Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"Letting Go"

I orignially posted this on my personal/running blog regarding my injury experience this winter. Per popular demand, it's been reposted here:


Free at last! Free from the death grip of Pain and Injury.

As laid out below, I've gone through several interesting processes during this L leg injury. The final -- and most important -- was LETTING GO.

On Wednesday January 5th, my boss, who's sick of not having his run partner around to drag him around town, put his foot down and insisted on a noon treatment, followed by a run. Prior to that, I was content -- if not mildly excited -- by the progress I'd made POOL RUNNING; that is, literally running ON the pool surface (in the shallow end). By that point, I could do 20-30 minutes with very little soreness.

That day, Jeff did some "Strain/Counter-strain" treatments, which identified "trigger points" -- places in muscle that were very tight and sore, due to increased muscle tone (this is important to note for later!). Then he taped my calf/achilles (to unload it), then insisted on a run. I was not particularly confident, but I went along.

We made it maybe 3/4th of a mile before I felt The Tightness come on, then turned back. Same s##, different day. It wasn't terrible, just not good. The rest of the day, if felt crappy -- "tight, achy, throbby, irritated". I told him so that night, via email.

His response? "It's IN YOUR HEAD".

And he was right.

Did I MAKE UP the fact that my leg hurt? No, but my constant worry, obsession and PROTECTING of the leg was changing my muscle (and arguably nerve) tissue tone -- all day long. The next day, after his comments, I noticed I would go through the day with my left leg FLEXED and TENSED. For HOURS. Imagine flexing your bicep halfway, but maintaining it ALL DAY LONG. How good do you think it'd feel? Now add a stressful, repetitive sport activity to that constantly flexed arm. Think it'd be "pain-free"?

Jeff and I agreed: Running had become A THREAT. And based on that threat, I would mega-tense my leg and make it this stiff, dysfuncional STUMP, rather than a smooth, relaxed, powerful limb. And, until I could TURN OFF that tension and bracing, and no longer view running as a threat, I had to rest.

Jeff wanted two weeks off, then a week. I took exactly ONE DAY off, then got after it.

The first couple days: 1 mile, with lots of self-talk: "Relax. You're fine! LET IT GO!". I would literally say these things aloud, trying to keep my lower leg relaxed, even when it perceived "The Stiffness". The first few days of real mileage -- 3-4 milers -- were a challenge, but I kept talking myself through it.

And within a week -- NO PAIN. The Tightness? GONE.

Incidentally: the reason the pool felt so good was because the WATER presented a stimulus to my skin -- on my leg and throughout my body -- that distracted from the protective, straining "Is it there? Is it there?" mind-body effect. Once I was able to replicate that with my mind, on dry land, I was completely fine.

Last Saturday, a week+ out from not being able to run for ten minutes, I did a 14-mile, 5.5-hour snowshoe up Maiden Peak. No pain. Legs were sore as hell, but no pain! The next day, I ran 10K with my roommate Matt, and besides being rolled up on by Jordan Hasay, it was a great run!

It was that easy. As soon as I was able to LET GO, my muscle tone became normal, and I quit re-straining it. I continue to stretch both calves and achilles with relative diligence, but nothing else.

Yesterday I ran with Jeff for the first time since November 22nd. We did 5 miles on the river path. My stride felt great -- long and smooth -- and we were rolling along at 6:30. Per a strung-out, panting Jeff afterwards: "You are officially discharged!"

Thursday, February 10, 2011

“It’s All in the HIPS!”

The Problem; A Solution

A year ago, I wrote a two-part series on the importance of running mechanics – not only for running health, but for optimal performance.

In those posts, I pointed out that no one teaches us how to run; rather, we do so be "just doing it", with the premise that if you "do it enough", it will eventually become efficient.

Since that time, when working with runners – both as a clinician and coach – I frequently ask my patients/athletes the following question:


It's a simple question that, in generality, should have a simple answer. You can ask it over any other sport. For example:

How do you shoot a basketball? Cradle it in your dominant hand, fingertips on the ball, wrist extended; to shoot, extend your arm upward and flick your wrist forward towards the basket.

Coaches, biomechanists, and athletes may have slightly different answers – and different ways to improve upon that "answer". That, in essence, is sport!

Running is different:

  1. The injury rate among runners – versus every other sport – is astronomically high*. Thus, the importance of having an answer to the "how" question is doubly important. To do it well is to do it healthy.
  3. And if they DO have an answer, more often than not, it is not mechanically ideal.

*90% of runners will suffer at least one injury in a given year – about double the injury rate of any other recreational sport.

Here is my answer:

"Forcefully EXTEND and PULL your leg behind you, then as efficiently as possible SWING it through to get ready to PULL AGAIN."

That's it. One statement, two parts. Distilled further:

PULL. flick.

And here's why:

A Mechanical Rationale

Why PULL, you say?

Answer: the most efficient and least stressful way to propel oneself is FORWARD. But rather than PULL (and flick), most people BOUNCE – they simply take their body, slam it into the ground (at a slight forward angle), then it slams back (and slightly forward again). However, the main force vector is INTO THE GROUND.

To PULL is to PROPEL FORWARD. To take up and down energy and direct it forward. The end results is three-fold:

  1. Forward energy means FASTER RUNNING.
  2. Less up-down energy means LESS STRESS, thus LESS INJURY.
  3. "Angular momentum" of levers (PULL your leg back, flicking forward) results in less weird motions = LESS INJURY, FASTER RUNNING.

It's that simple.

A Physiological Rationale

Why PULL? Why not:

  • DRIVE the hip forward? (=hip flexors)
  • PUSH your leg behind you? (=knee extensors, plantar flexors)

Answer: to PULL with a straight leg is to engage the Gluteus Maximus as the primary propeller for running. And why is this ideal? Simple: the glut max is, by far, the largest and most powerful muscle in the body. It's nearly indestructible. Ever hear of someone pulling a glut max? Or finishing a run or race saying, "Wow, my glut trashed (or, "MAXED out")!"

Why NOT the forward drive:

  • The hip flexor is SMALL (about 1-2" in diameter, a rather thin cord)
  • A forward drive can easily turn into an UPWARD drive (more up-down motion)
  • A forward drive does not guarantee a backward extension/pull

Why NOT push your leg behind:

  • "Pushing" engages – and tends to OVERUSE – your quads and calf muscles (which are mostly shock absorbers and "accessory" movers at best)
  • Pushing increases vertical excursion = more up-down energy = less efficient

My clinical and coaching approach, therefore, is to begin with engagement of the glut max – or pulling with a relatively straight leg. Once that has been mastered, the rest of the "pawback mechanism" (front to back) is emphasized. Only AFTER that has been mastered do we address the forward-acting motions – hip drive, forward striding.

Interested in more? Tired of being injured (and slowed?) E-mail me, or contact us (687-7005).