Tag Archives: running form

Running 101: IT Band Syndrome

The IT Band is a running mystery.  A frequently experienced injury, many runners don’t know what it does.  The illiotibial band (ITB) is a large fibrous group of fascia that runs longitudinally down the outside of the upper leg.  Anchoring at the iliac crest and tibia, it’s a bunch of passive rubber bands that extend, abduct and rotate the hip laterally.  It also helps stabilize the knee while storing energy to support running and walking.IT band

IT Band syndrome (ITBS) is an inflammation of these tissues and typically presents with outer knee pain.  That is the area where the ITB should slide over bone and muscle easily. If it’s not sliding due to inflammation or tightness, pain will result.  Sometimes the pain can be felt along the entire length of the outer thigh and it’s often a result of overuse.  Two examples of exercise patterns that can lead to overuse are increasing mileage too quickly or adding lots of plyometrics.

There is good news, however.  There are several ways to treat and prevent ITBS.  The first step in treatment is to rest long enough for the inflammation to subside.  Second is to work on improving mobility of the hip and knee.  Limited range of motion in either joint can cause extra stress to the ITB and lead to inflammation.  Foam rolling and proper warm up to increase circulation to these fibers before a workout will help it slide painlessly.

Strength training with a qualified coach is one of the best solutions to ITBS.  Having muscles strong enough the support your increase in mileage or the strain of a downhill marathon will help prevent ITB irritation.  Hip, glute and abdonimal core strength are paramount to any solid strength training plan for runners who want to stay healthy.  These muscles also ensure your IT band gets the support it needs.

A final possibility is that it might not be it your IT Band at all.  The ITB is so passive it’s hard to know how it might get injured.  Since that research isn’t ready yet take a look at the muscles around it: your hamstrings and quads.  When these muscles get tight or damaged they can put stress on the IT band.  Relaxing the tight muscles through improved mobility or foam rolling can release stress on the ITB to reduce or eliminate pain.

Want to stay ITBS free?  Take good care of all the muscles it works with.  Be sure to strengthen, stretch and warm up properly.

Coach Meredith

Running: Benefits of Shorter Steps

Taking shorter steps while running might sound counter intuitive.  For some people, it might actually be true.  For many others, especially a large percentage of recreational runners, shorter steps are the answer to many running form and injury issues.

Just about anyone who runs knows that ‘heel strike’ isn’t something you want to hear.  It has a really bad reputation that it doesn’t necessarily deserve.  It is, however, often equated with over striding.  Taking steps that are too big almost always results in heel striking while heel striking shorter stepson its own isn’t the horror you might have heard.  Shorter steps have several benefits over ones that are too big and here are four big ones:

Faster turnover:  Taking shorter steps means you’ll take more of them over the same distance.  That might sound like it also means more work, it actually means less.  If each step is shorter, your feet spend less time on the ground and less time on the ground means less time to get injured.  With your feet underneath you, you’ll also have forward momentum on your side and be able to use gravity to help you move along.

Stop stopping:  Landing with your foot out in front of you is the same as putting on the breaks.  shorter stepsReally.  It’s the same thing your dog does when they don’t want to go.  Put their center of gravity behind their feet, throw those paws forward and say ‘nope’.  Keeping your feet underneath you with faster turnover will keep your body moving forward with less effort.

Happy muscles.  When we kick that leg out in front during over striding, our quadriceps are doing the bulk of the work.  That muscle does not want to do that.  Ever tried to walk down stair after a marathon?  Yup.  It’s not fun.  Shorter steps fire up powerhouse glutes and hamstrings for happier running muscles.

Reduce injury risk:  Faster turnover, no braking and happy muscles mean a lower risk of injury.  You’ll get to use the elasticity of your Achilles, foot arch and calf to absorb the impact of each step rather than the bones and joints that hit when you over stride.  Once muscles are doing the work, instead of bones, risk for any number of injuries can decrease.  IT Band issues, knee pain, hip pain, ankle issues and general body soreness can all decline with proper stride length.

The best way to determine if you’re running with an appropriate stride length is to have a professional gait analysis.  A quality running coach will let you know if shorter steps can help you earn better form and faster times.

Coach Meredith

Upper Body Strength for Runners

All runners know they need strong, stable legs and hips to get the most out of each run.  Equally as important, and often overlooked, is upper body strength.  Being powerful above the hips as well as below will help you run faster and perform better during every workout.  Your arms move in precise coordination with your legs to help maintain rhythm while your shoulders work to maintain good posture that allows your lungs and diaphragm to do they best job they can.  A strong core stabilizes against rotation that wastes energy and helps propel you forward.

