I started running in high school, and did it regularly until around 10 years ago. I really enjoyed running, especially here in Minnesota where there are a lot of scenic lakes and trails. I especially liked running in the fall; every day there was a new spectrum of colors in the leaves and different degrees of light. And suddenly one day, whompf! Golden leaves all over the paths that dried into brown, irresistibly crunchy piles. Jogging through them produced its own rhythm section.
I was never a very fast runner, even though I really enjoyed and worked hard at it. So today I found an article in Runner’s World that gave me some clues as to why that might be. I found this essay, “It’s All in the Hips,” when I was searching for some more information on what muscles might used in skating lunges.
I’ve been finding way more solid information about the physiology of running and weight-lifting than about skating. This article contrasts those runners who run smoothly and effortlessly with those who feel like they are “muscling our bodies along, pounding the ground and working for each forward push.” The problem has to do with learned inflexibilities that prevent a more efficient stride, when we become “physically incapable of striding out naturally, with our legs behind our center of gravity.”
I’ve highlighted this to underscore something I’ve noticed about my walking (and probably my running, were I to take it up again) as well as my skating. The article emphasizes how an effortless stride means that the legs push the torso forward, and the torso remains stacked over the hips (just like in skating). In order for this to work, there needs to be a full extension of the hip flexors. But many of us have tight hip flexors, and “this tightness contributes to the pelvis “spilling” forward, throws off the balance and prevents the leg from driving backward.”
Our hours of sitting–at our desks, driving, relaxing–shorten and tighten our hip flexors on the front of the pelvis and turn off our glutes on the backside. When we stand up, we never fully open up, retaining some of a sitting posture in our hips. Running optimally, however, like elite track stars, involves driving the leg back from the hip, requiring a full hip extension. The faster we want to run, the more important this is.
What was missing from my running (and, I think, may have been missing from my skating) was a longer stride. My motion was mostly up-and-down, rather than a constant forward. You can see this in great runners–they just sort of float above their legs. Here’s a couple of illustrations of the greats: Abebe Bekila, who won the Olympic marathon running barefoot through the streets of Rome, and Wilma Rudolph, who won three gold medals at the same Olympics in 1960.
And then there’s me.
Not surprisingly, the article recommends both stretching the hip flexors and strengthening the glutes. Runners with weak glutes, physical therapist Jay Dicharry says, fall into the “toilet bowl of doom–a beautifully engineered screw-up of epic proportions,” and the everything goes downhill from there: “Posture falls apart, the stride has to move in front of the torso, and other muscles compensate until they fail.”
The toilet bowl of doom, oh no!
Luckily, this doesn’t come as a surprise, and I think my days in the TB of D may well be numbered. My hip proprioception has improved dramatically, and I am already working on some of the exercises this article suggests. For instance, Eric Franklin got me thinking of one of the images described here: imagining the pelvis as a bowl that should be kept neutral so that nothing spills out of it.
Another idea that really resonated with me is that of “running from the butt”:
Tom Miller, an exercise scientist and author of Programmed to Run, calls the feeling when you get it right a “glute goose” or a “hip flick” with every stride. Others call it running “from the butt.” When it clicks, you can feel the glute pulling your thigh and knee back while your hips remain stable and connected, channeling the energy of the leg drive into forward motion.
I’m beginning to feel this hip engagement on progressives and chases, especially if I drive the pushing leg back rather than just leaning forward into the motion. You can really see this on Charlie White’s push in this picture.
I had originally entitled this entry, “The toilet bowl of doom,” but then thought that might be a downer. It is, after all, only Wednesday. So it’s skating from the butt for me!