Learn to Run Part 3: How we are different from antelope.

In a previous blog in this series I compared a herd of migrating antelope to the hussling and bussling weekend warriors gliding, skipping, wobbling and writhing down Anzac Highway during the City to Bay fun run. The main difference between the two groups is that one is almost homogenous in it’s gait style, whilst the other displays an apparent freedom of expression in how they move.

‘Freedom of expression’ implies some sort of unbridled artistry is on display, but truth be told the way most people run is far from artistic and painfully bridled. The reason for this amazing variance in how human beings run is the same as that which gives large collections of animals their biomechanical uniformity. Environment.

When the sun rises, all antelope get up at about the same time, start grazing at the savannah in the the same way for about the same amount of time, move across the same landscape in the same temperature conditions for the same percentage of the day, then tuck in at night again, at about the same time. Their anatomical structures are uniform, their environment is uniform, and their needs and means to fulfill them are uniform. Therefore they move the same.

We on the other hand, experience an environment that is both inconsistent from person to person and contrary to what our body is actually built for.

We, like all animals adapt to the environment we are in and unfortunately those adaptations often conflict with the biomechanical and physiological requirements for high quality running.

An example- one that I see often. The species I shall name Computus Captivius from the Genus, Sendentarius. See image below.

Computus Captivius

This extremely common specimen is characterised by a depressed sternum, forward head, forward rolled shoulders, absence of apparent core musculature, glutes that serve only as cushions, shortened hip flexors, stiff feet and often short, tight, deconditioned deep lower limb muscles.

Basically this individual has adapted perfectly to her/his environment by making some muscles shorter and tighter  and allowing other muscles to switch off due to being surplus to requirements. This is not a problem if all  Computus Captivius wants to do is sit in front of a computer. But if they decided to take up running? I’m sorry but this animal simply does not have a body that is capable of running  well!

This, coupled with a simple lack of skill is why I see so many people running with their shoulders forward, head bobbing all over the place, hips flexed and shuddering on impact, and heels that are violently striking the earth like they hold some crazed vendetta against it.

In order to run well, the following physical traits must be yours:

  • A thoracic spine that is mobile in extension and rotation.
  • A set of core musculature that is correctly active. The core doesn’t have to be strong, just working properly. See my blog http://informhealth.com/the-core-what-is-it-and-why-should-i-care/ for further reading.
  • Glutes that work- they know what to do and when to do it (and when not to).
  • Hips that can extend ten degrees- meaning the thigh bone can lever backwards relative to the pelvis unrestricted.
  • Lower limb muscles, such as the tibialis posterior, tibialis anterior, peroneals and big calf mucles (gastrocnemius and soleus) that are in good working order (not tight) and have great endurance.
  • Intelligent feet- This means feet that are mobile but have their mobility finely tuned by the appropriate muscles plus an accurate and prompt information channel from the nervous system.

That sounds like a hell of a list. But each of those traits, if currently foreign to you, are quite simple to acquire through correct training. In order to run well you first need a body that is physically capable of doing so. As a species we have been ‘inteligent’ enough to manufacture an environment that is alien to our physical make-up. Fortunately we are also intelligent enough to correct the adaptations we make.

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