The Art of Science and Fitness | Hips don't lie, they also help prevent injuries when running - Hindustan Times
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The Art of Science and Fitness | Hips don't lie, they also help prevent injuries when running

Apr 02, 2024 01:04 AM IST

By focusing on moving the hip backwards, engaging the glutes, and improving cadence, runners can reduce the strain on their bodies and run more efficiently

When most people think of running, what overwhelms them is the idea of running itself. The next one is the distance that needs to be covered. Once they do get started, they are keen to cover whatever distance they have decided on in the shortest time. Even if they were bad in mathematics at school, it subconsciously kicks in that to cover the distance in the fastest time, they’ll need to take longer strides.

When an amateur runner takes longer strides, their heels strike the ground, landing ahead of their knees. The heavy impact from the contact with the ground transmits excessive force up the shin, to the knee, the hips and up the spine, leading to a majority of aches and pains in these regions. PREMIUM
When an amateur runner takes longer strides, their heels strike the ground, landing ahead of their knees. The heavy impact from the contact with the ground transmits excessive force up the shin, to the knee, the hips and up the spine, leading to a majority of aches and pains in these regions.

Now, is that an incorrect assumption? No, but it’s not even half the story. Let’s go back to the equation at hand here. To cover a certain distance, you should not only take the length of your stride into account but also the number of steps taken every minute, known as the cadence. Logically, we should be thinking about both these aspects to become faster runners. But if the focus, whether consciously or subconsciously, is just on taking longer strides, (which is the case for the majority of amateur runners), runners are running with excessive dependency on their knees.

This leads to all kinds of injuries and people unable to reach the full potential of their running.

But, why is it so?

When an amateur runner takes longer strides, their heels strike the ground, landing ahead of their knees. The heavy impact from the contact with the ground transmits excessive force up the shin, to the knee, the hips and up the spine, leading to a majority of aches and pains in these regions.

And then society and my medical colleagues give running a bad name saying that it causes injuries when it’s the way people run that is at fault, not the practise itself.

On the other hand, our cadence is not fundamentally changing our form, and thus far less likely to lead to injuries. So, when trying to increase speed, I would recommend starting by increasing the cadence, rather than the stride length.

Leave aside what you think you know, and let’s go back to the basics to understand how our body moves.

Think of a human stick model. To walk or run, three joints need to move in synchronisation with each other, i.e. hips, knees and ankles. But when I examine runners coming to me either for performance enhancement or to treat running injuries, their ankles and hips are extremely stiff. They are stuck in a catch-22. They have forgotten how to optimally move and that puts more load on their knees, and their ankles and hips remain largely stiff.

Then there is the spine, the chassis of the human body. A good chassis is not meant to be stiff and rigid. Audi’s technology website sums it up quite well. “The sporty character of all Audi models is essentially rooted in their chassis. Sophisticated yet lightweight suspension and steering systems, powerful brakes and highly intelligent electronics together make for a fascinating driving experience.” Even if we think of our body as an Audi or better yet, a Ferrari, we treat it like a bullock cart. Let’s engage that spine of ours to run optimally.

Runners with poor form are focused on moving forward, and hence the long stride comes naturally to them. They use a lot of energy lifting their thighs and taking their heels forward, fighting gravity with each step. It might surprise you the most, but the focus should be on moving the hip backwards. Once you’ve moved your hip back, gravity will now become a friend and bring the leg down, and move the leg forward. This is efficient running.

As much as I have mentioned bones and joints, they don’t move on their own. You need muscles, tendons and ligaments to get you going. Most runners focus only on the quadriceps and hence, most runners do strength training, focus on squats, and nothing else. They are missing out! To take that hip backwards, you need your buttock muscles to start doing a better job. There are four muscles in the buttocks, all of which play a very important role in walking and running.

Gluteus maximus are the ones that give the buttocks the shape they have, but besides looks, they do have another important job to do: They move the hips backwards and stabilise the pelvis while walking and running. Then we have the gluteus medius and minimus, which are important for hip stabilisation and hip abduction, i.e. side movement while running, and internal rotation of the hips. Then there is the tensor fasciae latae, which has all the functions of the gluteus medius and minimus but also plays an important role in knee stabilisation. The buttock muscles work very closely with the lower back paraspinal muscles and hamstrings, besides other muscles.

So what do you do to become a better runner, one who stays away from as many injuries as possible?

You need to start focusing on mobility and strength training. Notice that I am not emphasising stretching as in India we go overboard with stretching till cats, dogs and even bulls come back home. Below are some basic exercises I want you to focus on:

  1. Hip Pendulum movement with the focus on taking the leg backwards: stand straight, taking support of a wall or chair on the side and then push your leg back. Avoid leaning forward as your leg swings back, as that’s counterproductive.
  2. Donkey Kicks: Lie down on your tummy, bend one knee, and slowly lift your thigh off the ground. Do 11 reps with each leg.
  3. Hip Circumduction with or without a hoopla: Start with making small circles and then gradually make them bigger. Then do the same going in the opposite direction.
  4. Lower Back flexion and extension: Sit on a chair, slowly bend forwards, bringing your nose to your knees, hold that position for 3 to 4 seconds and then slowly go back up and then raise your hands and bend backwards
  5. Squats: go down slowly over 4 to 6 seconds and come up slowly as well. More than how many or how deep, focus on moving slowly. Again, don’t think too much about form to begin with, it’ll keep getting better as you get used to the idea of squatting.
  6. Deadlifts: Here the focus is not on heavy weights but slowly bending forward and coming back up slowly again.
  7. Skipping with or without a rope: This will help you improve the number of steps you’ll take every minute (cadence) and will also make you land softer while running
  8. Show the soles of your shoes to the runner behind: Don’t do this during long runs but use this as a running drill for about 10-20 metres at a time. Repeat 5-6 times. When you do this every day, it’ll soon become second nature to you and become part of your running.

Don’t obsess over speed or distance. Focus on becoming a gentle runner, one who floats or levitates. At the end of the day, no one is counting any numbers, but the joy that running brings to you and your life is far more important. Through running, learn to love yourself and become your best self.

Dr Rajat Chauhan (drrajatchauhan.com) is the author of The Pain Handbook: A non-surgical way to managing back, neck and knee pain; MoveMint Medicine: Your Journey to Peak Health and La Ultra: cOuch to 5, 11 & 22 kms in 100 days

He writes a weekly column, exclusively for HT Premium readers, that breaks down the science of movement and exercise.

The views expressed are personal

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