Archive for the ‘running’ Category

Shake your booty

July 26th, 2010 No comments

When I run, I’m always concerned about form … not so that I can look good or please some God of running, but so I can feel relaxed, run efficiently, and above all, avoid injury. I evaluate my form by checking my bounce, the sounds made by my footfalls, but mostly by looking for tightness, imbalance or tension in my body.*  If I didn’t do Zhan Zhuang (standing practice), I would be less equipped to notice these feelings, because with Zhan Zhuang, you basically have nothing to do except notice those feelings. Well, that’s simplistic, but you get the idea.

While running, one of my challenges is to reduce the feeling of tension I get in the back side of my body as I run. I feel pretty good when I run, but there’s a lingering effect of tightness back there which I alleviate when I stretch afterward. But why do I have to stretch this out? It’s not the running itself that’s causing the problem, it’s how I’m running, what I’m doing when I run. Either I’m off-balance fore & aft, compensating for the imbalance, or just habitually tensing things back there for some reason … maybe I do that all day.

In cases like this, usually my answer is to change the form, relax the body part, or do a combination of both. The challenge with the relaxing is to still keep doing what you’re doing, whether it’s running or just standing up. If we relax too much, we may lose connection & structure, and create too much motion, leading to a need to compensate in ways that may create more tension … or we may injure ourselves due to eccentric loading that would come from too-loose form.

Well, the other day, I noticed something while running: my butt was jiggling.

It wasn’t much, and it might not have been visible. But with each step, I felt a tiny jiggle back there. So I thought I’d pay it some attention — nothing more, no change in form, just relax enough so I could sense the vibration there.. As I did that, I was able to relax it a bit more, and a strange thing happened: I felt a tiny increase in speed. It was if I had removed a restraint of some kind. I also felt smoother, and after the run, the muscles at the top of my glutes didn’t need as much stretching.

It’s all about cues. We all can use some kind of trigger or cue to do what needs to be done. In this case, for me, it was to pay attention or be aware of the softness of a body part. Whether it was fat or relaxed muscle, I don’t know, and it’s not important right now. I’ve discovered something that I’ll look into again.

Of course, I could only sense something this small because I had spent a lot of time looking inside while doing Zhan Zhuang and slow exercises. Also, I’ve made keeping a calm mind a priority. Without that, we can’t feel inside the little places. If I were a religious man, I’d say that that’s where God is …

… in the little places.

(* The sharp-eyed reader may recall that I’ve advocated the idea of “just running” in the past, where the runner attempts to run in a natural fashion without too much intervention. However, I currently believe that in many matters, we flow between two states: a training state and an execution state. In this case, when training the correct, natural form, we study, examine and correct to create good, natural habits, but when executing, we act according to current habits but occasionally act according to nature if we learn to “get out of its way”. The whole thing is a process of discovery. I’ll clarify my position on this in a future post.)

Categories: fitness, interdisciplinary, running, Yiquan Tags:

Gotta run …

May 6th, 2010 2 comments

I had a nice conversation with my friend Sava (the longtime runner) at the gym the other day. We spoke of running, fitness, heel striking, bad shoes and old favorites such as the Nike Oregon Waffle. We also discussed ways of determining the best shoe for someone, and what their optimum gait might be. Sava, who sells running shoes, just tells people to go run away and come back, then she analyzes their gait.

At first, the zen-like simplicity of this appealed to me. To a certain extent, it still does, and here’s why: my goal in all of this blogging business is to find a natural way of doing things, or a sort of unified fitness theory. I’ve found, and it may be true for everyone, that when I really need to peel rubber, when I need to get somewhere fast, I run rather well. (I noticed this while peeling down a hall at school recently.) It may then be true that when the purpose of the running is to get there fast, to go run away, we run naturally. This can be extended to other pursuits, but more on that later. From a Chinese martial arts perspective, it could be said that we’re running from our dan tien, or our center of mass, rather than our feet, legs, arms or whatever. It means we’re just running to get somewhere. Fine with me.

The problem with saying “just go run and come back” is that the natural mindset (or non-mindset) of that exercise needs to be maintained by the runner while he or she runs for fitness. Otherwise, the runner may be outfitted with ideal shoes, but out on the road, the runner may revert to old, injurious habits. When we’re out for a run, are we thinking the same way that we do when we’re running for the bus? Aren’t we a little more self-conscious when we’re out for a run? Maybe thinking about form? Maybe we’re bouncing up and down and jogging? Maybe we adopt a different motion, one that we believe is easier to sustain over a period longer than the short duration of the average emergency run? Maybe we get bored, unable to sustain the “gotta get there” mindset of the emergency run?

