3 Ways to Improve Running Ergonomics and the Kinetic Chain

Going for a jog is far more complex than might meet the eye. Every motion—every single stride—is the product of a small orchestra conducted by your body. The bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons work in unison to make the running movement happen fluidly and efficiently.

This is known as a kinetic chain, of which there are many throughout the body. Within the running kinetic chain, we find the ergonomics of running. Much like office ergonomics, where improper seating, seat height, and other factors can cause painful and damaging imbalances, imperfections in your running ergonomics can present up and down the kinetic chain in a variety of (not so pleasant) ways.

What Comprises the Running Kinetic Chain?

Generally speaking, the kinetic chain as it relates to running is comprised of a few key parts:

  • Feet
  • Legs
  • Core
  • Lower back
  • Upper back
  • Arms and shoulders

Of course, within each part of the kinetic chain lives a vast array of muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones. Deploying this chain to run with good form is challenging. Acute pain and chronic conditions, such as runner’s knee, tendonitis, and even strains could be the result of a weak link in the kinetic chain.

Use These Tips to Keep the Kinetic Chain Humming

Imbalances can be slow in developing. Poor core strength, for example, or gait imperfections, might cause pain or injury further up or down the line. The lower back, knees, and ankles—it’s all connected. Here are a few ways to ensure better running ergonomics and a strong and healthy kinetic chain.

1. Create a Strong Base

Central to maintaining proper running form starts with … well … your center. Working on core and leg strength will translate to a better ability to keep the core engaged during each running movement. This helps maintain control and avoid the imbalances that can create weakness in the chain.

Exercises that help create a strong base:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Abdominal planks

2. Stay Flexible

To run with good form means striding properly and engaging the hips and core. This makes flexibility incredibly important to maintaining proper running ergonomics. Indeed, strong flexibility makes for a strong kinetic chain.

Activities that contribute to better flexibility for running:

  • Yoga
  • “Opening up” the hips
  • Consistent warm-up and cool-down routines

3. Move Intentionally

When you run, it is important to do so with information—to understand the mechanics involved. When you understand the mechanics, you can recognize bad habits and correct gait imbalances on the fly.

What to focus on for better movement:

  • Head position
  • Arm position and movement
  • Foot strike point

Finally, Examine Your Form

Sometimes, monitoring and correcting gait imbalances requires more than the naked eye. Runners of all skill levels use the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill™ with Stride Smart Gait Analytics to take a more precise look at all the elements of running ergonomics.

Using Stride Smart, therapists can use video monitoring to analyze and address gait imbalances on the fly. While the patient exercises, therapists can show them asymmetries and imbalances right then and there, allowing runners to self-correct. It is a highly effective and accessible way to address gait imbalances, ensure strong running ergonomics, and develop a rock-solid running kinetic chain.

Can You Walk On A Sprained Ankle?

Ah, our old friend the sprained ankle. It always seems to happen when we least expect, doesn’t it? Walking too close to the edge of the sidewalk. Coming down the mountain from a hike.

Stepping across the road in heels.

Even the slightest misstep can cause a painful sprain that can linger for weeks, even months. No one wants to be off their feet for too long, especially athletes and fans of regular exercise. The question is, can you walk on a sprained ankle?

Walk on a Sprained Ankle By Taking the Weight Off

The answer is: it depends on the severity of the sprain. There are three grades used to evaluate ankle sprains:

  • Grade I
  • Grade II
  • Grade III (most severe)

Although the first temptation might be to “walk it off,” this can cause more damage to stretched or torn ligaments and prolong recovery time. It’s important not to overdo it or get ahead of yourself: walking too soon on a sprained ankle can lead to reinjury, pain, and more chronic conditions like arthritis.

There are a few important activities that help people work through a sprained ankle:

  • RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation)
  • Re-strengthening exercises
  • Rebuilding stability, balance, and flexibility
  • Gradually introducing weight-bearing activities

How to Gradually Introduce Weight Bearing on a Sprained Ankle

Traditionally, crutches, boots, and braces are used to eliminate or significantly reduce the body-weight impact on a sprained ankle. This reduces injury risk and allows time to begin rebalancing and restrengthening the injured ankle.

Our very own AlterG AntiGravity Treadmill™ is often deployed to help patients recovering from ankle sprains. The Anti-Gravity Treadmill allows therapists to add body weight in small increments, monitor pain and use gait analysis to fine-tune walking or running mechanics. The result is a drastic reduction of re-injury risk and shorter recovery times altogether.

Recommended reading: Read our Grade III lateral ankle sprain protocol on our clinical resources page. In this case study, the Anti-Gravity Treadmill was used to gradually re-introduce weight bearing and build the strength and flexibility of the injured ankle. The results are remarkable.

How to Increase Your Running Distance Safely

Establishing and maintaining a running program is always a challenge. Staying consistent, keeping things interesting, and pushing past the wall requires commitment. Adding more miles can be a whole other can of worms.

In the spirit of taking your program to the next level, here’s how to safely increase running distance while limiting your risk of injury and exhaustion.

Track Your Progress

Just as keeping a daily journal can help you keep a diet, so to can it help you improve your running program. We recommend setting a weekly mileage goal, then charting the miles you run every week. After you’ve hit your mark a few weeks in a row, review your logs to inform how many miles to add to your weekly total (and when).

Mix Up Distance and Running Routes

Whoever you talk to, boredom is the number one excuse for not running. Don’t let the tedium stunt your program! If you love running the same route every day, try reversing it every once in a while. Work in hills, mix up distances throughout the week. Assign one of your days for a “longer” run.

Load Up Before Your Rest Day

To that end, try planning your long run the day before a rest day. Knowing that you’ll have the next day to rest will give you the confidence to push it, both in terms of distance and pace.

Unlock the Power of Recovery Time

Speaking of rest days, your off days can be as important to adding distance than your “on” days. Rest days give your body time to recover and adapt. This means not only working rest days into your routine but making the most of that rest time by eating well and staying hydrated.

Finally, Listen to Your Body

Of all the ways to safely add distance to your running program, listening to your body is one of the most important. This doesn’t mean skipping run days because you don’t feel like it, no. Listening to your body means reading any indicators of overuse, exhaustion, and injury.

Because putting your body out of commission won’t do you any good when trying to add miles to your running program.

Learn how the Anti-Gravity Treadmill™ can help improve your running.

 

4 Simple Ways to Prevent an ACL Tear

It’s the pop that no one ever wants to hear. The knee buckles, the athlete goes down, and the season is over. An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear can be an abrupt and painful end to a season or even a career. It is a serious setback that usually requires surgery and leads to long term conditions such as osteoarthritis.

What is an ACL Tear?
Your ACL is located in the knee joint and controls the movement of your shinbone in relation to the thigh bone. Direct impact, sudden stops and changes of direction, or turns and awkward landings are what most often lead to ACL injuries.

The injury itself is usually indicated by an audible pop, a buckling knee, immediate swelling, pain, and an inability to put weight on the affected limb. Given the movements that most commonly lead to ACL tears, you’ll frequently find this injury in soccer, football, and basketball (among other similar sports).

How to Prevent ACL Tears
An ACL tear can happen to anyone and a lot of factors contribute to the injury. Here are four sound ways to help prevent this injury:

1. Know, Prepare, and Listen to Your Body
Preparation and body awareness go a long way in preventing ACL tears. This includes properly warming up and stretching before all workouts, understanding proper body positioning (stance, how you push off and land, etc.), and avoiding “playing through” knee pain which can lead to overuse injuries and weakness.

2. Fortify Your Ligaments
As with most injuries and conditions, good nutrition and proper hydration are important parts of keeping ligaments healthy and strong. Eating lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, nuts and legumes will help ensure that your ligaments get the protein, calcium, and other nutrients they need to stay strong and protected from injury. Diet and nutrition are one of the most overlooked aspects of injury prevention.

3. Strengthen the Supporting Cast
The ability of your ACL to withstand athletic activities without injury depends in part on the strength, flexibility, and health of the surrounding muscle groups. It is important to strengthen the hamstrings. It is also useful to think of the entire chain of muscles involved in a given movement. Working to improve balance, agility, flexibility, and core strength will help you control the body and eliminate the need for compensatory movements that sometimes lead to injury.

4. Lower the Impact
For people at risk of ACL tears, such as those with previous knee injuries or older adults, there are ways to exercise while lowering the body-weight impact on the knees.

Pool training, for example, is a highly effective (and taxing!) way to continue training while reducing the risk of knee injury. For the purposes of training, therapy, and injury recovery, precision unweighting tools like the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill™ are a highly effective way to reduce the body-weight impact on the knee.

One patient, a Division I soccer player, suffered a severe ACL tear and completed a walking program on the Anti-Gravity Treadmill. The progressive loading and gait monitoring allowed her to recover, maintain cardiovascular fitness, and return to her sport sooner than expected. Read the ACL tear case study.

What’s the Difference Between Static and Dynamic Stretching?

Stretching is a lot like flossing. We know that it’s important and that we should be doing it. We know that it helps our bodies in the long run. Yet so many of us still skip this important activity altogether.

And just like skipping flossing, failing to properly stretch is a mistake. Done right, stretching helps us improve our range of motion, flexibility, and recovery time. For anyone serious about their fitness, stretching is non-negotiable, both before and after workouts. That goes for everything from weightlifting and gymnastics to basketball, volleyball, and rec league hockey.

Typically, a complete stretching program consists of both static and dynamic stretches. The question is, what’s the difference? And when is it best to do one or the other? Here’s a closer look at the difference between static and dynamic stretches, common applications, and some examples.

The Difference Between Static and Dynamic Stretching

The difference between static and dynamic stretching comes down to a simple thing: movement. A static stretch is, generally, any position you hold—often at the limit of a given joint’s range of motion—to increase flexibility. A lack of movement—hence the name static—is common to all of these stretches. No bouncing, changing position, or repetition of movement.

Applications of Static Stretching

  1. Flexibility
  2. Post-workout recovery
  3. Preventing bruising and soreness

3 Examples of Static Stretches

  • Standing hamstring foldover (touch your toes)
  • Seated groin and inner thigh stretch
  • Overhead triceps stretch

A dynamic stretch is any repetitive, more challenging motion aimed at loosening up muscles and joints. Usually, dynamic stretches are sports- or activity-based motions one repeats a number of times. If it feels challenging, it’s supposed to be. Watch professional athletes before a game or match and you’ll likely see them go through some form of dynamic stretching routine.

Applications of Dynamic Stretching

  1. Pre-workout warmup
  2. Endurance and conditioning training

3 Examples of Dynamic Stretches

  • High knees
  • Walking lunges
  • Lateral crossovers

Understanding the difference between static and dynamic stretching is the first step toward incorporating these important movements into your workouts.

If stretching remains on your list of need to do that more (ahem, right next to flossing), try this: select three to five dynamic stretches and perform them before your next workout. After your routine, perform three to five static stretches. Set a goal to apply this stretching routine to each workout for two weeks.

You’ll be amazed at the difference.

5 Workouts for People With Fall Risk

Fall risk is inherent to certain activities no matter who you are. Yet, some conditions increase fall risk during certain types of movement and exercise. One in four Americans aged sixty five or older, for example, falls each year. Other conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and neurological disorders, can contribute to increased fall risk as well.

This doesn’t exclude people with higher fall risks from exercise! Here are five workouts that reduce or eliminate balance and coordination issues, perfect for people with higher fall risk.

1. Seated Leg Lifts

From a sitting position on the floor, back to a wall and legs straight out, lift and hold your leg a couple inches from the ground. After ten to fifteen seconds, release and repeat with the other leg. You can also sit in a chair, instead, back straight, and lift leg until it is parallel to the floor. Alternate after ten to fifteen seconds. Keep the core engaged.

2. Sitting Shoulder Press

Sitting upright in a chair, or on a bench, keeping good posture, point elbows out and slowly push arms upward to the sky until fully extended. Slowly release back down to beginning position. Focus on slow, deliberate movements, always keeping the core engaged. Use three, five, or ten-pound hand weights to increase resistance.

3. Elliptical

In situations where a traditional treadmill is too risky, the elliptical machine can be a safer, more stable alternative. Start light and slow, keeping body-weight impact minimal. Always hold on to the handles for safety, and increase workout time incrementally as you progress.

4. Pool Work

Another way to decrease body-weight impact during exercise is to hop into the pool. Swimming and water aerobics are one of the best total-body workouts that carry little fall risk. Most gyms offer group pool workout classes that can be dynamic and engaging. Good for the heart, too.

5. AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill™

Perhaps the safest way to control fall risk is training with the Anti-Gravity Treadmill. Under the supervision of a trained physical therapist, patients and athletes can reduce body-weight impact in 1% increments. Thanks to a sturdy harness, participants can walk or run unrestricted by fear of falling or pain and make adjustments to their gait on the fly.

This is just a small sampling of the many exercises suitable for people with higher fall risk. Have fun and mix it up to keep things interesting. Explore different muscle groups and systems to target, both upper and lower body. The main thing is to keep moving in safe and rewarding ways.

Why Your Body Needs Rest Days

There is a hero in us all that loves to “just push through.” Push through the pain. Push through the fatigue, soreness, and hunger. While there is nothing wrong with a strong work ethic, it can be a mistake to push on at the expense of much needed rest and recovery.  Among the many reasons why your body needs rest days, here are five that might give you pause the next time you want to skip a day off.

1. Avoid Overuse Injuries (and Overtraining Syndrome)

Working out too much can push your muscles, bones,  and ligaments, leading go overuse injuries. Think tennis elbow, tendonitis, sprains, and tears. It can also lead to overtraining syndrome, a common condition that can include dragging fatigue, sleep disruption, and mood swings (among other symptoms).

2. Restore Muscle Tissue

Have you ever gotten the feeling after a day or two off that you return that much stronger and more energized? During nearly any kind of training, inflammation and even small tears occur in muscle tissues. During rest, the healing and regeneration of these muscles is what allows us to build strength, endurance, and muscle mass.

3. Replenish, Refuel, Hydrate

Rest days are also an opportunity to replenish the things your body needs to recover. A diet rich in lean protein, fruits, and vegetables will provide some of the calories, vitamins, and nutrients lost during exercise. Of course, you should continue drinking ample water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Not only will diet and water intake help you recover, it will prepare you for tomorrow’s workout, too.

4. Get Your Mind Right

Time away from the physical challenge and psychological strain that accompanies exercise, workout regimens, and sporting activities can do wonders for the mind. A bit of mental rest can recenter your memory, focus, and motivation that might suffer if you burn yourself out. Take a full day off and feed the mind with positive stimulation.

Taking a day off when your body needs rest isn’t a sign of weakness, or quitting—it’s smart. The world’s top athletes and trainers swear by it (alongside proper nutrition and hydration). Just getting a bit more sleep every night can make a world of difference in you mood, energy level, and motivation.

How long? Allow one to two days between working out the same group of muscles. These rules vary depending on type of exercise and body type, so it’s always a good idea to check with your physician or physical therapist to confirm.

Either way, rest is essential to better performance. Put it all together and you’ll come back stronger than ever.

5 Tips for Reducing Joint Pain During Exercise

For most people living an active lifestyle, there comes a time when the joints start talking. It could be the knees, hips, and ankles; or it might be your elbows, shoulders, and wrists. No matter our sport or exercise of choice, we rely on our joints tremendously. And like any other body part, joints are prone to wear and tear, damage, and decline.

While joint pain is often associated with conditions like rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis, overtraining, fatigue, and other factors can also cause joint pain. Even one’s diet can have a significant impact on joint strength and dexterity.

5 Ways to Reduce Joint Pain During Exercise

Let’s start here: if you have joint pain during exercise, it’s unwise to just take extra-strength painkillers and power through. Try, rather, to get to the root of the issue. If your joint pain cannot be resolved completely, managing the symptoms is the next best option. And this requires listening to your body and, in many cases, changing your approach to exercise entirely.

  1. Reassess What’s Best For You – There’s a fine line between “just living with” joint pain and doing lasting and irreparable damage. Give your body a rest and go talk to your physician or physical therapist to determine what’s best for your specific symptoms. Your current regimen might be doing more harm than good.

  2. Don’t Skip Warmup Or Cooldown – Besides avoiding injury, a good warmup and cooldown routine can help increase blood flow to your joints and prevent swelling, stiffness, or soreness later on.

  3. Avoid Too Much Repetition – Pounding the pavement on long runs, day after day, can worsen a problem like joint pain. Though activities like running and cycling are beneficial in many ways, it might be time to mix it up a little. Try incorporating a lower impact routine, such as yoga, tai chi, or swimming.

  4. Avoid Overtraining – Mixing up your routine is also a good way to avoid overtraining. Apart from other negative consequences on the body, overtraining can worsen joint pain during exercise. Make sure to get adequate rest between workouts!

  5. Reduce Body-Weight Impact – Excessive body weight and gravitational impact can also intensify joint pain. During resistance exercise, try reducing the weight you are lifting. Another alternative is to take to the water, as buoyancy helps reduce body-weight impact as well.

Related Article: Exercises and Movements for Managing Juvenile Arthritis

A Smarter Way to Reduce Body Weight Impact

While water-based exercises can help reduce joint pain during exercise, the AlterG® Anti-Gravity Treadmill can be particularly effective. Using Differential Air Pressure technology, AlterG treadmills allow you to incrementally reduce body weight impact during walking and running exercises up to 80%. Learn more about Anti-Gravity Treadmills from AlterG.

How to Warm Up Like a Professional Runner

Whether you’re a casual runner or an aspiring professional, it’s important to warm up before you run. A good warm up is one of the most overlooked elements of a well-rounded exercise regimen. Here’s a closer look at how professional runners warm up. We encourage you to borrow tips for your own warm-up routine, no matter what kind of exercise you are doing.

Why Warm Up Before You Run?

We like to think of it as priming the pump. You simply cannot expect to perform optimally without getting the blood flowing and loosening up the muscles. This is especially true if you are competing, or getting serious about improving running times. Indeed, a good warm up can help:

  • Focus the mind
  • Prevent injury
  • Improve performance
  • Increase longevity

A Few Tips on How to Warm Up Like a Professional

Whether you are a professional, amateur, or casual runner, applying the following three principles will enhance the efficacy of your warm-up. They will give it structure and give you room to tailor the warm-up to your specific exercise or sport.

  1. Don’t Rush It – When preparing for longer distance events, some professionals will spend the good part of an hour warming up. Though this might be overkill for the casual enthusiast, it’s still important to build enough time into your own runs—however long they are—to allow for an adequate warm-up.

  2. Walk or Jog Lightly – Give it about five or ten minutes to get the blood flowing. As an alternative, you can jump on a treadmill or stationary bike, or complete a five- or ten-minute jump roping routine.

  3. Keep it Dynamic – The dynamic warm up has grown rather ubiquitous in recent years. You’ll find it on football fields, track and field events, even swim meets. The dynamic warm-up is designed to target the muscles used during a specific sport or exercise. Runner’s World has a great dynamic warm-up routine on their website.

 

Bonus tip: Don’t forget the cool down! A good cool down routine after the workout can help prevent soreness and stiffness the next day and aid your body’s recovery processes. It’s also one of the most oft-overlooked elements of a running or exercise routine.

Back to School! How to Deal with Youth Sports Injuries

First, the bad news: summer is nearly over. Sigh. For parents, this means everything is about to get a whole lot busier—everything. Back to school preparations. Rides to and from activities, sports, and clubs.  

With everything going on, the last thing parents need is an injury or illness. A kid coming down with the flu is one thing. But a broken leg suffered at soccer practice is something different altogether.

Avoiding youth sports injuries, and understanding how to deal with them when they do happen, is a major consideration for any parent. Here are some important considerations.

Thinking of Getting Your Child Involved in Youth Sports?

Good on you! There are many benefits to participating in youth sports. Apart from helping kids stay healthy and fit, kids can also find fulfillment in the camaraderie and socialization that comes with being part of a team. According to the National Council of Youth Sports, youth sports can boost physical health, social well-being, psychological health, and even academic performance.

Yet, youth sports are not without risk. Stanford Children’s Health highlights some eye-opening injury statistics youth sports:

  • Approximately 30 million children and teens participate in organized sports, resulting in more than 3.5 million injuries annually (United States) 
  • Approximately 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries among American children are the result of sports and rec activities

The riskiest sports? In an article in TODAY, Dr. Bennet Omalu listed American football, ice hockey, mixed martial arts, boxing, wrestling, and rugby as sports to avoid until the age of 18. And though contact sports carry higher risk, a child can suffer an injury no matter what sport they play.

Common Youth Sports Injuries

The most common injuries will vary by sport. Common basketball injuries, for example, will likely differ from those of swimming. Generally speaking, there are two types of youth sports injuries:

  • Acute
  • Overuse

Acute injuries are usually the result of collision or a certain movement. Examples of acute injury include fractures, sprains, and contusions. Overuse injuries, on the other hand, result from repetitive motions and repeated stress put on a particular part of the body. Tennis elbow is a good example, as is tendonitis.

How to Reduce the Risk of Youth Sports Injuries

There are a number of precautions that parents can take with their children to prevent youth sports injuries. We’ve organized them into three broad categories:

  • Diet and hydration. A child’s nutrition impacts their everyday life, including sports performance. Without proper nutrition and hydration, the body does not have what it needs to stay strong and resilient during athletic activity. This contributes directly to injury risk. 
  • Preparation. There is a reason we stretch before going out for a run, or exercise at the gym. If we just jumped right into it, we’d likely injure ourselves. The games for youth sports, where stretching, strength and conditioning, and practice can help limit injury risk. 
  • Protection. Helmets, pads, and other protective gear is crucial, even during practice. This is especially true for contact sports like American football.

My Child Suffered an Injury – Now What?

Many common injuries do not require any kind of escalation. The old formula—rest, ice, compression, elevation (RICE)—will usually suffice. RICE and time.

When a child suffers an acute or overuse injury that requires therapy, however, you might consider physical therapy. Finding the right therapist will require a little work. We recommend look for clinics that specialize in sports rehabilitation and pediatric therapy.

You might also refine your search based on what tools and approaches a clinic uses. Some clinics leverage the Anti-Gravity Treadmill™ for pediatric rehab, helping adolescents overcome pain resulting from sports injury or other conditions. The best way to find out is to just ask.

AlterG® Anti-Gravity Treadmill and Youth Sports Injuries

Whether it’s a young person or seasoned professional, the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill can be highly effective in rehab for athletes. Using unweighting technology, the Anti-Gravity Treadmill can be fine tuned to enable rehab while limiting the risk of re-injury or discomfort. Plus, what better way to convince kids to go to the physical therapist than to tell them they’ll get to walk on air!

Yes, the fall is here. The best way for parents to prepare for the bumps and bruises to come (and they will come!) is to stay informed and be prepared. Information is power, and knowing what to do when youth sports injuries do happen can help shorten rehab cycles and get kids back on the playing field sooner rather than later.