You work with many runners of all kinds (like myself) – you train them hard focusing on strong core, glutes, hip extension, interval training etc.
Sometimes they get some short term benefits but are always getting injured so they go to the physio, GP etc. to ‘be fixed’. Many health and fitness professionals don’t get to watch them run or move much. They take an isolated parts approach (body as a machine) – try to fix parts e.g. strengthen glutes or give calf stretches etc. Temporary fix only because few are looking at the whole body in motion or joining up the dots.
Why is this important? Because, in the human body, everything is inter-connected and we are also very much part of our environment. We are NOT machines! We have around 7-10 times as many sensory nerves as motor nerves and a multitude within our superficial fascia. This tells you that we are indistinguishably entwined with our environment, not objects moving through it!
As a runner, a large part of our sensory input comes through the feet, although eyes and vestibular system also obviously are massively involved. Our feet have to keep us upright in order to resist gravity in standing and also need to work WITH gravity in running or walking, to help forward propulsion.
Fascial networks assist in this process and thus must be elastic and lubricated, nourished and balanced to allow for a full range of movement and aid in efficient running. Muscles are secondary to this system and largely operate as adjusters of tension in the fascial system, not as prime movers, unless the fascial network is inhibited.
You see the result of this restriction in the fascial lines when even good runners have to ‘muscle their way through’. This creates extra tension in an already rigid system and leads to inflexibility and injury. They then go to conventional therapists who identify the injury as due to ‘weak glute medius’ or ‘tight calves’ or ‘overactive adductors’.
Of course these are only the symptoms because the skeleton is not optimally organised in relation to gravity and therefore muscles are excessively shortened or lengthened in their resting state, so stretching or strengthening isolated muscles won’t solve the issue but might sometimes just kick it a little further down the road.
So how do you know what needs to be done to reduce injury risk and improve performance (essentially the same effortless efficiency of movement is at the root of both of these)?
I have a simple 5 step process to address all of these issues, that gets results quickly, sometimes instantly even and it involves looking at the whole body in motion and how it interacts with gravity and the environment.
These are the steps in brief:
- Get informed about what the client is doing now and their past – injuries, nutrition, stress, sleep, occupation etc. Their environment has shaped the way they run today and their brain. Understanding this is crucial.
- I look at them in standing posture from all angles and report back to them photographically because however they present themselves now is ‘normal’ to them, even if it seems bizarre to us.
- From this, I now know how I expect them to walk – it will be similar but in motion – we can start to see more precisely the limitations in different joints and why the muscles are compensating by shortening or lengthening up and down the chain.
- I confirm this next by asking them to perform a series of very simple function movements so I know how feet and ankles work, hip and spine function, shoulders elbows, knees, neck, skull. What’s missing and why?
- Finally I assess them in running gait and usually get confirmation of the previous four steps. I look for assymettries from behind, rotations from the side mostly, feet and knee tracking from the front, forward head carriage, lack of hip extension etc. Now I’m thinking about which muscles must be working overtime to create that shape in movement.
After all that is done, I will then look at issues specific to running form, like cadence, foot strike, forward lean etc. These things can be quickly improved by cueing and practice but, if they are restricted by tight tissues or simple lack of cardiovascular fitness etc. then these things will need to be specifically improved.
Only now will I start trying to improve some of the pieces of the chain and trying to get parts to ‘talk’ to each other – feet to hips to spine, find the rotational or spiral line crucial to forward momentum, everything doing its rightful share of the work. Just get a fraction more movement in the feet or ankles and watch the shapes improve up the chain. Once you know what should be happening, you have a template in your head to work towards and improvement often happens super fast.
This work is done through dynamic, mostly bodyweight movements or exercises, myofascial release where appropriate. Note that most of this has little if anything to do with STRENGTH! Strengthening parts in isolation is simply compounding the problem usually. If I want to strengthen a part of the chain it will be done in a way that’s integrated and functional.
At every stage we reintegrate into walking or running gait so that the brain gets to experience the functional importance of what we’ve done through FEELING the movement in the WHOLE BODY.
As you can see, without giving away all the details, I have a system in place that is being refined all the time. It is MY personal method that I have developed with my clients over several years. It is not a method that you will find in any coaching manual or on any course.
It is based on my observations of how people move and especially how they run and my own experimentation with myself and clients over the years. It works and often very quickly indeed to get runners of all levels going faster with less effort and fewer injuries.
My take is unique – it’s not that of a traditional running coach nor a traditional PT. It looks at the whole body in motion, taking full account of the effects of environment and evolution, our sensory nature and adaptability, giving full value to the role of the feet and the fascia, both of which seem to be totally ignored by traditional anatomy.
I am currently setting up an online platform which will be of massive educational and practical benefit to anyone involved in running in any way, whether it be as a coach or trainer, or whether you are a runner yourself and are keen to improve your own running.
I’m going to be GIVING away FREE access to this online members platform to the first 20 people who register interest by simply emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.