Last week we looked at moving better and becoming more efficient and more effective in our running. There are various facets to moving better, but creating any change is initially seated in our awareness – it has to be! – and hopefully you’ve played around with bringing your awareness to your running body this week?
One way in which to really increase our awareness is with yoga. Indeed, yoga will up-level each one of the facets to moving better…
With persistence, yoga will facilitate greater ranges of movement in our tissues. Then, as we start to let go a little, our joints will become more mobile and free… Yoga will challenge and then hone our balance, but most of all yoga will connect us to our body and enable us to explore what’s really going on in our body, how one side really feels compared to the other, and where we might need to do a little extra ‘work’…(don’t for one moment think that yoga is just a walk in the park!!).
If you didn’t manage to read through last week’s post – here it is again:
On to today’s topic and the springs in our system! And releasing the elastic potential in our body… And if your springs are squeaky, you can’t be in your greatest flow.
No doubt, a spring is just about the last image that you conjure up when you think about running. However, the action of running incorporates numerous coiled, spring-like mechanisms…
It’s possible that, rather than a spring-like action, you consider running to be more like a series of pistons. And often this concept is propagated in certain schools of running; ‘pump your arms up and down’…‘drive your knees up and down’ – you know, piston-fashion.
But the world rarely operates in straight lines. Nature likes curves, and meandering swirls, and it likes spirals… Think about how a leaf uncurls, or how a pinecone spirals, or a galaxy… Think about a water spiralling down the plughole. Think about rolling waves unfolding in their spiralling tubes. Think about the sinusoidal shape of the ebbing and flow of the tide over time. Nature doesn’t do straight lines…Nature waxes and wanes, and curves and coils, and most of all it likes to spiral.
We spiral. We spiral when we walk. Imagine the swinging of your arm as the opposite leg counters the action…wrapping you up, and releasing you forward…wrapping you up the other way, and releasing you even further forward. Allow your arms to go floppy and imagine them swirling around your body…now you can see the spirals!
It turns out that the spiral holds a lot of power when it’s wrapped up and released like a spring.
It’s probably why our spine has three planes of motion…not simply forwards and backwards, and side to side…but round and round as well – in a perfect, spiralling, spring-like fashion!
Releasing the spring
Let’s take a coiled spring…and think of releasing a compressed coiled spring and watching it fire forwards. It is the same ‘potential elastic energy’ within our muscles (and actioned by our limbs, via our joints) which propels our running motion forward.
Actually we’ve got ‘springs’ all over the place… this is a slightly crude description, but for instance, our tendons have an elastic potential that supports the motion of our muscle action – and we can think about the explosive elastic action from our Achilles tendon and our calf complex. The make-up of the Achilles tendon tissue is ‘crimped’ in a way that facilitates loading through it.
As it happens, all of our tissues have some degree of an elastic component, although not all tissues have the same spring-like quality as the Achilles.
It is how we move our body when we run that will determine how much elastic energy we access and consequently, release. This elastic energy is derived in two ways – firstly, how much mobility is available to us (ie how well do our tissues move, and what’s the available range of movement through our joints – as we discussed last time) and secondly, knowing how to put that mobility into action – literally, how to release the recoil effect!
Wind it up, and your body will release more of its potential, elastic energy – it’s power – over and over. And with the mobility and ability to wind it up appropriately, your body will transmit and dissipate the forces of running appropriately; transferring the forces, not loading and loading (and possibly eventually overloading tissue).
However this recoil effect isn’t our only spring-esque action in our running!
Spring-like shock absorbers
If we’re moving optimally, our joints act like the living, breathing, reactive ‘shock-absorbers’ that they’re designed to be.
If we’re moving appropriately throughout our system, our ankles and knees and hips will absorb the impact of running and adjust and modify their action as undulating terrain demands it.
If we’re moving as we could throughout our whole body, we don’t require the ‘cushioning’ of those very expensive trainers that we’ve been buying…our body knows how to do this. Sincerely, this is what our body is good at, what our joints know how to do – absorbing load, accommodating dips and divets and softening, when they need to soften – when we trust them with the job!
But we need to know how to access that free mobility again. We’ve all been housed in pumps / trainers / go-fasters / green flashes – call them what you will – all of us, well, most of us, for at least some of our time running.
Learning how to move in our body and finding freedom in our joints (and learning to trust our body to do the job that it can do so well!) is a very powerful mental shift, not least to mention the physical shift!
Finding our wings; no bull required…
When we access the freedom in our moving parts that allows us to command our body’s running motion, then we get to choose how that feels.
When we gain access to our inherent spring-like mechanisms, we can suddenly find ourselves light as a feather, gliding through the air and riding high on the thermals with the wind beneath our wings…
Ok, I’ll reign in the romanticising notions!
You catch my drift though. We don’t have to ‘pound the streets’ – not when a lighter flight is available to us.
Understanding where and how our power is generated, and then translating that into a felt-sense – a conscious experience within our body – is how we’re going to learn how to ask more and gain more from our running. But not if those springs are squeaky though! ; )
And of course, training or conditioning our tissues to be provide their maximal amount of ‘spring’ is another way to enhance the performance of our springs.
This week’s mission
And so this week, we’re going to introduce a little training to encourage the elastic component of the springs in the Achilles, in particular, using ‘plyometrics’.
Plyometrics refers to repeated jumping or bounding activity to deliberately invoke the contracting and relaxing of tissue. And we’re going to take this week to get out our skipping rope!
Although we’re going to go gently, because skipping is a really high demand activity! (See here * for some alternatives.)
But the effect that introducing a little plyometrics into our running routine, is that it encourages the ‘crimping’ nature of the Achilles tendon tissue. This is a good thing. The more crimping, the more elasticity it has, and the more power we can generate out of it!
Now here’s the warning – if you haven’t ‘skipped’ in a long while, just with any new activity, you will need to go steadily at the outset. Very steadily.
I love skipping though because it’s a great cardiovascular exercise, and you don’t need to do too much of it to feel pretty pooped!
So, go and hunt for your skipping rope from the bottom of the cupboard (and if you happen to not have one, head down to the High Street to the toyshop and pick one up there – so much better to support the local businesses than the online giants…).
Once you’re good to go, I recommend that you start with just 30 seconds. And maybe even that double bounce’ skipping of: one-and-two-and-three-and….when you do a little mini bounce on the ‘and’s. It’s a good way to introduce the new motion to your tissues.
So 30 seconds of skipping today. That might be as much as you want to do each day this week. Alternatively, you could add on another 30 seconds each day, so a minute tomorrow, then 90 seconds after that…and so on, until you’re up to a nice amount of time that you could add in to your weekly routine (or even daily routine?!).
*And if skipping really isn’t for you, for whatever reason, you’re going to get similar plyometric benefits from a rebounder – you know, a baby-trampoline; they’re more forgiving and it’s not quite as intense a work-out!
Enjoy and let’s catch up again next week, when we’re going to take a deep breath and look at our breathing…
With very best wishes and see you then
Living Green Health
Run Breathe Live Green
By the way, if you have any friends who are looking for support with their running, then send them this way! Here’s the link to sign up for the Running Movement Series – it’s still not too late! – and they’ll receive our fab motivational freebie as well : )