Making the Most of Your Stride
Runners who get the most out of every stride seek to achieve the perfect technique for their body type. As with any sport, proper technique can help you optimize performance and avoid injuries. Chad Eickhoff, A.T.C., a certified athletic trainer at Mayo Clinic, explains the importance of practicing good technique from head to toe. As the Coordinator of Athletic Training Services at Mayo Clinic’s Sports Medicine Center, Eickhoff is an expert at helping athletes reach their maximum potential.
Q: I’m serious about running, but I’m not sure my stride is quite right. How can I improve my technique?
A: One of the latest ways to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of your gait is to have a video analysis. The analysis includes a physical exam where the runner would have his or her injury history, posture, strength, and flexibility assessed. The runner is also filmed on a treadmill from three different views while walking and running. The footage can then be viewed as slow as frame-by-frame to get a picture of how the runner’s body is working. This helps to find deficiencies in strength, flexibility and technique that could lead to injuries and/or poor performance.
Q: What are some of the deficiencies the expert is looking for in the video footage?
A: The person conducting the video analysis is looking for a number of common flaws in technique, such as a forward trunk lean, over-rotating of the upper torso, and the quality of the runner’s arm swing. Another area to consider is hips. Hip dropping could indicate hip weakness or poor flexibility in your hip flexor muscles. The knees, ankles and feet are also very important. If your feet are too flat or knees and ankles are out of alignment, you might not be getting the most out of your stride. Most of these deficiencies can be corrected with a custom exercise prescription. Occasionally, athletes and runners will come back for a second gait analysis after they’ve worked on the deficiencies for a while so they can see if their technique has improved.
Q: You mentioned that experts can “prescribe” certain types of exercise based on their analysis of my technique. What are some of the exercises that help runners achieve better performance?
A: Everyone has different natural strengths and weaknesses. The strength and flexibility exercises I have found helpful include hip extensions, abdominal exercises such as planks, lunges, squatting, standing stretches, pectoral stretches, and upper back strengthening, just to name a few.
Q: My legs do most of the work when I run. Why would you prescribe upper back exercises and pectoral stretches?
A: Running involves the entire body from head to toe. Having a strong core, chest and upper back helps you achieve better posture, which actually keeps your whole body better aligned all the way to your feet.
Q: Should technique and training exercises differ depending on the height of the runner?
A: One of the main differences between short and tall runners is the length of their natural stride. Tight hip flexors can reduce the length of your stride. Of course, there are limitations on body type and how much improvement you can get from a performance standpoint. The more times you have to turn over, the more volume you are putting on your body. If you are short, lengthening your stride may be important to you if you want to be competitive. For that reason, it is especially important for shorter runners to spend more time stretching the muscle groups near their hips, as one example. For most runners, many of the exercises can be beneficial regardless of height.
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Mayo Clinic submissions to Mile Marker are reviewed by the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center team. The Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center http://www.mayoclinic.org/sportsmedcenter-rst treats sports and activity related injuries, creates customized exercise programs and provides preventive care for athletes of all levels.
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