Monday Medical: Run the right way

Some tweaks to your technique can improve your time and comfort

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— With one race down and 12 to go, the Steamboat Springs Running Series is officially under way. If you’re thinking of signing up for a race, there are a number of questions you may be asking yourself.

Do you want to train for 5 kilometers, 50 miles or a distance in between? Should you pick a road race or a trail run?

Before you dash to any finish line, you might want to consider another question: Are you running correctly?

The answer could impact your health and your performance. It doesn’t matter whether you are an elite athlete or a beginner, there are tweaks and adjustments that can improve your time, efficiency and comfort while running.

It’s hard to see your own mistakes, especially when you’re a runner. Unless you ask someone to run alongside you with a video camera, it’s difficult to get a sense of what you look like when you run.

That’s where physical therapists come in. Scott Blair, a physical therapist at SportsMed, has expertise in helping runners make the most of their stride.

Runners can come to Sports­Med at Yampa Valley Medical Center for a gait analysis, which involves assessing how a person moves and suggesting modifications. The appointment begins with a physical evaluation to check for bone, muscle or joint problems.

The next step involves videotaping the patient running on a treadmill from the front, side and back. This lets physical therapists see any abnormality up close and in slow motion.

Therapists can then suggest drills and exercises to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. Changes to footwear and the use of over-the-counter insoles or orthotics may be recommended. Aspects of training also will be discussed to identify potential problems such as mileage, intensity and surfaces.

Blair cautions runners not to expect a change overnight.

“It’s a process,” he said. “It’s not a quick fix, but we can definitely get people moving in the right direction.”

Here are four common issues to think about before your next run:

■ Foot strike. Sound says a lot about shock absorption. A loud foot-strike means your body is not dissipating the forces from the road or trail up into your leg. Also, if one foot sounds louder than the other when it strikes, it could indicate an asymmetrical running pattern.

Over-striding and striking the ground with your heel can lead to foot and lower leg injuries. Landing on the mid-foot to forefoot may produce the “light touch” shock absorber that you need.

Barefoot running promotes this, too, but be aware that you could get hurt if you change your running style too fast. You need to strengthen your feet and legs before you make that kind of transition.

■ Arm swing. An uneven, over-rotating, or stiff arm-swing can be a sign of a weak trunk or inflexible hips. Arms should swing symmetrically at the sides of the body with elbows bent about 90 degrees and hands coming up slightly in front of the body.

■ Stretching. There are two types of stretching. Static stretching involves holding a stretch for at least 30 seconds. Active stretching involves moving the limbs in a full range of motion.

There’s been a lot of debate as to whether to stretch before a run. Doctors at George Washington University conducted a study and discovered static stretching won’t reduce your risk of injury. However, the study also found that it’s hazardous to abandon a pre-run regimen, so stick to your routine.

As for active stretching, it’s good for you. Performing a range-of-motion series of exercises may help prepare your body for the stresses of the run ahead.

■ Warming up. Don’t skip your warm-up. It’s essential. Before you push yourself, jog to work up a light sweat and get the heart rate up. Use the warm-up portion of your run as a time to think about how you are running and your foot placement.

You might not be “born to run,” and that’s OK. You’re not alone.

Every runner has a different body type with varying degrees of flexibility and strength. That’s why every runner should seek advice that’s designed specifically for his or her needs and structure.

If you’re unsure if your gait could use improvement, ask your training partner or friends in your running group for their opinion, preferably before you develop an injury.

“A friend can often tell you something doesn’t look right,” Blair said. “Or, if you’re watching someone run and it looks painful, then you know there may be a better way for that person to run.”

Melissa Phillips Boldman is a communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at melissa.phillips@yvmc.org.

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