There is little question that the lifestyle of a runner and distance walker is a healthy choice to reduce stress, keep weight in check, a way to lower blood pressure and keep a healthy strong heart. Google benefits of running or brisk walking and you can come up with at least 25 more reasons. However there are continual impact injuries which contradict many of those benefits and challenge the great innovations the running shoe industry has made, and the countless articles relating to proper running form. There are however, common concerns which are occurring among the growing number of walk to run participants regarding proper form.
Generally speaking they can be seen in an obvious way as they move toward you. There is the “plodder” with both head and shoulders bent forward, the “swinger” with arms going left and right, and the “fan out” with one or both feet and legs swinging outward. It is no wonder why the questions below get asked by these participants.
Why do our joints hurt? Why do the knees ache? Why do I get shin splints? Why another calf pull?
Let’s start from the top – upper body strength, and then work down to the bottom– the running shoes.
To begin with gaining upper body strength is a must for brisk walkers and runners. If we specifically train to strengthen both arms and shoulders plus have a strong core we can keep the upright posture, eliminating much impact. I am reminded of watching a top athlete teenager who after doing several quarter mile repeats began bending slightly forward as he reached his last few. This individual previously was complaining of back and hamstring problems which led me to do a gait analysis of his form. Sure enough, his core was weak. The gradual bending was creating a steady flow of impact on his knees and the flexed posture resulted in a gradual overuse and fatigue of the back muscles. Yes, even the “elite” athletes have gait and form issues due to upper body weakness. Physical pain and discomfort in the lower back and hamstrings due to a weak core will be revealed as we practice faster running and/or long distance walking.
Let’s stay with the subject of the weak upper body and point out another common running form. This is an easy one to notice – that of the “plodder”. They run with great thoughts and seem to study the ground as if there may be gold pieces along the way. That continual hunching puts so much weight on the forefoot, knees, and shins. If the plodder goes to fast the calf muscles and possibly the achilles tendon can be pulled while forces are working up toward the glute and the lower back.
Recommendation: work up to daily 1 minute planks, 3 sets of 1 minute upward weighted arm lunges, and 3 sets of 1 minute oblique twists. Let’s distribute your weight more equally around your body.
It is now time to visit the mid-point of the body. Observe the “swinger”; the person who swings arms left and right yet moves forward. Much of their energy goes outward to the left and right, vs. forward. This prevents inefficiency of movement and can also add unnecessary resistance to both left and right hips. The iliotibial band once again can tighten with significant forces down to the outside of the knee resulting in knee pain.
Recommendation: begin with forward weighted arm lunges each day for about 2-3 minutes with rest breaks in between. Forward arm lunges towards the solar plexus of another individual give more specificity for both walkers and runners if the elbow goes all the way back such that a “sling shot” movement across the waist is accomplished. I put a large safety pin of each side of the waistline which the participant must rub against each time they do a forward arm lunge. Once the movement is biomechanically repeated enough, the individual can see their hands again as they move forward. Still not sure? Put a ping pong ball in each hand and make sure you “keep your eye on the ball” as it moves back and forth. Another benefit of this weighted forward lunge exercise is that the arms and oblique abdominals begin to strengthen which helps the forward movement become more efficient and easy; especially as the legs get tired.
What about the runner who is a “feet fanner”? This is easily seen by observing one or both feet projecting outward as forward movement occurs. Generally it is one leg which makes its radical steady outward journey.
Recommendation: This participant should work on strengthening their hips to make sure they get stronger on the weak “fan out side”. Travel down forward from the hips to the upper quad; strengthen it so the weak quad equals the strength of the stronger one. A tape measure test will reveal the weak leg. Many times there is actual muscle mass differential of ¼ to an inch on the weak quad and hamstring than the strong leg. It is now time for quad lifts together with hamstring curls. Then work on the actual step forward movement with weighted ankles. As in the case of the arms, do the same forward yet lifting kick outs with 1.5-2.5 ankle weights. Have the leg come up 7” to 11” so it becomes specific to the walk to run movement. Begin for 1.5 min. of lifting the weak leg up then kick out –hold for 5 seconds, put down on the ground, and 1 min. for the strong leg. Lastly, check that your running shoes are not too light; meaning they have stability from the heel to the mid-foot. This will help stabilize the foot into landing in line with your body vs. being so light it is able to flare out. In a sense, the heavier stability shoe keeps the integrity of a good solid forward foot strike.
Lastly, can running shoes make a difference for those of us whose feet pronate or fan out a bit, supinate or go inward? Absolutely. Visualize running barefoot or on super light track shoes. This allows the leg freedom to move wherever and the foot to land accordingly; sometimes not in sync with the individual’s body mechanics which allow them to run with balanced form. Frequently walkers and runners will add orthotics so modification can be made to alter their landing strike just a bit which allows for more stability and efficiency of foot strike. Many shoes have built in “stability” bars and cushion, and are a bit heavier which helps the participant land more evenly as their body impacts the ground. Without an even or near even foot strike, injuries will occur especially doing longer distance walking and/or running.
