Make Running Injuries a Thing of the Past

It's all in the Technique

Posted by Danny Dreyer on Sat Jan 1st, 2005, No comments (be the first!)

Running injuries are not inevitable, as so many people believe them to be. The idea that running causes injury is a myth that I want to put to sleep – forever.

Runner’s knee, shin splints, IT band syndrome, plantar faciitus – all the dreaded sideliners that put so many runners off their stride are, in most cases, preventable. Just as in every day living, accidents can happen, and injuries can happen as well. But just as a good, cautious driver has fewer accidents, someone who is using good running technique, will have fewer injuries. When you are aware of your own body’s limits, listen to your body, and watch for signs that something is not in line, you will have fewer injuries and potentially none at all.

When I tell people that I'm a running instructor, I inevitably hear the story of a once-upon-a-time runner who “had” to stop because they were getting older and getting injured. What people call Runner’s Knee is the number one reason why most people quit their once-loved sport. Shin splints are another frequent culprit. Sometimes it just got “too painful.” Perhaps even more often I hear about how people have a secret desire to run, but are afraid of the potential for injury. I have lots of 40-60 year-olds who think it’s too late to start running. It’s a common question, “Aren’t I too old to start running? Isn’t it too dangerous for someone my age?”. My answer in most cases is, “No, you’re not too old and running is NOT dangerous, if you run correctly. Chi Running teaches you how. “

OK, there are golf lessons, there are tennis lessons, there are lessons to make more money and lessons to have better sex …Well guess what, taking lessons to do something well is not only the best way to get good at something, it’s also the best way to learn to do something SAFELY and enjoy it more.

The same is true for running. Whether you’re just a regular jogger, getting out there to get some exercise, or a youngster who likes to burn off some steam, or one of us older folks who runs to keep fit and enjoy life, running is more enjoyable, and safer if you know what you’re doing. And yes, even old dogs can learn new tricks. I can’t tell you how many letters I get from people telling me that making one or two simple changes has had a profound effect on their running. Now, one or two simple changes in your running form won’t prevent injury for a lifetime for most people, but regular, committed practice to Chi Running can.

Top Ten Running Tips to Prevent Injury

1. Listen to your body and pay attention to pain
2. When in pain, make a change in your running form
3. Improve and perfect your posture
4. Keep your center of gravity in front of your foot strike
5. Upgrade your running program gradually
6. Land on your mid-foot, not on the heel or ball of your foot
7. Start off every run slowly to warm up
8. Shorten your stride, especially at the beginning of your runs
9. Don’t wear old running shoes
10. Deep slow stretches after your run, not short bouncy ones

Lets fill these out a bit.

1. “Listen to your body,” means just that – LISTEN. I call it Body Sensing. Most people don’t listen to their bodies because most of the ad campaigns of drug companies are telling you NOT to. “Don’t pay attention to a gassy, horrible stomach from eating too much, just drink our disgusting pink stuff.” “Headache? Why not pop our pill (rather than get away from your computer and get some fresh air and put us out of business).” “Stabbing knee pain during your marathon?? Take these pills and go see your surgeon on Monday.” Chi Running is at the opposite end of this spectrum. Get to know every nuance of your body. Pay attention to every detail. Learn the different voices of pain, just as a mother can tell whether her child’s cry is of hunger, anger or sleepiness. If the pain you feel is other than productive discomfort, go to step number 2.

2. If you’re in pain when running then learn what you’re doing wrong and make a correction. That’s right. If you’re in pain you can almost always do something about it. If your hips are aching, you most likely need to level your pelvis and engage your core muscles. If you’re knee hurts, it could be several things, but find out and make a change. You might be over striding or landing in front of you center of gravity or pronating. All these things can be adjusted and you can alleviate the pain and prevent long term injury.

3. OK, good posture is everything in T’ai Chi and in all movement as far as I can tell. When your posture is aligned, all movement has a better chance of being correct. Good alignment is the foundation for efficient movement and promotes a healthy spine. Your chi moves up and down your spine. If you’re crooked, the flow of energy is inhibited and your movement will not be fluid. If you’re long, strong and tall (even if you’re short) your movement can flow out of that straight pipe. Your posture effects your breathing, your movement, your digestion. Perfecting your posture is fundamental to a being pain-free and injury-free runner. Lesson 1 in the DVD

4. In Chi Running you lean slightly from your ankles so that your center of gravity is always in front of your foot strike. If your foot hits the ground in front of your center of gravity, you’re putting on the brakes and really pounding every joint from your ankles on up. Plantar faciitus, shin splints, knee pain, hip pain, and lower back pain can originate from the pounding that occurs when your foot strikes in front of your center of gravity. Let your feet swing out the back while your upright posture leans slightly forward over your heals, and let gravity, not your legs pull you forward.

