Written By: Paul Robichaux
Like most runners, I’ve gradually accumulated a catalog of minor aches and pains as I run. Distance, pace, and terrain all influence how you feel during and after a run, and so do accumulated injuries– once you sustain an injury, you’re generally going to be more susceptible to re-injuring the same part. One solution: quit running. HAHAHAHAHAHA. I know, right? Not going to happen. Another solution would be to see a professional to figure out what’s causing my issues, then fix them. I liked that plan better, so I embarked on a two-pronged strategy.
First, I visited Andrew Walker at PhysioWorks HSVÂ to address a problem I’ve been having with my left Achilles tendon. Andrew put me through a battery of static and range-of-motion tests and told me, in summary, that I am a hot mess: poor left ankle mobility (which explains the cramps I get in my left toes on long swims), excessive external rotation of my right foot, and some muscular imbalances in my glutes and hamstrings. Now I’ve got a set of targeted exercises to address the muscle imbalance (more on that in a future post). He also said “you know, your running cadence is low”. He then explained that increasing your running cadence significantly decreases the dynamic load on the ankle and knee joints by reducing impact forces– I was sold.
After meeting with Andrew, I did a little reading about cadence. The ideal cadence is widely believed to be 180 steps per minute (spm), based largely on a misunderanding. Famous running coach Jack Daniels said that after observing a large number of elite distance runners, they all tended to run at about 180spm. That turned into “everyone should run at 180spm” and here we are. I don’t know what my ideal cadence is, except that it will be more than my current 148-ish spm. Like every other change in running form, it’s best to adjust your cadence gradually; the nature of running is such that it’s easy to catch a stress or repetitive-motion injury from making large changes in form without due caution.
The following week, I took advantage of my coaching team at CHP to have Nickademus Hollon do a video gait analysis. My son used my trusty Garmin VIRB to shoot video of me running towards and away from the camera as well as left- and right-facing lateral views. Nickademus sent me back a 20-minute annotated video pointing out several issues with my running:
- Too much external rotation of my right foot. this is caused by the same issues Andrew spotted with my right hip and glutes. The excess rotation is putting extra stress on my right knee and IT band, which explains the soreness I often have after long runs.
- As you can see in this image, my right foot is definitely turned out. It does this at rest too (as when I sleep on my back); this is probably just one of those weird, individual biomechanical quirks that every human has.
- My cadence is low (but I knew that already). Apart from the impact-force increase caused by the slower cadence, this also causes me to “overstride”, or take steps that are too long. The longer your stride, the more you’re in the air, which means the harder you land and the more energy it requires for you to push off again. Because I’m pushing off so hard, I’m putting too much energy bouncing up instead of forward– so write down “excessive vertical oscillation” on my list of things to fix too.
- I’m crossing my arms over the midline of my body. When my arms swing, my hands are crossing close to my bellybutton, which causes my torso to twist. This both wastes energy and imparts extra torque to my hips, which is contributing to the right-foot rotation.
- I’m heel striking. That’s a topic for an entirely different series of blog posts.
While this seems like a long list of problems… well, actually, it is. The good news is that there are really only two things I need to work on to improve my form. First, I need to raise my cadence. I’ve historically run at about 150, which explains the overstriding problem quite nicely given that I am 6’3″. I’ve started running with the iSmoothRun app, which includes an audio metronome that will warn me when my cadence drops below my target of 160. After a week or two at 160, I’ll move to 170, thence 180. My Garmin watch tracks my cadence so I can see my cadence and how it changes over different terrain and at different paces, which will be useful data to have as I work on finding the ideal cadence. Second, I need to concentrate on keeping my arms from crossing over the midline. This just requires mindful attention; there’s no real technique involved other than “don’t do that.”
However, this is something I literally never would have noticed or tried to change without a gait analysis. I wasn’t having any arm or wrist discomfort and my arm position and swing seemed perfectly fine. Though now I know I can tweak them to improve my form and thus make my running more efficient. Once I start to ingrain those two changes in muscle memory, and after a few weeks of PT exercises to strengthen the underprivileged muscles in my gluten, I’ll do another gait analysis to see if anything’s changed.
I am betting that these changes will pay off, though, and I look forward to seeing the results.
About The Author
Paul is a consultant and writer specializing in Exchange and security. He is also an instrument-rated private pilot and keeps himself busy by learning to cook, flying whenever he can, and indulging his triathlon hobby. He has been a triathlete since 2014, Microsoft MVP for Exchange since 2002, and a father since 1995. He has three sons, two jobs (chief technology officer for ENow Software; moonlighting: senior contributing editor for Windows IT Pro), one road bike, and one cat.