In closing it is hoped you can identify your altercation, if any, with your walking or running form after reviewing the most commonly mentioned forms. Have a certified running coach, trained running store operator, or physical therapist do a gait analysis. A professional in the field of movement can reveal more objectively and scientifically your gait. Most of the time even those with “perfect form” can find themselves in one of the above categories as leg weariness occurs. Lastly, when we become aware of our form or lack of it, we can make those changes which will prevent future injuries occurring so we can take many more steps throughout our lifetime.
Lynn Gray, M.S., RRCA certified Coach, owner of Take…The First Step, www.FirstStepPrograms 15100 Hutchison Road, Suite 109 – Tampa, FL 33625 Lgray88@ yahoo.com – 813-453-7885
Core and More for Forty and More…My First 5K…Half to Whole Marathon Program Author of: Conquering the Marathon, Fit and Faster, Cardio Walking for Weight Loss
Dr. Willem Stegeman, Pt. DPT. MTC. CEAS Northdale Clinic Optimal Performance and Physical Therapies
813-418-7350 - http://www.theoppt.com
Legal disclaimer: This article is based on years of personal and professional experience with coaching both men and women of all ages, health conditions, and environmental settings which include: schools, corporate workplaces, Moffitt Cancer Center, and a diverse amount of individuals with “pre-existing” conditions.
Lynn Gray/Take…The First Step does not provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, nor has medical license to do so. The information provided is based on years of experience and reading and provides general information for educational purposes only. The information provided is not a substitute for medical or professional care, and you should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation or the advice of your physician or other healthcare provider. Lynn Gray/Take…The First Step is not liable for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis or any other information, services or product you obtain through this site or associated with this site.
Be Specific With Your Training by Lynn Gray M.S., RRCA Coach June 2014 To perform best in a given distance event; it is best to train specifically for it. Most people are fine with getting the distance done and generally speaking may not think further than that. Even with the training aspect of distance, many participants still do not go far enough. Long distance walking or running is best done at a slower pace so you can go the “extra distance” which is critical when one trains to reach their full potential.
Interestingly, the training aspects below hold true for brisk walking as well. In my travels I have met many a walker who travel from state to state doing half and whole marathons. They talk and walk the entire way. Believe me it is a great form of fitness and camaraderie. Runners should also use the “talk test” rule when doing their longer distances. Running easy conserves energy, builds strength, and gives you a chance to enjoy the company and surroundings around you.
Let’s break down the specific training aspects we face in preparation for our goal event:
Distance, Pace, Terrain, Time of day, Weather, and Altitude
DISTANCE: the actual amount of miles the event calls for
To perform and reach your best potential for the goal event, one must employ additional mileage above and beyond the event distance. Let’s look at the long walk/run day example for common event distances. (I recommend every other week (EOW) for 6 weeks or so before the actual event)
5K – one should do a 6 – 10 mile EOW
10K – one should do a 10 – 15 mile EOW
15K - one should do a 12 – 16 mile EOW
13.1 – one should do a 13 – 18 mile EOW
26.2 – one should do a 13 – 20 mile EOW , then 22 mile, then 24 mile, then 26 mile - EOW
Note: long walks and runs are done 2-3 minutes slower than goal pace.
DESIRED PACE: the amount of minutes per mile for the entire distance
To hold your desired pace, the body should be trained to run a bit faster at least once a week. An example would be a goal 5K distance at an average 10 min. pace. Every other week, implement 2-3 minutes per mile at 9:30 min. pace. Get to a point where you can do 3 x 1 mile repeats at 9:30 pace. Bingo; you will get your 30:00 min. 5K!
TERRAIN: The elevation and undulations of the surface the event is on.
Many of us Floridians are fixated with running or walking on flat surfaces and seek flat surface race events as a result. However, hilly events don’t need to be subtracted from their distance choices. For those doing a flat event need to be practicing their goal pace on flat surfaces so the foot strike and overall body mechanics become efficient. The same rule holds true if one decides to do a race with lots of hills. At least every other week and do hill work, or stair work, or find a treadmill with a steep incline. The foot strike and landing pattern are more demanding with hills; not to mention the overall impact on the body. Watch out for treadmills because they are not specific to outside walking or running. Lastly, trail runners and walkers must practice not only on rough terrain and in the trails, but must employ hill training due to the higher lift of gait needed to sustain running through grass, rocks, limbs, etc.
TIME OF DAY: It is best for us to practice frequently the same start time of the actual event.
