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Biomechanics of Running

25 Jun 2016 by Graham Nelson



Correct biomechanics, form and posture play an integral role in maximising your efficiency with forward propulsion and help to minimise overload and strain throughout your body. 

We can break the elements of correct running biomechanics and posture into key areas:

1. Head straight and shoulders relaxed

While this may seem obvious, we see many people running with their head down and their shoulders tense.  This increases effort and energy expenditure with moving the body forward. Keeping your head upright and your shoulders relaxed also keeps the muscles in your back relaxed, which helps with running efficiency.


2. Elbows bent between 60-90 degrees, kept by your side, with arms moving forward and back

A common biomechanical deficiency seen with runners is the arms moving across the body and/or elbows bent beyond 90 degrees. This creates more rotation force, placing increased pressure through the spine and also decreases the efficiency of moving the body forward.  In addition, holding the arms away from the body further encourages an arm swing across the mid-line and increases tension through the neck and shoulders.  It is important you keep your arms compact, by your side, bent between 60-90 degrees and moving straight back and forth to maximise efficiency.


 

Shows head and trunk upright, with elbows held by side, at 70 degrees flexion


3. Pelvis tilted forward slightly

A slight forward tilt of the pelvis helps to facilitate a forward lean from the ankles, assisting with forward propulsion. Conversely, the pelvis tilted backwards flattens out the spine and shortens the hamstrings, resulting in increased tension and effort to move forwards.  While we want the pelvis to tilt forward slightly, it is important that we don’t lean forward through the trunk.  The trunk should remain upright, with the forward lean coming from the ankles.


4. Footstrike – ideally should occur between rear and midfoot.
It is widely accepted that landing with a heel strike creates increased braking forces and places significantly increased load through the knee.  The majority of runners (80-85%) will land predominantly on their rearfoot, but it is important that this is occurring closer to the midfoot as opposed to the back of the heel.  The key measure for correct foot-strike is that the ankle should sit directly below the knee, with the tibia (lower leg) vertical at footstrike.


 

Shows footstrike occurring with the ankle sitting directly below the knee


5. Optimise knee spring/stiffness in stance phase to approximately 25 degrees of knee flexion

It is important that we achieve a good balance between ‘spring’ and ‘stiffness’ in the knee during the initial part of stance.  This ensures we get good shock absorption, force distribution and support through the lower limb joints throughout this phase. Too much spring / knee flexion is indication of weakness through the lower limb muscles (quads especially) therefore increasing the force through the joints, particularly the knee.  Too much stiffness/reduced knee flexion will decrease the force distribution through the leg and places increased load through the ankle and calf.


Shows 23 degrees of knee flexion in the initial stance phase – an ideal amount of spring.


6. The foot should land underneath you, with a quick pull back as you land

In line with the ankle sitting below the knee at the onset of stance phase, your foot should also not land too far in front of your pelvis – ie. Your foot should land underneath you, not in front you. At the least, your rearfoot should sit in line with the front of your pelvis as you land - as shown in the photo below.   A common biomechanical issue seen with running is the foot landing in front of the knee and hip/pelvis, which is termed over-striding. This is associated with significantly increased force and loading through the knee.

A quick pull back of the leg as you land engages the gluts and hamstrings effectively, helping to propel you forward.  This also assists in achieving enough knee flexion during swing, which is an important element to prepare the leg effectively for the next stance phase. 


 

Shows the foot landing underneath the pelvis


Further information on these key elements can also be found at the following link:  http://www.nwpg.com.au/video-gallery/the-5-elements-of-good-running-posture

We hope this provides you with some useful information to help guide you in achieving optimal running posture and biomechanics.

If you are unsure whether or not you are achieving some of these key elements, a running assessment with one of our physiotherapists can greatly assist with this.

This will include a comprehensive running analysis and functional screening tests to determine whether there are any factors that may impede your running. A detailed report with recommendations will be emailed to you to clearly identify the steps required for you to run with confidence.

Time for assessment is 1hr and a further 1hr is allocated for compilation of the report.

If you are interested in a running assessment, please contact us at the clinic to make an appointment.

If you would like to discuss further, please email graham@nwpg.com.au.





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