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Running, The Alexander Technique

Last night I attended a workshop at The Bristol College of Massage and Bodyworks, for a Runners Workshop with Alexander Technique tutor, Susie Baker.

Whilst there are many methods and running techniques out there, Susie raised some interesting observations and pointers for us to take away. Here are some key ideas from the workshop:

Neck positioning

The head weighs on average 10 -11 lbs, a substantial weight already. When the neck is aligned properly and the cervical vertebrae are stacked nicely they are able to absorb forces emitted from the lower body without too much bother,

However, if the head starts to come forward over the chest or the head tilts down (chin to chest), the force created on the neck can increase by a whopping 10 - 60 lbs depending on the degree of flexion! Therefore the importance of keeping the eye-line looking out in front of you; rather than looking down at the ground; is very important. It can also help to imagine a string running up your spine and the back of your head, that's pulling you up towards the sky; likened to a puppet string. This imagery may help to keep the neck well extended and subsequently reduce excessive forces on the neck that could be caused by poor posture.

"Over Striding" is a very common mistake made by runners. The temptation is to take long strides which locks out the knee in the leading leg. This action puts a lot of stress through the heel, knee and the supporting structures. Particularly common injuries/conditions caused from over striding include ITB (illiotibial band) Syndrome, Chondromalacia and Crepitus. Therefore knee flexion is very important! A runner should imagine bringing the heel up towards their hamstrings or buttocks when running to avoid the temptation of a long stride, which may cause detrimental effects on the receiving joints. Over striding also means that the runner must exert more power in the "push off" stage of gait and must therefore exert equal power in braking, again putting excessive stress through the knee and ankle joint systems.

An exercise to help train you body into adopting this pattern, is to stand on the spot and hop, alternating legs. Thinking about bringing the heel in towards the buttocks as you do so. Then, start travelling with the hop using small propulsions to move you forward. The aim is to avoid locking out the leading leg into a straightened position and to use the energy emitted from you foot hitting the ground to propel you into your next stride.

Barefoot running and the minimal shoe!

This is another hot topic for conversation between athletes and various bodywork therapists and physicians. Previously, shoes were made with more structural support for supporting the central arch and for cushioning impact. Now, there is a different school of thought. It is believed that wearing a very flexible and minimal shoe will allow the foot to move properly as they're naturally designed to do. Imagine a trampoline or coil spring as the centre of your foot which flattens on weight baring and springs back / recoils as weight is removed. The idea is, that minimal shoes or barefoot running allows this action to happen keeping the feet strong and mobile. It is believed that when the feet become lazy/underused/immobile that skeletal misalignment occurs and injury becomes a common place.

Things like plantar fasciitis are often associated with stiff, chunky shoes as thick shoes reduce natural recoil of the arch systems.

However, care should be taken to make the transition gradually, as an abrupt change from a well cushioned shoe to a very thin shoe may cause injury.

If you are thinking about taking up running or perhaps you're already a keen runner, and would liek to seek some advice or treatment for you sport, please do get in touch via the contact tab.

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