The digestive track, the climate, and our mental set need to adapt to the race start time. Some races are in the evening which gives us a challenge as to what to eat not to mention the edema, or slight swelling in the ankles after a full day of standing. With this in mind, practice your walk or run once a week in the evening.
WEATHER: Try your best to practice in similar temperatures and weather of the race.
Warm, mild weather running in Florida allows our muscles to stretch out fully during the run. Both walkers and runners enjoy warmer weather because of this. However, there are countless Floridians who go up north for the weekend and run an event with a 20-30 degree temperature difference. Be prepared for the physiological difference. The muscles get tight, joints get stiff, and as you slow toward the end, leg cramping can set in, etc. Cool temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s is nice, however freezing weather is not the best for most Florida walkers and runners.
ALTITUDE: Breathing in high altitudes while walking and running long distance events becomes extremely challenging for those who have not acclimated to the higher altitudes due to less oxygen being available as the breathing process transpires.
It may be advised to get an altitude training mask to get your lungs and breathing ready before the race. Or spend a week in the altitude your event is in (a bit more costly but it works!)
In a nutshell, try your best to gather all the details mentioned about your goal event. Then methodically begin training specifically for the event. Paying specific attention to those details in training and implementing these aspects will definitely give you a more favorable outcome for your goal event.
Author: Fit and Faster, Cardio Walking for Weight Loss, Conquering the Marathon
Training SMARTER with a Coach by Lynn Gray, RRCA Running Coach
Click here for a printable version of this article.
Why hire a running coach? What differentiates one running coach from another? A good coach is one who is professionally certified, has been in the sport of running for many years and experienced the many mental and physical aspects of both walkers and runners. A running coach can make the vision of the “finish line” into a reality for both the up and coming novice walker and the vintage runner. A coach will guide inexperienced runners to perform at their optimal physical, cardiovascular and mental level. Every sort has abundant learning curves such as form, technique, muscular necessities, agility requirements and many more factors which dictate success for the individual pursuing their full potential. The sport of distance walking or running is not exempt. A coach can help both walkers and runners stay motivated while guiding them with a gradual progression of miles to avoid injuries and not overwhelm them with a higher workload than their body is capable of. High performing runners require a coach to bring them to their highest potential, thus helping the participant reach his or her personal best in a given event.
So what kind of running coaches are we talking about? The kind of coach which will help you train SMARTER for a lifetime of fitness. Impact sports such as running does not allow for many form errors due to the repeated miles required in distance events. Both beginners and experienced runners now have countless opportunities which tempt them into doing a 5k, half marathon or marathon distance within a set amount of months. Experienced runners now expect improved time performances each year. Many will go through countless internet searches, books, and quick fixes and mixes of printed schedules in search of “the one” magic formula. A coach can cut through years of mixed training and give a more direct route to the finish line. Below are aspects of what can be expected by a certified walk to run coach for beginners, intermediate, and advanced levels.
S M A R T E R
S Specific goal – The client presents their walk or run goal both in distance and time and a coach can give you a daily plan to progress toward that end. Inclusive are specific strength exercises and agility exercises which enhance forward movement and prevent injuries. A gradual daily schedule targets the time goal and progressively, yet gradually develops duration, so muscular adaptation is had.
M Measurable – The coach will require a benchmark of time per mile each month depending on one’s aerobic ability; and will establish effort level pacing so an actual prediction of time can be forecast for the goal distance. Progress is largely measured by time taken for a given distance, perceived effort level, and actual accrued time per mile.
A Attainable –The coach can be more objective in telling the client if the time and goal distant event is realistic given the time allotted for training. Aerobic capacity, correct form plus technique, and developed walking/running muscles are examples of a few key fitness markers which give the coach and client evidence of the attainability of the goal.
R Relationship - The professional relationship between the coach and the client becomes increasingly advantageous since all forms of progress can be noted. The client has a sounding board to express training concerns such as injuries, breathing difficulties, race performances, etc. A coach can resolve those and other issues which come up. Most goal related training schedules last over three months such that physiological and cardiovascular improvements will necessitate a continual “tweaking” of training and conditioning workouts. The continuity established by having one coach will help greatly in making steadfast progress to reach the fitness goal desired.
T Time – The time it takes to develop all energy, physical, and aerobic systems for an event distance goal will vary from client to client. The coach can contour a plan to fit the amount of days and time one has available to initiate and complete their workouts. Most running programs go in training phases and there again, the coach will assist and plan the timing of where each progressive training phase should begin and end.
E Easy – Easy does it every time. Most participants if left to their own devices frequently leave out days and time of easy, recovery running or walking. Fast walking and/or running day after day during a weekly cycle will create burnout and can result in overuse injuries. The coach will advise the client to not only put recovery such as slow jogging or walking into the workout; but will integrate recovery days with complimentary easy cross train days such as yoga, easy biking, or swimming. In each case the legs get a rest from impact and the participant comes back stronger and rested for the next training session. A special note for those over forty years old; the “easy” running or walking days should be around three per week since as we get older recovery from the impact takes a bit longer.
