top of page

Guide to Running Happy and Injury Free

Trent Corey PT, DPT

Xtra Mile Physical Therapy

The Math:

Suppose you’re a normal runner who takes about 160 steps per minute, and let's say you run for about 30 minutes, landing at an impact of 2-3x your body weight. As you can see, the amplitude of force and the repetition of force through your whole body is quite significant. Very quickly, we see steps x force reaching into the thousands of TONS over just a few running efforts, and if your strides are not performed correctly, we have repetition of loading that is asymmetrical through each of the joints of the body.

Therefore, it is absolutely imperative for any running rehabilitation plan to include adjustments to one’s stride. You can do soft tissue work and core work and any other strengthening, which will help; however if you do not get to the true root of biomechanical inefficiency and excessive loading then you are going to continue to struggle.

One of the most simple and effective programs that I have come across to help with making changes to one stride is ChiRunning. This incorporates the concepts of tai chi movement patterns to create proper alignment with relaxed movement. Instead of working to push off the legs and get the legs stronger, ChiRunning works to focus on your core to help you use gravity to help you fall forward. I strongly encourage anyone who's interested in changing their form to look into attending a ChiRunning workshop, or at least get the video or book by Danny Dreyer. It will be well worth the investment to go through the exercises and body focus drills that help you to do the things you need to do to becoming a more efficient runner.

Focus while running

A really important process to becoming a more efficient runner is to focus on things that seem to be awkward at first but become better with practice. A big part of this is finding out what your biomechanical faults are by having an evaluation done by physical therapist or running coach. Once we know what our tendencies are, then we must work to gently bring your consciousness to adopt the new patterns that are more efficient.

However, this is much easier said than done. I like to say to people that they have become very efficient at running inefficiently. Our bodies find ways to shift and go around our mechanical weaknesses and stiffness in order to achieve the goal of our brain, which is to bring us forward in the path of least resistance.

The key to making a change is to be very gentle on yourself, not hard on yourself like so many adult learners are. When a baby falls down, he or she does not throw in the towel right away like adults do. Therefore, we must learn to take each step as we are and to embrace the concept of gradual progress instead of expecting things to change overnight. Most of us have the goal of trying to run for very long distances and want to run for a very long time into much older ages. This means he must take a panoramic view of our lives as runners and realize that this initial investment in time and energy and money will pay off amazingly in good health and longevity with less injuries in the future.

A key of focus is obviously clarity: we must be absolutely clear on what we are trying to correct, which means it 1st we can only focus on one thing at a time. One focus I have runners work on frequently is to lean forward from the ankles is good alignment. I want my runners to focus on this right as I say this to them as they are running, but there's a catch: I only want them to focus on it for about a minute at a time during the run then forget about it for about a minute. The great thing to do is to set a timer for 1 min. or even 30 seconds and have your focus go in and out of that particular cues (ex lean forward). This way, your mind is brought back into focus each time you go in and out of it and you could feel the differences between leaning forward and not leaning forward.

As we could with one focus, we can add on another one, much like we get the backbeat of the music and then can join in with another instrument. Our minds are so complex and able to do so many things at once it is amazing! However, when we get our conscious mind locked up into thinking all the time, we are locking up our much more powerful non-conscious mind’s ability to do it all at once.

Eventually, after working on specific drills related to running with good form, all the complexities of hard focus starts to blend into a beautiful symphony of movement and you actually start to “get it”. And then it’s gone. But with reps and reps it starts to come back a little more naturally. The key is to be persistent.

Single Leg Balance

Running is a single leg activity. None of us are shuffling with both feet on the ground, levitating or hopping like a bunny. Therefore, it makes sense that we all need to be stable and balanced when we are on one leg for that fraction of a second before we go to stand on the other leg, then repeat over and over.

I have my runners of all abilities try to balance on one leg, and most who have been injured have difficulty staying upright for more than 1 minute. I really aim for all my runners to be able to stand for at least 2 minutes on one leg, especially with good control. When this gets easy, then you can try turning your head from side to side or closing your eyes.

It’s very important to have a great inner sense of where your body is in space, and there’s no better way of doing that than to stand on one leg.

Now, once you’re good at just standing there, then you can progress to more dynamic activities, like stepping down slowly off a 2 or 4-inch step. It seems pretty basic and simple, but many folks have a hard time doing it. Master this without your knee dipping inward, and you’ll improve your alignment for less strain in your hip, knee, lower leg and ankle/foot while running. (Attach pic of lateral and front step down)

Strength in the Butt

Most of us sit for a long time during the day, which turns off the gluteal muscles to do their job during gait. Therefore, we need to work these very large muscles to turn on properly when we need them to stabilize our stance on one leg while running.

This is achieved by many means, but my favorite is to tie a resistance band around the ankles and walk side to side (lateral walk…pic) and front to back with holding a wide stance (monster walk…pic) As you keep going, it will tire those butt muscles and get them working again. This is a great way to build up strength and to warm up before you head out the door for a run. I feel a ton different for my first few steps, and I get a greater sense of having my hips over my feet while running.

Flexibility and Strength: a New Perspective

I see most runners who tend to have tightness in their hips, hamstrings, calves and mid to lower back, with forward head position and tension in the upper trap and pectoralis muscles. Though this is not true of all runners, most have one, two, or ALL of these issues.

Obviously, we all know we need to stretch, but how? Really, my perspective is GOOD, BETTER, and BEST.

GOOD: Any stretching at all, of any duration whatsoever—you’d be amazed by the amount of runners I see who don’t stretch…period!!

BETTER: Stretching primarily after your run, for at least 15-20 minutes, with long holds of at least 30-60 seconds, on all primary muscle groups, symmetrically.

BEST: Total Motion Release Stretching: Looking at how the whole body moves as a whole, you do a stretch to the “Easy” side of either a twist, leg raise, arm raise, etc., then re-check the tighter side. It’s really amazing! Try it yourself, and let me know about it! Go to my physical therapy website, for ways that we can work together to make you a healthier and happier runner!

Trent Corey PT, DPT

Find Yourself Running, LLC

Xtra Mile Physical Therapy



bottom of page