Hey Everyone! Thank you for checking in on another one of my blog posts. I have been trying to be a little more tactical with these and give out more of the tips and tricks that I not only use myself but also implement (with success) for my clients and patients, quickly and easily.
Running is a predominantly lower extremity activity that can be easily completed by people of any level of fitness or competitive level. The main goal most people have is to continue to improve at...well...running. This usually means trying to complete your select or favorite distance at a time that is faster than what you have done in the past. The act of challenging yourself in this way becomes very gratifying on two accounts. #1 You achieved something that before you were not able to and #2 you are happy with the work you put in to get there.
We get to a point however, when running at a faster pace or even running more efficiently (if that's something you are looking to accomplish) becomes marginal and harder to get than it used to. You have tried many things. You even tried changing your shoes to lighter ones in the hopes of shedding off even a couple of seconds to your 5k time!
One simple and easy way we can begin to make you faster and more efficient as an athlete in essence does not cost you any extra (unless you really want it to). This involves STRENGTHENING YOUR ARMS.
What do you mean I need to strengthen my arms? Why do I need to do such a thing? I am not running with my arms? How does that help me?...Let's explain:
#1 - STRENGTHENING IMPROVES YOUR POSTURE
Let's not get it twisted...We are not strengthening here to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger and get massive. The purpose is not to be bulky. It is to make you strong which are two separate and completely different approaches/processes (I am looking at you ladies!). Women need to strengthen too. Not only to be better runners and athletes but also to strengthen your bones to prevent osteopenia and osteoporosis as you get older.
However, if you did want to increase the size of your arm muscles, just keep in mind that if you set out to get faster but instead you add mass...the extra mass is something additional you have to carry with you when running. Eventually, you may hit a level of diminishing returns where you will run the same speed but be just a bigger individual.
Basically, this is the wrong purpose and not what you set out to achieve. This is just something to just be mindful of, not worry about.
When we are strengthening your arms, we are not ONLY strengthening our arms. We are also strengthening our shoulder girdle when applied with the right exercises.
If we take a look at how things have been lately in the world, we find people sitting at home more as a result of Covid-19. Gyms are still closed. Motivation is down because races are not taking place. Hopefully those of you reading this are those who still have a candle in the darkness lit for the hopes that some time soon things will resume, continuing to prepare for that day. For those of you who have fallen off the wagon with your training....Do not worry. You are not the only one and when you do return to your sport, your fitness level can always be regained (albeit may take a little more work on your part)
With people spending more time at home, they may not have the best ergonomic set ups with their office space. They may be a little more slumped over than usual or may not have the appropriate lumbar support, or may be working more from a laptop than a desktop. When we have this kind of set up, we start to have a rounding of the shoulders. Over the 5 month course we have been dealing with Covid-19, we can develop changes. Increased chest muscle tightness, weakness in the muscles between and around our shoulder blades, a forward neck position, tightness around the sides of the neck, etc.
This is something that is very common in those who sit at a desk all day and therefore another case where you are not the only ones. Thousands of people across America deal with this gradual development everyday...even more so now. If left unchecked, this can eventually result in pain and discomfort. However, if you strengthen your arms then you will have a triple whammy...preventing pain, improving posture, and improving your running. How great is that?!
If we work to strengthen these muscles we no longer have extra things to worry about in our lives. Therefore, making sure you are REGULARLY 2-3x per week (sometimes more) stretching the muscles in the front of your chest, and strengthening the muscles in the back of your shoulders, especially the middle trapezius, lower trapezius, serratus anterior, the rotator cuff, and the latissimus dorsi. These muscles are integral in ensuring not only good shoulder strength and stability but will also give you a more upright posture
What does strengthening these muscles afford you further (especially with running)??? Having a more upright posture and stronger center to your body will give you a better ability for you to be rigid. When I say this I do not mean stiff. I mean dynamically rigid. When I say this, I am talking about being able to have enough stiffness through increased muscle activity that you have a great level of stability to absorb forces but also gives you a greater ability to transfer energy from one step to the other while running.
Essentially, if you have a better, more upright posture that allows you to be more dynamically rigid then you are better able to put force into the ground. When you are able to do put more force into the ground, you are able to have a greater stride distance with each step, thus, making you faster! Additionally, you will also not spend wasted energy that is instead being absorbed by your joints which is not recycled and reused as you are supposed to (I will explain this later in #3)
#2 - ARM MOVEMENT CONTROLS LEG MOVEMENT
Explaining this component is a little simpler than the first topic. When we run, we essentially and naturally just move our arms as we go. If you start to watch other people while they run, you will notice that every one moves their arms differently.
The fact that we move our arms is important. It is doubly important that we move them in proportion to how our legs are moving. If we have too much or too little movement or even if we are off our coordination, it can really throw off our balance and your propulsion. Thus, making you inefficient and slow.
When you run, especially as you get tired, you want to have something left in the gas tank as we approach the finish line. Additionally, for injury prevention, we know that the the higher the step cadence per minute you have, then the less impact you have with the ground. Thus, the less forces that you have to deal with. Less force imposed on your body results in increased prevention of breakdown and overuse of your tissues. Therefore, the faster that you move your arms, the faster your legs will generally go along with it. When you run you want to have a per minute step rate of about 165-185. If you start to get tired at the end of your run or race and you having a hard time because your legs are done, your in pain, and feel like you can't go anymore...focus on just moving your arms. Move them more. Move them harder....which brings me to my next point.
Pumping your arms harder will bring more force and energy through your system. In this case, we are using Newton's 3rd Law of Motion where every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore, if you move your arms harder then your legs must move equally in the opposite direction.
#3 - IMPROVED RUNNING ECONOMY
Another thing that people do not realize about strengthening and running is that strengthening your arms will improve your running economy....again....not about improving running form.
When we gain muscle (strength included), we have different cellular changes that occur. We have greater deposition of mitochondria and enhanced amount of glycogen storage. What do these two factors have in common???...Three Words....Energy Production Factory
If we have more glycogen stored in the muscles throughout our entire body system and we have more mini factories of mitochondria in our cells it gives us more energy to burn in total.
This brings me back to the point of when your legs getting tired...just move your arms more. Even if you didn't, you would still have the extra energy to push yourself further and harder than if you didn't have this increased strength as the extra glycogen in your arms would be broken down and used for your legs.
When we improve our running economy in this way, we end up getting "free energy" without having to log extra running miles during the week. How much would you give to have more energy to use without having to run more miles?
I hope this post has been very informative and will help you to improve your running performance. If you have any questions or would like to find other blog posts like this, please go to www.ascentptny.com. Additionally, if you would like to speak with someone about your current running situation and how you can improve it, please give us a call 516-387-4669. Also, please find us on Facebook at Ascent Physical Therapy and on Instagram at ascent_pt_multisport