R Remain focused – There will be times during a fitness plan/schedule whereby the client may begin to miss workouts. The focus of the goal weakens and the participant may even stop the program or begin modifying the given plan. A coach will keep you motivated and have a remarkable influence on helping you stay with the plan. Running demands together with day to day life requirements can create increased mental stress on the body which may be already physically stressed. This is the time when the coach can modify your schedule and help bridge the “give in/give up” feeling, and put you on a more realistic plan which redirects your focus back to the fitness goal originally set.
There you have it. Training S M A R T E R goes a long way in providing success for individuals seeking long term and/or lifetime fitness goals. In sum, one does not have to go it alone and can become quite proficient in the sport of distance running or walking by being “coached” by a professional coach.
About Lynn Gray
From RRCA Running Coach Lynn Gray; coached for over 20 years and self-coached for another 20 or more years, age group winner over 30 years, 11 Boston marathons, etc. oh…with 93 marathons completed. Author of: Fit and Faster and Cardio Walking for Weight Loss - Owner of Take…The First Step Training Studio, and President of Take…The First Step Club
Form & Technique for Cardio Walking by Lynn Gray, RRCA Running Coach
Form for the Cardio Walk
Like any other sport, the better form you engage in while performing, the more efficient and faster the body will move. Proper form in cardio walking will allow the body mechanics to accept it for long periods of time. Good technique and posture result in efficient long distance aerobic training. Let’s check you out to see how you currently walk. Have a family member or friend do a brief video of you while walking down the block. Do you notice that your shoulders may be slightly hunched over? That could manifest later into a sore back and tight calves. Do you hold your shoulders up and appear stiff? That would indicate a certain amount of stress you are under causing the shoulders to not relax. You need to put the shoulders down and arch the back a bit. Does it look like you walk like a robot, with a stiff torso, neck, shoulders, and legs? Eventually, that will tire you out physically and mentally and not allow you to have a relaxing walk. Finally, take a look at your arms. Are they hanging by your sides like weights and barely moving forward while walking? Or are you using your arms in unison with your walk, pushing them forward at a 90 degree angle for forward momentum.
Take the First Step to Walking Fitness by Lynn Gray, RRCA Running Coach
Most of us are familiar with the expression of “positive addiction”. We find ourselves trying to rid unhealthy habits with more positive ways of handling various stress relieving compulsions we engage in. Why do steady aerobic movements such as distance walking become so positively adapted into our lives? One reason is the actual time it takes to do a long walk will give the mind and body a chance to be removed briefly from the stresses of life.
Mind-Body Fitness by Lynn Gray, RRCA Running Coach
Mind-body fitness is what is happening these days in the exercise world…even for the hard core runners and triathletes. It is no wonder we are the ones that need the skills which yoga and Tai Chi teach us. Mind-body fitness requires us to slow down and mentally execute a physical movement with specific attention to breathing while gradually and methodically moving our limbs.
Eating on the Move - Myths & Facts by Lynn Gray, RRCA Running Coach
“Increase performance and lose weight quickly”. Myth! The new and “improved” performance enhances, also known as ergogenic aids, plus countless diet books promise both natural and quick ways of increasing performance and weight loss. The heightened marketing of these performance aids continues to bombard society in our quest to become fit and faster. Many of us remain uncertain as to what to eat before, during, and after our training. The truth is that eating a balanced diet plus exercising regularly will result in both more managing weight and increase performance. Overdoing on performance aids and/or weight loss aids can easily sabotage training progress and how you actually perform in your pinnacle event.
Let’s Take a Vote… by Lynn Gray, RRCA Running Coach
Hello all…let’s take a vote amongst us walkers and runners. Do you want to stay uninjured and develop leg strength during your workouts? Should we vote yes to soft surface workouts? Should we vote yes for hill workouts?
Tempo Workouts are for EVERYONE by Lynn Gray, RRCA Running Coach
By definition, tempo running is an 80% effort based run for a given length of time to build long distance stamina. For example, tempo running for one wanting to do a 5K may include a one day a week the the following: 3min @80% effort, followed by a 30 second @90% effort, then 3 min @60% effort, continue this process until you have completed a 4 mile distance.
The benefits of practicing yoga for walkers, joggers, and runners are numerous. Yoga helps the runner maintain mental concentration and focus, especially as it relates to breathing and running form. The speed of your movements and the relationship of movement and breathe are brought to your awareness while “on the move”. Since yoga promotes keeping your airways wide open while doing the pose, it assists the athlete practicing aerobic movement in getting the amount of oxygen they need while exertion is taking place.