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The New Runner

Last week I wrote about what fundamental movement patterns are and why they are so important to master. I want to continue with this theme and go over how lack of activity and over specialization will develop movement patterns that will increase risk of injury and worst of all prevent a person doing what he or she loves. This is a topic that I find absolutely fascinating and fun so excuse me if I get a little dorky in this series.

I want to start with inactivity and how it can develop movement patterns that become counter intuitive to the individual that is looking to become more active in life. All movement or non-movement is perceived as a learning opportunity for your brain. When we do something for a long period of time over and over again the brain will develop ways to program this movement in its’ library of movements patterns. This allows the brain to perform these activities with very little effort neurologically and very quickly while also becoming the prefered method of performing the task. This can be a good thing or a bad thing.

Say a person sits all day long researching and filling in data in an excel spreadsheet looking for trends in the data being graphed out. Hours go bye hunched over the computer and a desk working away five or six days a week. Then, after a long day of analysing data and writing reports the individual goes to the gym - does a quick warm up (lunging and stretching for 12 minutes) and proceeds to lift weights above the head and jog on the treadmill. The individual after a few days or maybe weeks states that the shins and lower back is starting to hurt at night and when he or she is on the treadmill. The new runner becomes discouraged and can’t figure out why being more active is causing increased pain and discomfort. The answer is an easy one but the solution is not as easy nor as fun as running. The individual has programed him or herself not to be a runner. The individual needs to reprogram him or herself to be a runner and not a desk jockey. They need to re-learn all the movements that make it possible to run safely and effectively. They need to bring the training back to the basics of building a stable core, effective stride technique, and conditioning to maintain good form after prolonged periods of running.

Here are some great exercises to help developing a strong foundation for running:

  • Foam rolling of the thighs, hamstrings, calfs, lower back, and lats

  • Bridges 5 x 10 - 15 reps

  • Supermans 5 x 15 reps

  • Donkey Kicks: both legs 5 x 10 - 12

  • Dead Bug: 5 x 10 - 12

  • Planks: 5 x 30 - 45’

  • Skipping: 50’ x 5

  • High knees: 30’ x 5

  • Lunging: 3 x 10 each leg

Follow this by an easy 15 - 20 minutes of jogging while focusing on form and when you notice that your form starts to suffer slow down to a walk to get your breath back and attempt to finish the running with good form. After a while the  ability to maintain a good form and enjoy running for longer bouts will increase. Runs safe, run smart, run happy!

Next week I will focus on how over specialization can develop movement patterns that are not beneficial and can increase the risk of injury as well as the importance of cross training.  



Push ups and Stability 

Over the past few weeks I have been thinking about the explosion in extreme races like the Tough Mudder and  Spartan series. I wanted to see what some people were doing to train for them and what research there is for the best training practices for these races. I found that a lot of the programs call for push ups and lots of them. This lead me to ask what is the real purpose behind the push up and what is being trained with the push up? So, a million push ups latter and lots of thinking I realized that the push up is not a chest or shoulder exercise but a dynamic stability exercise.

The reason I say a push up is not a chest or shoulder exercise but a dynamic stability exercise - goes back to the fact that exercises cannot be looked at in a narrow single muscle or joint exercise but a whole system programing exercise. The prime movers in the push up may be the pecs, triceps, and lats but without the rest of the body the shoulders and arms doing the movement would have no purpose. If the arms did not have stable shoulder joints, core, and even legs to push through the force generated by the muscles would be wasted and not much movement would happen. Picture pushing against a string layed out on a desk. The string does not move in one piece but folds along the finger pushing it.

When doing a pushup we have to resist being the string pushed but be an oak tree resisting the wind. By doing this the whole body becomes one solid board resisting the bending forces of gravity that would cause the hips to spill forward, knees bend, back arch, shoulder blades wing, and the neck to bend down.  By resisting the folding and arching of the body during a pushup we teach the body to stay strong and hold good posture when we perform other activities like pulling, lifting, or pushing. This allows us to generate maximal force while using minimal energy possible to perform the task and prevent injury.

