Running Is a Skilled Sport – and It Should Be Treated Like One

May 16th, 2017

Yes, I’m aware of how silly that sounds. And I’m especially aware of that because I transitioned into a runner 13 years ago, when it became apparent that I no longer had the hand-eye coordination and athleticism to keep up with my peers. But as research has been conducted and performance has been analyzed, it has become very apparent that technique and skill are both critically important to success in running.

If you don’t believe me, head out to a road race this weekend and compare the runners in the top 10 percent of the race to the runners in the slower portions of the race. Both groups are working just as hard, but do they look the same? No, there’s something different about what they’re doing. It’s hard to pinpoint what it is, but there is a significant difference.

Now let’s think about a sport that we all accept as one that requires a lot of skill and technique work: baseball. Imagine if we didn’t teach technique to pitchers, but rather said “Hey, go out, just do whatever feels right, and do it until you get better at it.” What do you think would happen? I’d be willing to bet that a clear majority of pitchers would be hurt or would underperform, or some combination of the two.

In a recent Runner’s World article, podiatrist Jai Saxelby essentially told runners to go do whatever feels right when he said: “There is no such thing as perfect form. Runners… come in too many shapes and sizes to identify proper form.” Now think about your average runner. Many them are hurt, underperforming or both. Saxelby’s argument doesn’t seem to make sense.

Maybe it’s time to take a step back from the runner’s paradigm of “I must get back out on the roads to get my miles in!” because this clearly isn’t working for many of us. Depending on your source, anywhere from 40-80% of runners suffer a substantial injury every year. At that point, something clearly isn’t right. Maybe there is a more efficient way to run.

Studies have shown that runners with ideal form and technique require 20 percent less oxygen demand and have a 50 percent greater running economy than your standard recreational runner. That is a LOT of untapped fitness that many of us have been ignoring.

In running, we have often been told what to do, but not how to do it. Many of us reach the point where we seem to hit a wall in our fitness, a plateau where workouts get harder but performance stagnates. Maybe you’ve been injured too often to even reach that point. But if you want to start reaching into untapped levels of fitness, start preventing injuries before they happen, and make a substantial change and improvement in your running career, maybe it’s time we started focusing on technique and skill instead of splits and times.

Technique is something that can be easily refined. All it takes is an awareness of proper and improper form, and the guidance of someone who is informed about proper running form to help facilitate your improvements. Coaches, Physical Therapists, and sometimes even fellow runners can help you along the journey to becoming a faster, healthier and more efficient runner.

Ryan Wolff, PT, DPT, has helped to develop a program specifically for runners that aims at restoring strength and mobility, correcting mechanics, and ultimately decreasing injury rates while increasing performance. Learn more about this and other TTR Performance programs here.

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