Do you ever think that you would feel better if you could run 5km’s without stopping? Or 10km? And does your picture of health involve a person who does this multiple times per week, perhaps with the resemblance of a smile on their face?
Are your barriers to achieving this for yourself centred around time, ability or pain? If so, read on, because I’ve got some good news. (more…)
Don’t believe everything you read in the text books. More specifically, don’t believe everything you read in the muscle section of anatomy textbooks. Such descriptions of human anatomy and function has fueled an approach to gym training that is completely contrary to how a living, breathing, moving human being uses their body, or should use there body.
Textbook anatomy describes muscle anatomy in terms of origins and insertions and concludes that basically ‘this muscle joins from here to here so therefore when it shortens, it does that. Because of this, its function is blah blah blah’. In the real world, things are quite different.
The textbook method of anatomical understanding has been perpetuated by the fitness industry and in some instances created expectations in the ‘consumer’ that are, I think, incorrect.
A clear example of this is how the fitness industry approaches core training.
An abdominal crunch is ‘textbook’ anatomy in action. Our ‘crunch muscle’, the Rectus Abdominis or RA attaches basically from the bottom of our sternum to the front of our pelvis, quite, well, low and underneath…
When it contracts concentrically (which means shortens) it basically makes you do a crunch. Hence the birth of crunches, ab-rollers, ab king pros, ab mega killers (I made that one up) and a whole heap of other wardrobe fillers.
The real-world function of the RA is to help stabilise the lower back, specifically against forces that are trying to make us bow our lower back. An example of this would be a push-up. In a push-up, gravity is trying to make us sag at the waist. Our RA helps to prevent that from happening. Push-ups are then in fact, a pretty good core exercise.
Our obliques are most commonly trained with a rotation sit-up or a side-crunch, or even worse using one of those god-awful ab-cricle pros, as textbook anatomy tells us that the obliques rotate and laterally flex our trunk. Functionally however, they more typically prevent trunk rotation, and prevent lateral bending. Exercises to help functionally train the obliques could be respectively: a single sided dumbell press (laying facing upwards); and a squat holding a dumbell in one hand to your side.
The benefits of training your core muscles in this way are at least three-fold:
- You are teaching the muscles to work in a realistic context which will be beneficial for day-to-day movements.
- You are implicating many more big muscles in each exercise, resulting in greater energy expenditure in your gym session.
- You are greatly reducing injury risk- award winning research papers that are older than I am have proven that repetitive spinal flexion is damaging to a spine, yet machines are still created that facilitate these dangerous movements!!
‘Functionally’ is the way we at iNform teach you to use your core. Every weight training session you have done, or will do with us has been a challenging core session, often without the inclusion of any specific ‘core’ exercises.
I believe the best feature of many of those ab machines is that they can fold away neatly under your bed or in your closet. That is where they should remain.
I believe there is an ideal way for a human form to run. It isn’t seen very often, but it exists. Intuitively we all have some idea what this should look like. When you see someone running through the park with beautiful, elegant form you know it. You may have no idea why it looks so good but you just know it does, you think “man I wish I could move like that!”, chances are you can – you just don’t have the skill to do so….yet!
So what does ‘good’ running look like?
A good place to observe is by watching the pros, in particular the elite middle distance runners. They all have these sorts of traits; a stable head tracking along a horizontal ‘rail’; a gently swivelling torso, held quite upright; a high knee lift and kick back, sort of like a cycling action; a light foot strike that is more of a caress of the ground than a thump. If you were to be close to such a group of runners as they pass by, you would notice that they barely make a sound.
They have mastered the art of running.
You may remark, ‘well there is no way that I can run like that!’ That is true to an extent- certainly all those who make it to the elite level have the ideal genetics to enable them to do so (long legs and big lungs don’t hurt, being ultra lean doesn’t either!). Having the wrong genes may stifle any dreams of Olympic glory you may have, but it is possible to emulate aspects of this ideal form to improve your efficiency and comfort in your own running.
3 Tips for Better Running
- Keep your head still. When I run I try to stop the horizon from bouncing. If it is going up and down, then my head is going up and down. Running should be about getting from point A to point B as efficiently as possible, therefore if you are bouncing up and down you are zig-zagging along that horizontal ‘rail’ the pros run along, and probably striking the ground hard as a result.
- Run from the pelvis. Most people I observe run from the shoulders. If you were to watch them in slow motion they would look like they are about to faceplant into the treadmill, but save themselves by planting a foot out in front! This results in a massive load travelling through the knees, hips and lower back and eventually one of those areas will let you know about it. Instead, try to run as if you are being gently pushed from behind and underneath your backside. This will help straighten your back and unload the structures listed above.
- Run on hot coals. This is the hardest one to master and does require resilience and endurance in the muscles of the lower leg (tibialis posterior mostly), which is often inadequate in heavy heel-strikers. Building this endurance takes time and may require you to decrease you running volume in the short term, but I believe time spent here will be paid back with greater running efficiency in the future. This cue is all about decreasing stance time, which is the duration of time each foot spends in contact with the ground; and decreasing ground reaction force, which is the amount of force your body absorbs on foot strike (Newton’s law stuff, every action has an opposite and equal reaction).
I have found running to be a pursuit that has proved both wildly exhilirating and deeply relaxing, and I have enjoyed a seemless progression from running 5km poorly to completing my first ‘mini’ ultramarathon laregly because of the time I invested refining my running style. Like any skill, practice is vital and becoming an expert takes time. But once acquired, running is an art-form that you will have for life.