

Don't let them go too high; their work is to drive you forward.


Feet:

Should hit the ground on the outside portion of the heel, rolling forward and then across the foot to the big toe.



Why should you do this?

* It's a more economical and efficient running style.


* Puts less stress on your body, reducing chances of injury.


* Leads to better performance through: a. consistency in training because of lesser interruption from injury


b. greater speed due to better form


c. good rhythm and stride tempo


* Better oxygen consumption and utilisation through good posture and breathing.


* Full utilisation of all muscle groups to maximise athletic potential and distribute force evenly.



Got a stitch in your side?



Yes. what's this pain?

The pain in your side that you get while running is called a side stitch. Also called exercise related transient abdominal pain, it is an intense, stabbing pain felt under the lower edge of the ribcage after vigorous activity. It occurs mostly in sports that require a lot of up and down movement, like running, jumping and horse riding.



What causes it?

A side stitch is caused by a spasm of the diaphragm muscle, which is instrumental in breathing and can get fatigued like any other muscle. A spasm affects the muscle, supporting ligaments, tendons, and the surrounding connective tissue, known as fascia.



How does this happen?

Pumping your legs increases the pressure on your abdominal muscles, which press up against the diaphragm. At the same time, rapid breathing expands your lungs, pressing down on the diaphragm. The pressure from above and below shuts off the flow of blood and oxygen, causing the diaphragm muscle to cramp. Most people exhale as the left foot hits the ground, but some people exhale when the right foot hits the ground. The latter group seems more prone to get side stitches.



If the pain spreads?

A side stitch can sometimes be felt all the way up to the shoulder. This may signal a heart attack, especially if it is on the left side and persists after you've spent a few minutes stretching. If you get a side stitch each time you run or exercise, it could be a problem with blood flow to the intestine and you should see a doctor.



What to do when you get one?

Stop and take some deep breaths, preferably through pursed lips.