So, If we think of the push up more as a tool to train the body to resist deforming under the increasing dynamic forces we will not only increase the upper body strength but also increase coordination. This will go a long way in increasing overall performance and help maximize every ounce of energy used during competition as well as decrease the risk of injuries.  



Pillars of Functional Movement 

Athletic and general functional performance is made up of a series of controlled and purposeful movements and is an interesting concept when you look at the all the seemingly independent pillars that support good performance. One must have the mobility for movement, stability to control movement, knowledge of the movements needed, strength to perform the movements under increasing loads, power when performing the movements, and endurance to repeatedly perform the movements. All these movement pillars when mastered increase the individual’s ability to execute athletic performance at a very high and refined level.

None of the pillars mentioned are more important than the others. Without one or a shortcoming of one or more of the pillars the sum total of movement will lack balance, increase the risk of injury, and ultimately hinder performance. Also, each pillar is an independent variable on its own but for it to have purpose each pillar relies on the other pillars. For example, full range of motion or mobility at the hips is independent of power, stability, strength, knowledge, or endurance. But for the range of motion in the hip to have purpose it relies on all heavily on all the other pillars of performance. But, if there was limited mobility in the hip the other pillars would be limited in what they could do. Eventually this would create uneven forces on the body’s physical structures resulting in injury and decreased performance.

When the body moves the brain has a general idea of the muscles that need to be fired and in what rhythm. But because movement does not happen in a controlled environment the synergistic patterns are never truly the same and are adapting continuously to the smallest changes in the body’s center of mass. This creates large demands on all the systems that are responsible for functional movement and the stress become greater the higher the loads become and faster the body is moving. Having a balanced system responsible for controlled movement will allow the body to adapt to the changing demands placed upon it while in motion.   

When designing a training routine we have to look at all the pillars that make up functional performance and determine if the program increases one aspect of performance while decreasing one or more other aspect of performance. If this is the case the training program needs to redesigned to level all the pillars and promote a balanced functional performance. This will allow for maximum strength, power, and stability that can be reproduced over and over without ever having to worry about injury as a result.          



  1. Mercer, V., & Sahrmann, S. (1999). Postural synergies associated with a stepping task.Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association, 79(12), 1141-1152. Retrieved December 4, 2014, from
  2. Relationship Between Core Stability, Functional Movement, and Performance By: Okada, Tomoko, Kellie C Huxel, and Thomas W Nesser.Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research



Learning to Move Again

Maintaining your flexibility is very important when you are training for any road race or just a recreational runner hitting the pavement. It has been suggested by many fitness professionals that by using static stretching (holding a stretch for a period of time) you will be able to increase the quality of your running stride and decrease the risk of injury. This turns out not to be entirely true because movements like those associated with running or any activity are learned.

Several studies have shown that just stretching tight muscles will not change the way a person moves. When the body performs an activity such as walking or reaching for something the brain does this not by firing off individual muscles separately but by firing off a pre planned movement pattern consisting a rhythmic grouping of muscle contractions. The brain does this because it is extremely efficient and a faster way of coordinating a movement. These groups of pre planned muscle contractions are something that is learned from day one. These movement patterns can be altered and generally are the older we become. Injury or restriction of motion in a joint are two major ways these movement patterns can be altered. If a person suffers a sprained ankle or strained hamstring for example the body will develop compensatory movement patterns in order to decrease the stress placed on the injury. The problem starts when the injury heals and the compensatory movements now becomes the reprogrammed norm of movement for the body. Even if you stretch and stretch the limb that was injured to regain the normal range of motion it won’t carry over to dynamic activities such as running or walking for example. That is because the movement is not a tightness issue but a learned issue. So, the ‘tight’ muscles need the brain to be taught how to fire off the muscles correctly again. This can take some time and like learning any new learned behavior lots of practice before it becomes natural.

