Perhaps you’ve been wanting to begin running for a while.
Maybe you’ve been out of your routine for some time and want to get back into the habit.
No matter the case, as with any other physical activity, knowledge is crucial to exercising in a productive and safe manner. Running is no different.
Here are some things to consider when getting started:
Foot Strike – The manner in which your foot connects with the ground and moves through the three-phases of landing (initial impact, stabilization and propulsion/”toe off”).
There’s been quite a lot of discussion about which strike is best, but I’m of the mind that each method is likely to have different benefits for different people, particularly depending on their immediate physical condition as well as their future goals.
Types of Strikes:
Heel (with the heel hitting the ground first before toe-off)
- Less overall tension on the calf muscle/soleus/Achilles tendon (muscles and tendons on the back of the leg, above the ankle, and below the knee)
- Probably most comfortable for most people who are beginning running
- More severe impact on the ankle, knees and possibly hip joints
- Generally more difficult to increase speed/sprint from this position
- Least likely to result in shin splints, compared to the others
- Pros –
Midfoot (the heel and ball of the foot meet the ground almost simultaneously)
- Less shock to joints than with heel strike
- Less tension on Achilles tendon, calves and soleus muscles than with forefoot strike
Forefoot Strike (the ball of the foot and a part of the first two toes meet the ground)
- optimal position for increasing speed
- less stress on knees and ankles
- Considerably more tension on the Achilles tendon, calf and soleus muscles
- Most likely to result in shin splints and possibly IT Band (mentioned below) tension
Although it can be difficult to sustain for longer periods of time/distances (especially those who are just beginning), I'm personally a big fan of the forefoot strike.
This is the typical method used by sprinters as well as mid-distance runners, one that I think aids in improving posture as well as allowing for increases in speed throughout various runs, over time.
Nevertheless, if just starting, you may find midfoot or heel striking to be a bit more less severe on the calves, especially when running for longer distances.
As with any other fitness-related activity, posture is always key.
Hip and Knee Flexion–One leg’s knee is raised off of the ground and bent, while the foot of the other leg is extended and slightly bent, balanced on the forefoot
Arms/Shoulders/Head Posture – Leaning forward slightly, keep your head positioned over your shoulders, your shoulder blades down and back, relax your upper trapezi (those usually tense muscles between your shoulder blades and your neck, which many “meatheads” have)
Hands – Keep your fingers together and in line. Every time you raise your knee, bring the opposite arm/hand up, as well. Aside from any discussion of barefoot running, I’m a big fan of this technique for developing good running posture, as well.
Stretching is Fundamental:
Running increases muscular tightness, so it’s important to be in the habit of stretching constantly, especially after you get through a workout. I’m a big fan of these stretches and I think you will be too:
Iliotibial (IT) Band (a long band of fibrous tissue that runs along the side of your hip to your shin and wraps along a bunch of other, surrounding muscles)
The Calves (Run along the back of the leg, between the ankle and the knee)
The Upper Trapezius (Between the neck and shoulder, attaching at back of the head and the shoulder blade)
The Hamstrings – (A series of muscles that stretch across the lower back across the back of the leg, to the rear of the knee)
The Hip Flexors (Several muscles that connect the thigh and the bones of the hip/pelvis)
The Quadriceps (Muscles on the front of the thigh that run between the hips and the knee)
More running tips next week!