Can you run? Of course you can. It's a natural activity. But running well requires a blend of endurance, strength, coordination, flexibility and balance. And these are all attributes that a modern lifestyle does its best to compromise.
While our ancestors spent hours roaming the plains, we spend hours slumped in front of a computer or TV. It's little wonder our bodies aren't perfectly attuned. Nor that most of the time, we are unaware of the fact. Why does it matter? Because misuse - and disuse - of the musculoskeletal system won't enable you to perform to your full running potential and, worse still, may see you stepping ever closer to injury.
Check your competency
"It's all about physical competence," says running coach and movement specialist Kelvin Giles (movementdynamics.com), whose former guises include UK national athletics coach and director of track and field at the Australian Institute of Sport. "We need to think about function before force."
Jon Shelby from CrossFit (crossfit.com), a strength and conditioning system currently taking the UK by storm, agrees. "There's an issue with runners concentrating too much on running, rather than taking a more balanced approach to training," he says.
Run-proof your body
The first step in run-proofing your body is identifying your weaknesses. That's what led Giles to develop the Physical Competency Assessment, a wide-ranging battery of tests that identify possible weak links in the kinetic chain for people in all sports.
"The tests expose limitations in a variety of movements that are the underlying basics of good running mechanics," explains Giles, who has assessed a wide variety of sportspeople. In a study on rugby players, it was found that those who fared poorly in the assessment had a greater incidence of injury later on.
If you've been running for a while and have yet to succumb to injury, you may already have a high level of physical competency. But not necessarily, according to Giles. "The body is clever," he says. "It will always find a way to compensate for poor movement patterns, which, in the long term, can cause degeneration and trauma in muscles and joints." In other words, you can run without good hip, knee and ankle alignment, but it's a risky game to play.
Here's an example. For an efficient running stride, you need sufficient mobility in the ankle joint. Let's say your calves are as tight as guitar strings. Your body allows the knees to roll inwards to achieve the necessary range at the ankles. It's your body's way of cheating. Those inwardly rotating knees will create shearing forces within the joint, predisposing them to injury.
And they will also have an effect further up the body, because the hips, which are required to flex and extend the legs, are now trying to keep the pelvis stable to prevent it following the inward roll of the knees. But something has to facilitate that hip extension - and next in line comes the lumbar spine.
"A lumbar spine going into unnecessary extension under load is the last thing we want," says Giles. "The lumbar region is the foundation of the spinal column, providing stability, while the body parts above and below it provide the required mobility."
Everything is connected - from head to toe. "We should build physical competence from the ground up," says Giles. "That way, we can reduce injury risk and enhance our experience of running."
The following tests are taken from Kelvin Giles' Physical Competence Assessment Manual (£34.95, Movement Dynamics). A score of 4 or 5 in each test is desirable, while lower scores suggest the area needs work. The manual contains 55 tests and detailed instructions. It is available from movementdynamics.com.
Picture credit: Peter Griffith/ Getty Images