Be it shin splints, patella-femoral syndrome, IT band syndrome, or hip tendonitis, most running injuries share a common mechanical breakdown. Most of us can recognize it in ourselves, particularly as we get tired. The hips begin to droop to one side and the knee collapses inward. In the PT world, we call this a “valgus collapse”. Normally it occurs as result of the hips’ inability to control where the leg will go. While hip strengthening and re-training is critical in preventing this movement pattern, there is no need to wait to start fixing it in your running. All you need is a mirror to get started!
A treadmill will work best for you, especially at the gym as they usually have mirrors in front of the treadmill. Standing still on the treadmill you should be able to look in the mirror and in the reflection, see enough space between your knees that there is some daylight between them. We’re going to call this the “knee window”. Start the treadmill and begin running at a comfortable pace, and re-examine this knee window. Most likely it has decreased or maybe even disappeared. As you are running, attempt to regain the same window you had while standing still. It will feel awkward and different at first, but when your normal stride is synonymous with one that often leads to injury, different is good! Maintain this as best you can, checking back every few minutes during the run to see how you’re doing. Once you can sense what a good knee window feels like without looking in the mirror, you’re ready to take this out on the road!
As I mentioned earlier, hip strengthening and re-training is a critical part of strength training and injury prevention, and should not be overlooked. However, using the mirror can allow you to improve your mechanics in a matter of minutes and prevent injury rather easily. Combine this with some cadence training to not only reduce risk for injury, but also improve performance!