Before we get into a discussion about stretching and view our video of common stretches, let's go over some of the basics of running mechanics.
Proper running is executed as a sequence of strides, alternating between the two legs. Leg stride can be loosely divided into three phases: support, drive, and recovery. Support and drive refer to phases when the foot is in contact with the running surface. Recovery refers to the period when the foot is off the ground.
In the support phase, the contact foot supports the body against the force of gravity, with the body's center of mass in the lower abdominal area between the hips. Just prior to the support phase, the knee joint is at its greatest extension, though when contact is made with the running surface, the knee joint begins to flex. The extent of knee flexion varies depending on the particular runner's style. As the supporting leg bends at the knee, the pelvis dips on the opposing side, acting to absorb shock.
Following the support phase, a transition to the drive phase takes place. At this point, the drive leg extends at the knee joint and hip, with the toe maintaining contact with the ground and the leg trailing behind the body. During the drive, the foot may extend through a flexing of the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles of the calf.
Once the driving toe loses contact with the surface, the recovery phase begins. Here, the hip flexes, rapidly driving the knee forward. Much of the lower leg's motion is driven by forces transferred from the upper leg, (not by the action of the muscles). As the knee kicks forward, torque is exerted against the lower leg via the knee joint.
In the last phase of recovery, the hip achieves maximal flexion. As the lower leg rapidly unfolds, the knee joint reaches its greatest extension. In the process of this extension of the leg and flexion of the hip, hamstring and gluteal muscles rapidly stretch, and reflexively respond to the stretch with sudden contraction. The recovery stage ends when the foot again comes into contact with the ground, beginning the support phase. During all three stride phases, the upper body anatomy is also in use, in order to maintain balance and continue forward motion. At higher speeds, the arms, spine and shoulder often come into play, absorbing forces and helping to maintain balance.
Most Common Injuries
Runners are prone to a wide variety of both acute injuries and those resulting from overstress. The a high impact nature of the activity causes considerable stress to muscles, tendons and ligaments as well as making such athletes vulnerable to strains, sprains and fractures.
Some of the more frequently encountered injuries include:
also known as chondromalacia, the condition results from a softening or wearing away of the cartilage under the kneecap, resulting in pain and inflammation.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome:
The Iliotibial band is a sheath of connective tissue attaching muscles in the gluteal region to the outside (or lateral) surface of the tibia or shin bone. The band functions in extending the knee joint and abducting the hip.
An inflammation of muscle attachments and interosseous membranes to the tibia or shin bone.
An inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick, fibrous band of tissue running from the heel to the base of the toes.
An inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which connects the two major calf muscles, gastrocnemius and soleus, to the back of the heel bone.
Stress fractures are a common affliction in runners training with intensity or at high volume. Overuse injuries - often due to improper form - result from repetitive stress on tissues without adequate recovery.
Many running injuries can be avoided through proper conditioning and attending to correct running technique. Additionally, runners should:
Build up running distances and speeds in gradual stages;
Select comfortable, well fitting and supportive footwear;
Avoid running in extreme temperatures;
Exercise particular caution when running in inclement weather, or on uneven or wet surfaces;
Keep the body well hydrated, especially in hot weather;
Apply sunscreen to protect the skin, when running in bright sun.
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don't make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as warming up and preparing muscles for a workout won't be effective. Watch the video below for demonstrations of proper techniques for running.
Article by Brad Walker. Brad is a leading stretching and sports injury consultant with nearly 20 years experience in the health and fitness industry. For more articles on stretching, flexibility and sports injury, please visit The Stretching Institute