Running – like any other sport – is technique based. While the human body is designed for running, you can’t simply throw on some shoes, speed off and expect good results. That’s because many of our bodies have become maladapted to modern, desk-bound life and are now ill-suited for running, a topic I went into in more detail in my last blog.
This means that if you want to go from couch to 5k, you have to do so properly, otherwise you’ll go from couch to 5k and back to couch again with an injury.
Step 1: Get a Gait Analysis
If you don’t know how you’re running, you won’t know what to correct. A gait analysis is a recording of your walking and/or running cycle from the front and side, along with pressure readings of your foot strike.
By going through the footage frame by frame, a physiotherapist or trainer can pinpoint areas where your run cycle is off and use this information to find the cause, whether it’s purely technique based, rooted in your biomechanics or even just bad footwear.
Gait analyses are available in many gyms and running stores, but make sure that you have the information analysed by a professional – or at least someone not trying to sell you shoes!
Step 2: Address Biomechanical Problems and Learn How to Run
Once we’ve found the problems in your running technique, we can teach you how to correct them or prescribe exercises that rebalance your muscles and tendons if the cause is biomechanical.
Let’s say you have a tilted pelvis, a common problem in people with desk-bound jobs. This is almost impossible to correct while you’re running, so instead you have to work on correcting your pelvic tilt while you’re walking or standing. We will also prescribe exercises to strengthen your glutes and lengthen your hip flexors – such as glute bridges and squats – until the resting position of your pelvis naturally holds its place.
As for learning new running techniques, this has to be done very gradually. It’s difficult to focus on correcting your movement when running, so new techniques need to be introduced one by one so that you’re not having to pay attention to five different things at once.
You’ll also be loading muscles and ligaments that weren’t being used while you were running before and thus won’t be adapted to the load, so even if you’ve been running for years, when you’re trying a new technique, you need to treat it as if you’re running for the first time.
Everyone’s running technique and body needs to be treated individually, but a reliable, broad way to think of how you should run is that you should be propelling yourself forward rather than dragging yourself along – generating power from your posterior chain muscles without involving your anterior chain much at all.
Step 3: Increase Your Running Very, Very Gradually
Our general rule at WLP is that you shouldn’t increase your exercise by more than 10% a week, so that your body has time to rest and recover. The problem with running is that it’s very easy break this rule. People who start running are often amazed at the pace of their progress, right up until the moment they injure themselves and end up right back on the couch again.
This happens because your muscles and cardiovascular system adapt very quickly to increased load, while your tendons, joints and ligaments – which are made of dense tissue with limited blood flow – need much more time to recover. Even if you feel you could push yourself further, you have to reign yourself in for the sake of your tendons.
As I wrote in my beginner running tips blog, an alternating training programme is ideal for newcomers: “start by alternating between 3 minutes of jogging and 2 minutes of walking for 15 minutes, with two day breaks between each run. Gradually build up until you can run for the entire 15 minutes then, over three months, slowly increase the length of your run up to a continuous half hour. After that, don’t increase your load by more than 10% a week.”
By following these steps, you should be able to safely go from couch to 5k and beyond. If you need help at any stage – whether you need a one-off check up or a detailed training programme – we’re always here to help you make the most of your body.
If you have any questions feel free to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or book an appointment by calling 0207 937 1628 .
Kam Sowman BSc (Physio) MCSP MHCP
Musculoskeletal and Sports Physiotherapist