5. Life may be short, but there is always time to accomplish what’s most important. When you’re learning something new, upgrading your running schedule or adding speed or distance, it is always wise to follow the principle of Gradual Progress. If you try to do to much too soon, you’re writing a recipe for injury!! If your longest run is five miles, don’t try to run a marathon in three months…eight months is more like it. When you’re learning Chi Running, don’t expect to perfect it in the first month. Pushing and forcing your way to a goal is a great way to get hurt. Set reasonable goals and take your time. Savor your experience and enjoy the process. You’ll run for the rest of your life if you take your time now.

6. Land on your mid-foot, not on the heel or ball of your foot. Every time your foot meets the ground, you should be in a one-legged posture stance with your whole foot in contact with the ground, supporting your posture line. This will allow your structure to support your body weight with each foot strike. If you land heel first, you’re in for a world of hurt because of all the impact it creates to your legs. You could end up with bad knees, plantar faciitus or sore quads. If you land or run on the balls of your feet you’re considered a toe runner. This will put an incredible strain on your lower legs because they are having to support your entire body weight with each foot strike. They are not designed to carry this amount of workload…especially during any long distance running. A mid-foot strike allows the lower leg to rest during all phases of your stride and you’ll never have shin splints again…period.

7. Start every run slowly and work on the details of your running form during the first miles. Then let speed work it’s way into your runs as you warm-up, loosen, and relax your body. Take your time getting started. Like a book, let your run unfold and let your body speak to you before you ask it to go fast. When starting a run, listen to where you are tight. Check in to see if your pelvis is level and your core is engaged fully. Keep your stride short and crisp and get your heart going without stressing out the joints, muscles and ligaments. Many injuries happen when someone goes out of the gate too fast, so let gravity take you for a ride by increasing your lean slightly. Then gracefully let your stride increase along with your speed. You won’t get injured this way, and you’ll be amazed at what happens…I’ll let you find out for yourself.

8. Most people start out running with too long of a stride. I commonly see people running slowly with a stride length that I use only with my fastest gear. Lots of things can go wrong with a long, lumbering stride. You’ll tend to reach forward with your legs which creates a heavy heel strike. You’ll waste energy by spending too much time with contact with the ground and aggravate your lower legs with shin splints and plantar faciitus. You’ll also end up with very sore quads at the end of every run. Shorten your stride when going slowly.

9. Old running shoes are worse than running barefoot. I’m not a barefoot runner, but respect those who do run barefoot because barefoot running forces you to have great running form. Shoes work for me, however, but not old ones. The mid-sole gets compacted, the shoe loses flexibility and an injury is often the result. Find a good flexible shoe (see page 185 for more details in the Chi Running book) and get a new pair about every 500 miles. Shoes are very important, so invest your time and money wisely in finding out what is best for you.

10. I don’t believe in stretching before runs, but I highly suggest the loosening exercises before you run and stretching afterwards. However the post run stretching needs to have some quality to then. Think yoga. Short, bouncy stretches are not only ineffective, they can cause injury. A good stretch should be held for a minimum of 30 seconds. You can move and adjust within that stretch by doing slight adjustments, but stretching is the perfect time to practice your Body Sensing skills. Don’t push your stretch too far, but take your time and relax into a deep place of flexibility. Listen to what your muscles are telling you after your run. If you’re calves are tight, you may be using them too much on the run. If your shoulders are now moving more easily, the your run did the job of loosening you up.

These are just a few of things you can do to help put to sleep the myth that running causes injury. For everything you need to know about how to run injury-free for the rest of your life, get your copy of the Chi Running book and DVD.

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A Chi Running Love Letter

Over the past 45 years, I have trained for and run a race of one mile or longer every year but one. I worked my way up to running marathons, but in 1982 began experiencing knee pain – ultimately in both knees. 

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