One specific area of running gait we work on a great deal with runners and triathletes is the movement patterning of the swing leg.
Many runners tend to run with reduced hip flexion (think ‘knee lift’) for a given pace. With insufficient hip flexion, in order for them to achieve the required stride length for a desired pace, they end up extending (straightening) the knee excessively just prior to foot contact. This puts them in a position where all they are able to do is over-stride, landing the foot out ahead of relatively more extended knee than is optimal. Usually at this point the athlete will be heel striking heavily, but some may still display a plantar flexed ankle and forefoot strike, especially if they’ve been consciously trying to work on ‘not heel striking’!
Regardless of pace or foot strike type, we look to enable a runner to land their foot under a flexing knee to promote improved running form.
Many coaches pick cadence as one of the primary variables to manipulate in encouraging the kinetic and kinematic changes that result in a reduced tendency to over-stride. While I certainly do work with cadence a great deal, I believe we as coaches need in many cases to look past this and spend time re-educating fundamental movement patterns…
I use variations of the drill above to teach runners the movement of combined knee and hip flexion during running gait.
From an adequate swing recovery position of triple flexion (hip flexion, knee flexion and ankle dorsiflexion) for a given running pace, the runner should be able to comfortably land the foot under a flexing knee, without conscious thought about contact position.
Something important to consider…
Once I get runners familiar with the movement of combined hip and knee flexion bringing them into the recovery (foot under butt) position of swing phase, and they begin running in this way, the feedback is often that not only do they feel a lighter contact through not over-striding, but they can ALSO often feel an increase in Glute complex activity.
Glute complex activity increased with cued hip flexion?!
This is a blog post for another day, but in the mean time check out the Crossed Extensor Reflex – a neurological pattern where by increasing hip flexion on one limb, we elicit a response of hip extensor activity on the contralateral (other side) limb. Physios reading this will no doubt appreciate how important this can be to harness in a runner’s return to running phase of rehab. More on this to come in a future blog post 🙂