So how do you build upper body strength?  There are tons of exercises you can use.  Focusing on muscle groups that improve and maintain posture is the best path to building strength that will make you a better runner.  That means your back, chest, shoulders and, most importantly, core.  While you don’t want to end up carrying extra muscle weight by bulking up, you do want strong, stable muscles that will hold you up when the going gets tough.  Here are four of Team ECRP‘s favorite upper body moves:

Push-Ups:  Push-ups stabilize shoulder, strengthen arms and work those important core muscles.  Performing them correctly, with your elbows tight to your ribs and externally rotated shoulders, will improve running form and efficiency.

upper body strengthPlank Rows:  These toughies challenge your entire upper body.  Your shoulders and core work to stabilize your position while your back works to lift that weight.

Pull-Ups:  Adjustable for everyone, this challenging exercise is a great way to get a stronger, more stable upper body.  From strict pull-ups to ring rows, the wide variety of scaling options means there’s no excuse not to try.upper body strength

Overhead Press:  Yes, any overhead press will do.  Whether it’s a strict press, thruster, push-press or clean and jerk, lifting weights over your head takes skill and strength.  Your core stabilizes your entire body while shoulders work to push the weight up.

Use these four moves to help build upper body strength.  You’ll earn better running form and faster race times.

Coach Meredith

In Running, Hip Extension Matters

A lot of attention gets paid to foot strike these days.  Unfortunately, it’s not one of the biggest problems runners face.  The major factor that most often gets overlooked is hip extension.  Since our stride starts at the hip, that’s where we should focus to fix everything that happens after it starts.  We need our hips to open for an efficient stride, to run faster and help prevent injuries.

How does a good stride start?  The gluteus maximum fires.  It creates most of our forward propulsion when running and causes hip extension.  Unfortunately, this seemingly simple movement  can be limited by several things.  Hip flexor tightness, weak supporting muscles like the gluteus medius, groin tightness, unbalanced pelvic bones, quad tightness and even pronation of the feet can all restrict hip movement.  This restricted movement creates all sorts of form errors, most commonly overstriding, and can lead to injuries.

To open our hips and help our most powerful asset, the glutes, function properly, we need to stretch and strengthen.  Check that your glutes are firing when you run by feeling each thigh Image may contain: one or more people and people sittingpulled back with every step.  If you’re not sure, practice bridges or single leg deadlifts until you’re comfortable with what a working glute feels like.

When you know your glutes are working but still have some restriction, look to your hip flexors.  Hip extension gets a whole lot tougher if they’re tight.  Think of your hips like a bowl.  You want to keep the bowl still and not spill all of the valuable energy they harness.  Tight hip flexors can lead to lots of lost power by rocking that bowl forward and back with each step.  Exercises like couch stretch and pigeon pose can loosen them up and should be done regularly.

Be sure to remember practice makes perfect.  Any additional mobility or strength will change the way your body moves.  Train with proper form at all times.  When a run gets challenging, stop to reset.  It’s hard work but those missed injuries and new PRs are worth it in the end.

Coach Meredith

4 Tips to Run Faster

Everyone wants to run faster.  Whether it’s breaking a 30 minute 5k or hitting a sub-3 hour marathon every runner has a goal they haven’t reached yet.  Here are four tips to improve your running and help you hit that next PR.

Form:  It’s hard work to run faster than you’re currently comfortable.  Wildly moving elbows, over-striding and breaking at the hip all make it that much tougher.  Developing proper posture and a good foot strike position can go a long way to help.  The base of any good program should focus on eliminating form faults that hamper your ability to get where you want to go.  Try taking a video of yourself to see what your form looks like then think about what could improve.  Of course, every runner has a different natural gait, making it a good idea to get together with a coach for a gait analysis before comparing yourself to the run fasterprofessionals.

Turnover.  Moving your feet faster is a good way to run faster, right?  Increasing your cadence, also known as step rate, has two big benefits.  The first is that it can decrease your risk of injury by lowering the amount of time your foot spends in contact with the ground.  It’s hard for your body to get injured in the air.  Less time being pounded into the ground means less stress on your legs.  The second benefit is that it can make you faster and more efficient because less time spent on the ground means less friction and faster movement.  Elite distance runners have an average step rate of 180-220 steps per minute while less experienced runners typically average around 165.  Use a metronome to help you find your current rate then work to gradually increase it.  Striders and short repeats are a great way to work on this skill.

Power.  The more power you put into the ground with each step the more will be returned to your body for the next one.  The key to building power is strength training.  You can run hills, hit the gym for box jumps or jump rope, they’ll all help you run faster.  Sit-ups and push-ups are also great exercises for runners.  They build the core stability and strength that’s needed to maintain proper form late into any race.

Practice.  To run faster, you actually have to do it.  To be ready for speed on race day you need to get comfortable at race pace or even faster.  Speed work, whether it’s on the track, road or trail is the key to better race times.  Repeats at a variety of distances and speeds all have a purpose and should be part of your training plan.

Use these four tips to run faster for success racing this spring.  Challenge yourself to improve in each of these categories and see what you can accomplish.

Coach Meredith