I wonder. You know, when was the last time you had to run somewhere for real? Were you late? Were you in a long enough space that allowed room for it? When you weren’t carrying a briefcase, Starbucks, whatever that prevented you from really running? As I sit here at my computer, expecting to drive home, work out … I can only recall the run in the hall, and possibly a sprint for the streetcar a few months ago. This might explain the great disconnect between the idea that running should be natural and the preponderance of running injuries out there: we don’t have enough opportunities to run for its own sake … instead, we just run for fitness or sport, if that.

I think I’ll try the “gotta get there” mindset next time I’m out for a run. I’ll get back to you.

Categories: East meets West, running, Zen-like stuff Tags:

Score one for independent thought!

April 26th, 2010 No comments

The other day, a squash buddy complained of knee pain while running. I asked him how he ran, and he said that he landed on his heel and rolled off onto his midfoot … just like they say in all the running books and articles.

I suggested he land on the midfoot rather than his heel. He appeared skeptical, so I backed off for the time being.

A week later, he reported that he tried midfoot striking, and hasn’t had any knee pain since.

So there. Sure, some coaches know what they’re doing, but other coaches (and teachers) merely repeat what they have been taught, and cite commercial sources as authorities. “If we weren’t meant to land on our heels, why would running shoe manufacturers make shoes with such thick heels?” Because they are in business. If customers run on their heels, they’ll make shoes with thick heels. If they run on their midfoot, they’ll make different shoes. The problem comes when coaches just. Don’t. Think. What is more efficient? What is more natural, you know, as in “nature”? Are elite runners, who run on thin shoes, genetically blessed or have they chosen to run more efficiently? What about barefoot athletes? What about kids?

Can you give me a good biomechanical reason for running on my heels? And no, it’s not “just like walking” any more than a gallop is “just like a fast trot”. If you speed up walking, you don’t get running, you get race walking. It’s fun to watch, and it’s a valid sport but it’s not running. And then there are those who just say that running is bad. How can something so natural be bad? Yeesh. Now of course, if your body is messed up, maybe it’s a bad idea to run for any length of time.

But … my friend has fallen arches, so I guess he shouldn’t run? But now he has no knee pain. Hm.

Check out the ChiRunning blog and this study for more.

It should be noted that some call the midfoot strike a forefoot strike. I think that Danny (in the first link) makes the distinction clear. But should we use a forefoot strike? I experimented with my strike and found that when shod in racing flats and running 30 minutes on a treadmill (at 5 to 8 mph), a midfoot strike feels good, natural, smooth and painless. Will this change once I get back onto the road and increase my distance? We’ll see. If I could make any see-the-disclaimer recommendation, it would be to land with the foot under the body (not out in front) and find the midfoot or forefoot strike that feels good and natural. There’s more to it of course, and you should probably get a proper gait analysis from a professional who doesn’t sell shoes.

But first ask them if how they feel about heel striking. If they say “everyone’s different”, be wary. Barring injury or birth defects, we all have two legs, quads, hamstrings, tendons and bones in the same places, and we all live under the same laws of physics. So are we all that different? Maybe 90% the same, 10% different when it comes to the most efficient running gait?

Now then. I’ve just read another study, that basically says “ignore the strike”:

If there is one thing you change in your running, don’t focus on your footstrike, but rather on WHERE your feet land relative to your body. Because if you are over-reaching and throwing your foot out in front of you, that’s a problem, but what happens when the rubber meets the road is less relevant!

I think we’re talking about the same thing, but how we phrase it is important of course. If we focus on changing the strike, we might point our toes, land on the balls of our foot and get achilles tendon injuries. This might be why authorities don’t advocate changing your strike … because people do it badly! God we’re messed up. We really don’t know our bodies, do we? Okay, try this: ignore the foot strike. Just don’t reach forward with your legs, just land with the feet under you. Listen for pain, relax, let the joints move smoothly, lean forward a hair. And tweak to get the relaxed, smooth feeling. How’s that?

(Now as I look at the photo, I wonder: is he holding his ankle tensely? Do we see shin splints in his future? You tell me.)

Recap: if you’re running, don’t take “land on the heel and roll off” as gospel. Think independently and do some research.

Categories: running Tags: