By Gail Parsons, 1st Inf. Div. PostApril 26, 2019
Put one foot in front of the other -- repeat. If a person does that fast, they are running.
It seems simple enough, but there is a lot more to running than simply moving. Dr. Heather Hovey, physical therapist at Irwin Army Community Hospital, teaches people how to make the most of their time running and how to run with good form.
In May, the Physical Therapy Clinic will start a running technique class for patients who have difficulty because of pain.
"It's not necessarily conditioning, but rather the technique of running," she said.
To enroll in the class, a person needs to have been evaluated by one of the physical therapists. That process can be accomplished by having a referral from a primary care manager, or a Soldier can walk into the clinic and request to be seen concerning running.
The class is intended to help people run without or with less pain.
"That's my number one goal -- let's just make this less painful for you to do," Hovey said. "That doesn't mean no pain whatsoever. I think it's a hard thing to understand. Sometimes you will have discomfort when you're doing this, but less pain is always much better."
Cause of running pain
The knees are where many people feel pain when running. Hovey said it is often because they are running improperly.
"You would think it's just left, right, repeat," she said. "But running is a skill just like golfing or pitching or ballet -- these are all sports and techniques that you have to practice. It's a skill that you can become better at. So yes, it is left, right, repeat. But if you want to become better and proficient and have less pain, it's a skill that you can practice and learn."
A common mistake people make is that they don't stretch enough before taking off on a run.
"They're like, 'hey, I haven't run in a month and I'm going to go run 3, 4 miles,'" she said. "And they don't stretch, they don't warm up and they don't cool down when they're done."
Hovey said one of the specifics she will address in the class as it pertains to techniques is the way a person's foot comes into contact with the ground and how not to activate their hip flexors when running and hopefully activate the hamstrings more.
"We'll talk about how to initiate contact when the foot first hits the ground," she said.
Statistically, she said most runners who get injured are heel strikers. Ideally, when a person runs, they should be putting the ball of their foot, or the forefoot, down first.
"If I can get someone who's a heel striker to land more flat-footed, I'm happy," she said. "I think trying to change your running form … is going to be very difficult for me to transition them from a heel strike to a forefoot."
As opposed to walking, when a person is running there is a period of float, she said.
"Float is when there's no right or left (foot) touching the ground," she said. "When we're in that period of float, it's easy to transition to (striking with) more of the front of the foot."
The type of shoe a person wears when running can affect whether they land on the heel or ball of the foot.
She recommends wearing a low-drop shoe, which is measured by the drop from the heel to the front of the foot. If the heel is high and it drops toward the forefoot -- that is a high-drop shoe.
"When you've got such a large cushion on your heel, then you're going to do a heel strike," she said. That's the only reason why we heel strike … if you take the shoes off people, most of the time, they don't do a heel strike.
Proper breathing technique is another component Hovey said people need to think about.
It's important to relax when running. When they're not, they are breathing heavy and there's an exaggeration in the neck musculature.
"Their shoulders will come up and the elbows will curl in," she said. "We'll tell them to relax; drop your shoulders, bring your elbows down and relax your forearms."
Treadmills are great for a cardio workout but are not the most effective way to train for a run.
"The ground is moving for you on a treadmill," she said. "So, it's kind of it's doing a lot of the work (for you) … when you go outside, you're getting the resistance from the ground. So, the ground is working against you rather than for you."
She doesn't dismiss the benefits of a treadmill altogether because it can provide a good cardio workout, but it won't do much for the leg musculature, she said.
Like any other skill, running takes practice. While some people may be natural runners, Hovey said a training program could help Soldiers and other runners maximize their efforts and minimize injury.
First Lt. Alexandra Scozzafava, physical therapist, has been training with Hovey and said in the past month and a half she has decreased her 2-mile run time by a minute and a half.
"She's been getting me to lean forward with my hips and use more of those poster chain muscles," Scozzafava said. "So, using my hamstrings and glutes, rather than my quads and my hip flexors, which is actually improving my running time."
One of the lessons she learned was to adjust her cadence while running. She had been taking long strides but has been shortening them, which increased her pace.
To train for the Army Physical Fitness Test or Army Combat Fitness Test, Soldiers should work on distance running and sprinting, she said.
"For the average Soldier (they should train) three days a week," Hovey said.
That doesn't mean it has to be three days a week pounding the pavement. Other types of exercise to improve running skills can include using the rowing machine or the elliptical bike. Those should be intermingled with distance running and sprinting.
Cross training and stretching will help runners before and after their run. In her class, she will talk a lot about doing dynamic warm-ups and static cool downs and stretches that will help.
"People need to know that they can train all day and they can work really hard, but they still have to condition the right muscles," Hovey said. "You can run all day long, but you still got to make sure that you're supplementing the right things by getting your hips strong and stretching when you need to."
Beyond the physical details, Scozzafava said the key for her was the psychological approach to running.
"One of the biggest challenges that I faced while working with Dr. Hovey is that this running game -- yes the form is really important, but also there's a huge mental component associated with it," she said. "She's been working with me in regard to kind of facing that, tackling that head-on and thinking, 'you know what, you can actually do this. It's just the mental game that you're playing in your head, you have the physical strength and we're working on that technique to get you where you need to be.'"
Hovey backed up Scozzafava's assessment and said she is a fast runner.
"She is really fast," Hovey said. "I was telling her 'I don't know why you think you can't do this. Every single time, she beat the times. "She's doing really good … yes, it's the training and getting acclimated to running distance but also knowing that 'I can do it. I've been training for this. I have the ability, I just need to put forth the effort and I'm positively thinking I got this.'" #FitFirst