Biomechanics in running is all about applying the laws of mechanics – of how things work together – to human movement. We look at the muscular, the joint and the skeletal action of the body as it moves. The more feedback you can get, the better, which is why we opt for Run 3D for the optimum gait analysis.
Podiatric biomechanics involves the assessment of the structure, alignment and function of the feet and legs. The foot is the only part of the human body which is unique to the human which is why we are able to walk upright. It has developed specifically so that it can adapt to the surface upon which we walk. In the early stages of our evolution, the terrain upon which we walked was varied and uneven and the foot has a complex set of joints and muscles which allow this process. However, we are now required to walk on hard, flat man-made surfaces subjecting the foot and legs to low-grade but repetitive movement.
The average person takes between 5,000 to 18,000 steps per day. This low-grade but repetitive motion can place stress on the foot, legs, pelvis and spine predisposing to pain and discomfort. If you have a low-arched (pronated) or high arched (supinated) foot then you may be more predisposed to problems. However, muscle inflexibility and weakness, footwear and activity levels can all affect function. Here are the top seven things that influence biomechanics:
Your first contact with the ground and so vitally important for effective running. Getting the right shoe is fundamental. Whilst many people will find the correct shoe easily, expert advice can save a lot of potential trouble.
A detailed assessment of the underlying structure and function of the foot can help to identify factors that may be causing or contributing to discomfort when you run. The use of special shoe inserts called orthoses can help to control the way in which the foot and therefore legs function and thus reduce discomfort. By supporting the foot and reducing excessive motion, orthoses can help protect or resolve injury. Many runners only need orthoses in the short term to help them recover from injury as long they are able to rehab properly. After the shoe, the foot is the contact point to the ground and can be the source of many injuries.
Whilst boring, time spent ensuring good flexibility allows the joints to function through a good range of motion and thus reduce injury and optimise performance. For ideas of how to get flexible, see Women’s Running’s Foam Roller exercises.
The Pilates approach to co-ordinating muscle function and educating appropriate muscle recruitment patterns ensures that excessive strain is avoided and that the whole lower limb functions in a co-ordinated manner. Check out Women’s Running Workouts for the Core for Pilates-style inspiration.
The further you wish to run, the more strength and conditioning you require. Simply running may not be sufficient and a balanced programme which includes dynamic strengthening is essential. Try the Women’s Running Workouts section for ideas of how to boost running strength and condition your body for best performance. Conditioning your body is perhaps one of the most important biomechanical factors for runners to consider. However good or bad your underlying function, many problems can be avoided if you increase the load (ie the time on your feet) gradually and allow your body to adapt to increasing demands. The more you control the factors above, the quicker the adaptation, the greater you will be able to run and the less you will be injured.
Much has been written about running style in recent years. It is still the case that most runners’ heel strike and no one particular running style is best, simply there is a best style for each individual. Barefoot or forefoot running dos not avoid injury, the injuries are simply different and no scientific studies to date have demonstrated improved economy. However, simple changes to running style which include step width, step rate, hip extension etc. can reduce stress and thus injury.
This is a factor that many ignore. However good your function and control when fresh, as you fatigue during a run, then the likelihood is your control will reduce and there is a risk of injury. Pushing distance to far too soon is one of the biggest mistakes made by runners. One way to ensure you’re getting enough rest, is to sleep well. Read our article, Sleep Like An Athlete for some top tips.