No shoes, no shirt, no problem? Most of the time running requires not much else besides a pair of sneakers, and it’s widely considered to be the world’s most accessible sport. But just because it’s accessible, doesn’t mean that it’s simple. In fact, some people like Tony Gulley, the regional director and resident running guru at O2 Fitness, make a living by helping others improve their running regimen—not by adding minutes or miles—but by breaking down the body’s individual movements and mechanics. Here are seven tips that Tony shares with his clients who range from new beginners to long-time running enthusiasts.
All Feet Are NOT Equal: The first part of your kinetic chain to touch the ground while running is your feet. Our feet are designed to propel us forward, but over time we begin to compensate which puts more stress on our joints and muscles. A common running mistake is picking any running shoe without getting your feet analyzed by a professional. A professional assessment, or gait analysis, will analyze any compensations you have and allow the professional to recommend the right shoe for you and your goals.
Go Big and Go Foam: Foam rolling, or self-myofascial release (SMR), is a very important and oft overlooked part of a runner's program. It not only improves circulation to help prepare the body for exercise but it also inhibits overactive muscles. Without a workout program that includes both strength and stability, our body begins to compensate, and we develop overactive and underactive muscles. Foam rolling allows you to inhibit the overactive muscles and integrate the underactive muscles back into your workouts and daily activities.
Mix It Up, Or Miss Out: Unless you run sideways, 99% of your running takes place in the sagittal plane with a forward motion. In order to ensure an athlete not only improves their performance but also has a well-rounded and balanced body, it's important to work in every plane of motion. The best way to do this is through combining cardio and resistance training. For example, to balance out the constant forward motion of running, stand on a resistance band with feet shoulder-width apart while in a quarter squat position. Once you have a neutral spine, take a step to your left and allow your right foot to come back to a shoulder-width position in a controlled manner, then repeat going in the other direction. You are now working in the frontal plane (side to side).
Your Hips and Glutes are Underrated: Most runners have tight hip flexors and weak underactive glutes. This combination results in a less than optimal stride. Your hip flexors help move your legs forward and your glutes help drive your legs backwards. When the hip flexors are weak, your body compensates by firing other muscles to propel the leg forward and in turn weakening the glutes role in driving the leg backwards. Foam rolling and incorporating a well-balanced resistance program will aide in proper glute and hip flexion mobility.
Shake it Off: A common mistake among new runners is a rigid upper body. The upper body plays an important role in maintaining the rhythmic cadence and stride of the lower body. By flexing our upper body or slouching our shoulders we compress our diaphragm, impeding proper airflow and adding torque to our lower back causing further compensations. A great exercise to strengthen your upper body is a renegade row. Start with two light dumbbells on the ground shoulder-width apart. Begin in push-up position and place a hand on each dumbbell. Keep your left hand on the ground as you pull the right dumbbell up, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top. Slowly lower the dumbbell back to shoulder-width position and repeat on the other side. It's important to remember to keep your core tight throughout the movement and avoid excessive rotation of your torso. If that's too hard, start on your knees. If that's too easy, do a push up first then do your row.
Don't Bonk: To avoid "bonking," or hitting the wall, all runners should go through a metabolic assessment to find their anaerobic threshold. Your anaerobic threshold is the point at which you stop burning fat as your primary fuel source and switch to carbohydrates. This is important for long distance runners because we want to burn fat for a long period of time because it is such a dense and abundant fuel source. Carbohydrates and sugars are our quick energy sources that we break down almost immediately and use for anaerobic (without oxygen) activities such as sprinting. Once you have your anaerobic threshold you will be able to accurately design your running program and dietary needs.
Get Functional: I recommend every runner complete a Functional Movement Screen with a fitness professional. An FMS is an extensive assessment comprised of seven tests that identify functional limitations and asymmetries in your body. This is important to runners because it allows us to find any compensations and asymmetries that may become an issue such as pain or injuries. Furthermore, when the FMS is paired with an extensive corrective exercise program, designed by the fitness professional, the runner can expect to see an increase in his/her performance.
Tony Gulley is the regional director and resident running guru at O2 Fitness. Tony has a B.S. in exercise science from the University of South Carolina where he worked as a strength and conditioning coach. Tony has experience working on running mechanics with clients ranging from kids to professional athletes. Tony is a certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist, and performance enhancement specialist who regularly runs races in his spare time.