The 12 Standards for Runners: Part 4

To be ‘Ready to Run’ we need an honest assessment of our health and mobility. We’ve already looked at the first 6 standards:

Today it’s on to the ankles and then the all important warming-up & cooling down:

Standard 7: Ankle Range of Motion

There’s no mystery as to why our ankles need special attention but this turns out to be tough. Kelly Starret says meeting this standard may take some work and patience and so it is — with me at least.

Test #1 checks ‘plantar flexion’.

  1. Get into a kneeling position with your feet tucked under your legs.
  2. Both feet must be straight
  3. That’s it.

This first test was no problem for me but the second, which tests flexibility in the reverse direction, is much more of a challenge.

Test #2 focuses on ‘dorsiflexion’ and requires getting into the ‘pistol position’ — which is a full-flexion single leg squat.

  1. Stand with your feet together
  2. Drive you knees outward and go down into a squat
  3. Keep your heels on the floor
  4. Extend one leg into the pistol position (straight)
  5. Switch legs

You might find (like me) that you don’t have enough range through the ankle to get into this position. I can squat with a wide stance easily enough but having the feet together requires much more ‘dorseflexion’ than I currently have.

I assumed that everyone would find this standard difficult but Gold Coast resident and fitness enthusiast, Muky, gracefully got into perfect position without any effort whatsoever. She then went on to encourage me with such helpful comments as: “What, you can’t do this? What’s so hard about it? You really can’t do it? What’s wrong with your legs?” etc etc. Never mind, we all have our own challenges to deal with…onward!

Standard 8: Warming up or Cooling down

This standard requires little explanation. You need to warm up and cool down every single time you run. This is something that I need to remember. I have always been a fan of the ‘first mile is the warmup’ school.

The more intense the expected exercise the longer the warm up/cool down

Starett recommends jump rope as a suitable warm up for running as it wakes up the foot strike and heats up the soft tissue in the lower body but any light dynamic movement that activates the body would be fine.

Until tomorrow!

The 12 Standards for Runners: Part 3

Runners!

We’ve looked at the ‘Ready to Run’ standards of neutral feet, flat shoes, a flexible thoracic spine and an effective squatting technique over the past two days.

Today it’s all about the hips.

Standard #5: Hip Flexion

The group of muscles that make up the ‘Hip Complex’ are umm… complex. Just look at the diagram:

But while other muscles get more attention, these muscles can cause many, many problems. If you sit for hours a day you probably have issues with the proper functioning of your hip flexors — I know I do.

The first standard here is to do with hip flexion. When we sit our hips are in a state of flexion —but at 80–90 degrees, not enough to meet the standard of 120 degrees.

The hip flexion test:

  1. Stand with braced neutral spine and feet apart
  2. Pull one knee to your chest
  3. Drop your hands to your side and hold for 30 seconds
  4. Change legs
  5. Done!

This is also a test of balance which can be ramped up by closing your eyes.

Standard #6: Hip Extension

The previous standard posed no problem for me but extension is another story.

The hip flexors of most people who spend most of the day sitting will be as tight as piano wire. This tension restricts natural running cadence and interferes with muscular coordination and stability.

There’s no test for this standard but Kelly Starret offers a ‘weapons-grade’ technique for opening up the hip and improving hip extension.

It’s called ‘The Couch Stretch’ and he recommends it as part of your maintenance

There’s tonnes of mobility exercises in ‘Ready to Run’ but the book’s co-author, T.J Murphy, calls the couch stretch the best of them all.

Here’s Kelly Starret describing it:

Doing this exercise daily and having regular breaks from sitting will go a long way to bringing the hip flexors back in line.

Good luck!

The 12 Standards for Runners: Part 2

Being ‘Ready to Run’ isn’t simply setting off out the door with an iron maiden singlet and neon sweat bands — nope, some work is involved.

Yesterday I shared the first two standards: Neutral feet and flat shoes. Today it’s the thoracic spine and an efficient squatting technique.

Standard #3: A Supple Thoracic Spine

The thoracic spine (t-spine) runs through the middle of your back. Most runners concentrate on the lower body and core but apparently when it comes to maintaining a neutral, balanced running position the t-spine is key.

Many of us spend much of the day with heads down (on mobiles) and shoulders rolled forward, tightening our t-spines.

To breathe some air into your t-spine:

  1. Stand straight, squeeze your shoulder blades together with arms reaching up.
  2. Place your arms back into a neutral position with correct shoulder position
  3. Align your head and breathe…ahhhhh

A tight, inflexible t-spine passes tension down the all important posterior chain and the longer you go (during runs and in life) the worse it gets.

I skipped through this standard on the first read through which I think was a mistake. I am working on it now and the more I do, the more I am noticing how much work I need to do on my own alignment. This standard goes beyond running, reminding us that good posture and healthy alignment is the foundation of all mobility.

Standard #4 An efficient Squatting Technique

A deep squat requires functional hips and ankles —both prerequisites for being ‘Ready to run’.

Can you pass Standard #4?

Test #1: A single squat:

  1. Stand with feet just outside your shoulders (neutral or slightly open)
  2. Activate posterior chain (turn on arches, hamstrings, glutes, core)
  3. Drive knees outward (not inward)
  4. Drop hips slowly below plane of knees without extending your knees over the feet.
  5. Hang out in the squat
  6. Use support if you need to and take it slow at first

But, can you maintain good form when fatigued?

Test #2: ‘The Tabata Squat Test’:

  1. Warm up
  2. Do 10 correct squats in 20 seconds
  3. Rest 10 seconds.
  4. Continue for 4 minutes (80 squats)

Starett suggests videoing yourself to check form. Any squats with poor form (inward collapsing knees, knees going beyond toes or arches lifting off the ground) don’t count. It’s tough to get through the 4 minutes but completely doable — even if you don’t have a history of squatting (like me).

As well, try spending 10 minutes a day ‘relaxing’ in a squat.

There you go. Two more standards. Until tomorrow!

The 12 Standards for Runners: Part 1

I’m re-reading Kelly Starret’s ‘Ready to Run’ at the moment and there’s so much great stuff here that I’m going to share some of it.

Starret teaches a performance-based running system built around restoring muscular balance, natural motion and daily self maintenance. The book is his practical guide to life-long, injury-free running.

There’s 12 standards that need to be meet before someone is ‘Ready to Run’. Over the next few days I’ll summarise them. So get ready for a series of posts that absolutely nobody has asked for (except me!).

Today: Neutral Feet & Flat Shoes

Standard #1: Neutral Feet

A neutral foot position means your foot is straight.

Running with a neutral foot allows for better stability and efficiency of motion. Running with feet in unnatural positions puts more load on joints and connective tissues, causing problems over time. For most people, achieving this standard will take some adjustment. Getting there is made easier in combination with the second standard — the right shoes.

Standard #2 Flat Shoes

Billions of dollars of running shoes are sold every year. For all the marketing and hype there’s scant research to suggest that they help runners in any way. Instead, the cushioned running shoe with a raised heel that was developed in the 80s encouraged a generation of runners to land on the back of their feet (heels) instead of the front —shortening the achilles and reducing natural movement in the process. To test how unnatural that is, try 100 meters barefoot on hard ground and see how quickly your front foot strike returns.

Starret recommends ‘zero-drop’ shoes. No raised heels. And definitely no ‘flip-flops’ (jandals if you’re a kiwi). There are more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments in each foot — the most comprehensive motion-control stabilisation system you will find.

There’s a growing number of brands selling zero-drop running shoes but you need to hunt for them. Altra, Merrel, Inov-8 and Zero are some of the better known companies. I’ve tried several. Some, like Vivobarefoot, mimic barefoot running. Merrel seems to be the easiest to find where I am.

Transitioning to zero-drop shoes takes a little time but once you get used to zero-drop runners/shoes going back to standard runners feel unnatural and weird.

This is perhaps the easiest standard to tackle. Go to a shop buy some flat shoes and you’re on the way.

Tough Times for Hong Kong

Most people in Hong Kong supported the initial protests against the infamous extradition bill. Millions gathered after all. They were successful. The extradition bill is now ‘dead’. Ok fine.

But what started as a focused protest with clear objectives has deteriorated into thick-headedness. We’ve now got these radical pockets of protesters delighted to be part of a group, who go around shaking their fists, throwing sticks and generally causing nuisance.

What’s their agenda? Nobody seems to know. Some have spoken of freedom. Really? Freedom? The people shouting “freedom” should read some North Korean biographies for some perspective. OK, Hong Kong will always be part of China. There is no way that will ever change, but this is a great place to live with all the personal and professional opportunities you could ever hope for in an international city.

The irony here of course is that if the local Hong Kong government cannot uphold law and order according to the ‘1 country, 2 systems’ arrangement then China will have no alternative but to roll across the border — not exactly what the protestors had in mind. Let’s hope that the peaceful spirit of the initial protests returns before that happens.

Science News: Dark Chocolate reduces Depression

Chocolate lovers rejoice!

Results of a cross-sectional survey that have just been published show that eating dark chocolate is linked to up 57% lower chance of depressive symptoms. These findings were taken from the group that consumed the most chocolate (104–454 g/day) —surely far too much chocolate to be eating but let’s not let that get in the way of a good story!

The study was published here in Depression and Anxiety and has found its way into papers around the world. The researchers need further studies to establish causation but this at least seems to confirm chocolate’s mood enhancing effects.

But what is the best dark chocolate to eat I hear you ask? Easy — it’s Lindt Extra Dark 85%. So get to the supermarket, buy your 28 blocks for the week, and prepare yourself for waves of joy.

You’re welcome.

Song for Sunday via NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert

Nobody brings more joy to a musical performance than Jacob Collier and last week he brought the love to the offices of NPR.

In this, the latest instalment of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series, Collier and his merry band of stellar musicians play a short set of three songs.

To be honest I never love everything Collier does, but he consistently manages to create truly remarkable musical moments in each of his songs. The first track especially is just a beautiful performance and a fascinating example of what a supremely gifted musical mind can do when teamed with a group of sympathetic, like-minded musicians.

Listen to the first track “Make me Cry” for instant musical sunshine.