I like to say, be a good human 1st, and an athlete second. There is a saying that a pyramid can only be built as high as its foundation. The same goes for humans, especially athletes. If you want to maximize your training to run faster and farther, you will need a foundation that isn't going to crack under the stress.
Body Problem = Running Problem
Some car analogies - Can your chassis take the stress? Are your wheels aligned? Adequate PSI in the tires?
What causes cracks in your foundation?
Before you roll your eyes, I want to point out the difference between proper breathing vs respiration. Respiration is the act of taking in oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide. When I say breathing, I really mean diaphragmatic breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing also exchanges oxygen and carbon dioxide, but it also does a few other things as well. It always surprises me how many people, athletes included, struggle to activate their diaphragm when they breath. When someone struggles to diaphragmatically breath, they tend to breath apically. I call this sucking wind through the chest. It is when you inflate the chest first before, if at all, the belly.
Go a head, try it now. Place your one hand on your stomach (belly button) and the other on your chest. Take in a deep breath. Notice what hand moves first. If your stomach hand moved first followed by your chest, great! If it was the other way around you have a timing issue. If however, you noticed your stomach hand sank in toward your spine, then you are not using your diaphragm at all.
Why is this important? When you breath using your diaphragm, it contracts downward to create a negative pressure in your chest, so you can inspire oxygen. That downward contraction creates intra-abdominal pressure that compresses your insides and pushes out against your torso wall activating muscles of your low back, abdomen and pelvic floor. Not only does this activate the appropriate musculature, it creates a stable buttress to lock your torso in place on your pelvis. This will keep the diaphragm and pelvic floor parallel. A strong “core” isn’t meant to generate force, rather transmit force. When you are diaphragmatically breathing you are creating stability to maintain your posture so you can transmit the forces generated by your legs and arms when running and working out.
Why do you not want to breath apically? Try this on yourself and feel what happens. Take a deep breath in just using your chest. You probably noticed that as your chest inflated, you started to arch your low back. Your pelvis rotated forward and your rib cage tilted back, causing your diaphragm and pelvic floor to not be parallel. Try it again and you will notice that your low back muscles tensed up. If you breath this way, you are now relying on those back muscles to lock you down for stability. It’s not very effective since it puts you in a weak posture and over works your back muscles. When running, this is one of the biggest energy leaks!
Go watch the last 200 metres of an 800 metre race and watch what happens to the runners who drop out of camera view. There is a strong chance they dumped out through their pelvis and flared their ribs.
I am not saying it is bad to breath into your chest. You can do so if you need to take in more oxygen. You definitely don’t want to initiate breathing through your chest. Try and notice it throughout the day. Just because you can access your diaphragm doesn’t mean you are doing it regularly. Apical breathing is often a stress response, so the added bonus of diaphragmatic breathing is that it activates rest and digest response, easing stress and tension.
This was touched on quite a bit above under breathing. Improper breathing can put you in poor postures, but poor postures are also learned over time. Posture is extremely important because it will change your centre of mass which will change where your foot strikes the ground.
Most often, poor posture causes a runner to have more exaggerated front-side mechanics. This is when the majority of the arm and leg movement happens in front of the body. This usually causes exaggerated torso rotation (energy leak) and over striding that leads to a more quad dominant and inefficient stride.
Imagine your arms and legs are a pendulum swinging from your shoulders and hips respectively. It would seem weird to think of a pendulum that swung more to one side, right? This is what happens with most runners. The pendulum gets shifted to the front of the body. If the pendulum swings 90 degrees, it should be 45 to each side. The same should happen with your legs and arms. The angles will change depending on your speed, so don’t get too caught up on them.
Correcting your posture may fix that right up. However, if you have been doing it long enough you may have up upload some new software to learn the mechanics, or you may have a hardware issue and have to work on hip and thoracic spine mobility.
C) Hardware Problem
Hardware refers to your tissues and joints. A joint is always affected by a joint above and below. Your body is structured in such a way that alternates between requiring joint mobility and stability. You ankle requires mobility and your knee requires stability. Which means your hip then requires mobility and your low back requires stability.
This means that if your ankle lacks mobility, it will cheat movements causing unfavourable mechanics at the knee, robbing the knee of its stability. Your body has now learned how to cheat the movement. So when you have any joint mobility problem, you also have a stability problem. Did I mention a running problem?
D) Software Problem
Software has more to do with your programming. Motor control, body awareness, muscle firing and stability. Lets say you fixed your ankle mobility issue from above, it doesn’t always mean your mechanics will automatically resolve. You had to install a software program to learn now to cheat the movement. You will likely have to uninstall the old software and update it with a newer more favourable version.
Problems with any of the above will decrease your running economy and increase your risk for injury. Build a strong foundation!