Now this is not to say stretching is not important. Stretching is only part of the equation when you are trying to maximize an injury free running program. Just as much time should be put into correcting and reviewing good form and movement patterns as stretching and running. By doing this you will be able to maximize each run and eventually perform at a higher level and decrease the risk of injury dramatically. Start by finding a fitness professional, physical therapist, or athletic trainer that has experience with movement analysis to see how to start refining your movement patterns, decrease your risk of injury, and perform at the best level you can.



Know before you go!


Decreasing the risk of injury during dynamic activities like sports and doing manual labor is the primary goal of a good trainer and therapist. Looking at ways to maximize the individuals performance while decreasing the risk of traumatic or chronic injury is at times a difficult line to walk. Being human it is in our nature to see how far we can push ourselves and see if the supposed limits of human performance can be broken. Doing this without crashing requires an understanding of how the forces created during training and competing are managed by the body’s structural, mechanical, physiological, and neurological systems. This is the best way to maximize human performance and minimize physical injury.

For example, knowing what the core actually is and how it works to transfer forces through the body and into the ground or other objects is a great place to start. The ‘core’ is more than your abdominals - it’s made up of your ‘abs’ (rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and internal and external obliques), quadratus lumborum, psoas, iliacus, and gluteus (medius, minimus, and maximus). These muscle surround the lower spine and hips and when working properly work in a synergistic pattern to allow movement in the hips, knees, and lower back while keeping the body in continuous alignment and maintaining a proper center of gravity. When one or more of these muscles are weak, not in sync with the other muscles, and possibly not having the neurologic ability to lengthen properly bad things happen¹.

When a person walks or runs there are several phases or what is called a gait pattern that the core plays a very large role in making happen successfully. As noted before that if the core is not functioning properly bad things happen this is where it is most prevalent and it is something we have to do everyday. If the glutes are weak the hip will internally rotate (knees turn in) when the foot hits the ground and through the whole time the weight is on that leg. This puts an enormous amount of stress on the medial portion of the knee, the whole shaft of the tibia (shin bone) because it torques outward, and causes the foot to crash in twisting the calcaneus (heel bone). Along with this if the quadratus lumborum is weak the whole hip will crash forward and allow for torquing in the SI joint to occur. Add to it a week abdominal complex and you get a lot of rocking of a base which should be stable resulting in development of possible chronic injuries or extremely high exposure rate to traumatic injuries such as ACL tears and etc². Learning to train these  important muscle correctly is essential to building a stronger base which performance can be developed.

Next learning how the muscles work together is also essential to developing a powerful athlete no matter if you are a professional or a weekend warrior. Power is all about timing and time spent building up your force. A baseball pitcher throwing a fastball must develop great timing between his anterior musculature and his posterior musculature. After the pitcher reaches back to throw the ball he has to accelerate his arm forward very rapidly to maximize the force delivered to the ball. For the maximal amount of force to be delivered to the ball the posterior muscles must ‘shut off’ very quickly to decrease the resistance on the muscle pulling the arm forward. But they must also ‘turn on’ at just the right time and with a quick ramp up of resistance to prevent the arm of the pitcher to go flying off and also control the rotation of the arm. Some research has shown that if in the first 60 -100 milliseconds of muscles firing that if the synchronization is increased power increases without increasing the strength of the muscles³.

Focusing on the quality and purpose of each exercise will go along way in building a stronger a faster athlete. It will also increase the quality of the performance without tearing down an athlete. Everything about developing a fitness or rehabilitation program starts with timing and understanding the role each group of muscles and structures play in creating movement.


  1. Leetun, D., Ireland, M., Willson, J., Ballantyne, B., & Davis, I. (n.d.). Core Stability Measures As Risk Factors For Lower Extremity Injury In Athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 926-934.

  2. Ireland, M. (n.d.). The female ACL: Why is it more prone to injury? Orthopedic Clinics of North America, 637-651. 

  3. Baker, D., & Newton, R. (n.d.). Acute Effect On Power Output Of Alternating An Agonist And Antagonist Muscle Exercise During Complex Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 202-205.