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The skill of running for field sport performance

Tuesday 10th March 2015
Running is a foundation skill for many field sports, but it is a skill that is seldom learned and often neglected. At the Sports Surgery Clinic we see many GAA players, who present themselves with injuries that stem from running with poor biomechanics.
 
With some running re-education, involving changes to running technique supported by running drills and a strength and conditioning programme; we see patients achieve a successful outcome. As well becoming injury-free, we help patients improve their performance by becoming better athletes.
 
Players in full stride
Inefficient movement comes with a high metabolic cost and early onset of fatigue. How often do we see players work rate drop or succumb to cramping in the final ten minutes of a game? It also comes with a high injury risk.
Many Strength and conditioning coaches rightly urge caution against loading resistance upon players who display poor functional movement.  But how many coaches are as cautious about loading volume and intensity on players who display poor running mechanics?
 
Player fatigued 
Many injuries occur simply due to biomechanical overload. Weak or inhibited muscles not doing the job they are supposed to do cause load to be transferred elsewhere.
Common overloaded areas include the shins, anterior knee, calf muscles and Achilles tendon, hamstring, lumbar spine and groin. A forward lean from the hips, landing with the foot too far in front of the body and poor control during single leg support; are common features.
 
Some acute injuries such as an ACL rupture or ankle sprain can occur due to neuromuscular fatigue enhanced by inefficient movement.
 
There is no one proper way to run, but there are some broad biomechanical principles that can optimize speed, power, efficiency, as well as minimize the risk of injury.
Every time we hit the ground force is applied. The output or force generated when we push off the ground must be close to the force applied. Any deficit is known as ‘energy leakage’.
 
 
Running Analysis at Sports Surgery Clinic
We must think of the muscles and tendons in our legs as a series of springs supported by a stable trunk. When we hit the ground these springs absorb the force and quickly recoil to develop an elastic energy response. In order to optimize this ‘spring stiffness’ and elastic energy response, certain body positions and alignment must be in place this.
Landing with a downward foot plant close to the body’s centre of mass, with the shin vertical to the ground; allows optimal elastic energy to be applied.
 
Maintaining a neutral ankle position (avoiding excessive dorsiflexion) and a slightly flexed knee and neutral torso position during mid-stance allows the elastic energy to be stored. An extended hip, knee and ankle when pushing off the ground, allows optimal force to be developed to propel the body forward.
 
The role of strength and conditioning has become more widespread in recent years to develop strength, power and for injury rehabilitation. But how much emphasis is placed on ensuring optimal technical transfer into running mechanics?
 
And when a player is rehabilitating from a biomechanical overload injury, does the S&C coach and physio look at making improvements to their running gait to reduce risk of reoccurrence?
Many coaches and players fall into the habit of a ‘gym-only’ approach as well as the on-field work, but perhaps neglecting the missing link of technical transfer.
There are many running drills that if correctly implemented, can help improve running mechanics to make a faster, more efficient, robust and less injury prone athlete. The drills need to be done with a purpose and in a timely and sequenced manner where optimal transfer can be achieved.
 
Having completed a strength and conditioning session on the previous day and some mobility and pre-activation during the warm-up, will ensure the body is in a more ready state to achieve good transfer from the drills. Some external cues and analogies can be very beneficial for motor learning of a new skill or movement pattern.
Changing running mechanics and maintaining those changes can be challenging and requires time. But by implementing drills, progressing them and adding variation will challenge the body to accept these new changes and make the movement robust and easier to sustain particularly under pressure and fatigue.
 
Once good ‘straight-line’ running has been achieved, multi-direction and multi-planar running drills can then be implemented to prepare for the game-specific demands of gaelic football and hurling. Improving running technique can not only reduce the risk of injury or injury re-occurrence, but can also improve performance. This can only result in a ‘win-win’ outcome for player, coach and medical team.
 
Watch videos of Running Drills listed below.
 
For further information or to book an appointment call 01 526 2040 or email physio@sportssurgeryclinic.com
 
Purpose: activates ankle plantar-flexion.
Purpose: acceleration mechanics and horizontal force.
Purpose: posture, single leg control and swing leg foot carriage.
Purpose: neuromuscular control and leg stiffness
Purpose: landing mechanics and to reverse over-striding
Purpose: foot placement and to shorten ground contact time.
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