Let's face it: some aches and pains are normal for runners.
Yep, makes us kind of strange.
But we embrace it.
Sometimes a little too well.
Sometimes those aches and pains are trying to tell us something.
Like, "hey! You missed your strength training for the past 2 weeks…"
Or, "Hmm…pretty sure your body isn't supposed to ache there. How's your running form?"
Believe it not, those two things, running form and strength, can be related.
But not always.
Is your running form suffering because of poor strength?
Or is your running form suffering because you just need some gentle cueing?
The same goes for those aches and pains.
Are you achey because of poor running form?
Or are you achey because of a weakness that's affecting your running form?
It can get a little confusing…
But what if you used this guide as a place to start thinking differently about your form?
What if after reading this you had a better understanding of signs of poor running form, why this happens, and how all of these can lead to injury?
Armed with that knowledge, you'd be unstoppable…
So what are you waiting for?
Let's dive in!
What are signs that your running form might need some help?
Do you struggle with any of these common issues?
Tight low back.
Tight hip flexors.
How about this scenario. Do you catch yourself doing any of these?
Are your shoulders rounded when you run?
Is your head far forward?
Are your arms crossing in front of your body?
Did I just describe you after a long run?
A lot of runners experience these same issues and are frustrated why they don't get better with stretching and strength training.
It's not that they're doing it wrong.
It might be that they're not using the right stretch or strength exercise.
And they didn’t know which one to use to begin with because they didn't understand the WHY.
Why do my muscles feel this way?
Why is my back tight the same time my hips are tight?
Why isn't this stretch working?
But what if YOU did understand the WHY?
What if you could peak inside the brain of a runner-physical therapist and get a glimpse of why all of these pile up on top of each other?
It sure would be helpful to understanding the full body movement that is running…
Those exact signs described above can be attributed to a larger picture, a larger full-body theory to be more precise.
These signs can be neatly put into the boxes of:
Don't let the names scare you.
They're simply names that describe a movement theory that explains what you might be feeling.
Let me break them down briefly for you.
Lower Crossed Syndrome "is the result of muscle strength imbalances in the" lower body.
"These imbalances can occur when muscles are constantly shortened or lengthened in relation to each other."
Think about running here.
Those hip flexors are constantly working; they're constantly contracting and relaxing to propel you forward.
"The lower crossed syndrome is characterized by specific patterns of muscle weakness and tightness that cross between the" front side of the body and the back side of the body.
For an example, think about those tight hip flexor (front of the body) and tight low back (back of the body).
In lower cross syndrome, "there is overactivity and hence tightness of hip flexors and lumbar extensors (aka. back muscles).
Upper Cross Syndrome is similar, but happening in the upper body.
Usually the chest muscles and upper neck muscles are tight and overactive resulting in weaker upper back muscles, specifically the ones in between your shoulder blades.
But, Dr. Whitt, why do I care about the upper body thing and the muscles around my shoulders? I run with my legs, not my arms!
Here's where I'm going with this.
"If you give a mouse a cookie…"
If you've ever read the children's book, then you know that the main character, the mouse, is never satisfied. One satisfied request always leads to another, and then another, and another…
And our body is the same way.
What can happen is, if your hip flexors are consistently tight, then your low back responds to the change in tilt in your pelvis (an anterior pelvic tilt), and your low back can get tight.
If your low back stays tight for too long, then you start to round through your mid back.
If your mid back (your thoracic spine) stays continually rounded even while you run, you lose stability and strength in those shoulder blade muscles AND you start stick your head out further so you can simply look up at your surroundings.
When you lose stability in your shoulder blade muscles and the correct alignment of your neck, your arms start to swing across your body.
And all of that…results in poor running form.
Can you see how 1 prolonged muscle imbalance can affect everything up the chain?
If you give a mouse a cookie…
But WHY does this happen?
Million dollar question!
Poor running form happens most often because of:
limitations or imbalances.
Sometimes these are limitations in mobility.
Meaning, there is not range of motion of movement within a specific joint OR a muscle is too short.
Shortened muscles can also restrict mobility.
We also alluded to earlier the issue of stability or strength.
Sometimes a weak muscle group, such as glutes or shoulder blade muscles, can result in compensations and the domino effect we just discussed above.
Lastly, poor running form can be a combination of mobility and strength issues (duh).
But it can also be an underutilization of fully body movement.
Meaning, does your body know HOW to run well?
Has it ever been taught or learned how to run correctly?
It sounds silly, I know.
But it's true.
Especially as we sit more and more either for work or our commute.
It's a case of use or lose it.
And finally to wrap up…
WHY does bad running form result in injury?
It goes back to giving a mouse a cookie…
Running already places stress on a body.
Running like this for prolonged periods of time adds an additional stress because the body is not meant to run in this way.
It's kinda lazy running.
Especially compared to this…
Can you see the difference?
The elites have mastered correct form because of the stress running places on their bodies.
So by running with optimal form, they can tolerate the load.
Running with poor form increases the load and stress placed on our bodies, resulting in going over that tipping point of how much our bodies can handle.
And that's when injuries happen.
But not to you.
You know the ins and outs of how running form is affected and just important it is.
And knowing you, you're ready to tackle the HOW next.
How do I fix and improve my running form?
Next week, we dive deep into actionable steps and exercise circuits that will keep you running strong and tall.
Marie Whitt, PT, DPT //@dr.whitt.fit
P.S. If you can't wait till next week, I do have something to tide you over. It's my FREE running guide, Finding the Missing Link in Your Running and the 4 Routines to Fix it. Go grab it now!