A couple week ago, I was contacted by Sara, who does the social media for Finish Line Physical Therapy. I’ve heard all about FLPT from Jess, and she always has rave reviews about them. She had a giveaway for a few services that FLPT offers, including gait analysis. I entered the giveaway but was not chosen, but Sara emailed me and invited me to come in for a gait analysis and a run on the Alter-G treadmill.
The nerdy runner (runnerd…) in me squealed a little bit. I headed down to FLPT in Chelsea and was immediately welcomed by the front desk and their pretty looking office/studio/whatever you call a PT place.
After filling out some paperwork, we headed over to the Alter-G treadmill. Now, ever since I hurt my back last year, I’ve been interested in these little contraptions. In fact, I actually scouted some out in the midst of my non-running insanity, but apparently you pay ridiculous amounts of money to run on one at a gym. I love running, but I also watch my bank account sooooo…beer was cheaper.
Anyway, with my back injury, the main problem seemed to be that the impact of running would further aggravate the annular tear and I would literally be unable to move until the main subsided. As in, when my physical therapist finally caused the pain by having me run on a treadmill (he initially said, “You’re the only patient I’ve ever had that I can’t cause pain in.”), I jumped off the treadmill and held myself up by my arms because it hurt so much. My logic therefore said that if you reduced the impact, then I’d be able to run, even if it is only on a treadmill.
Coming from someone who hates hates hates the treadmill, that’s saying a lot. Anyway, back on track.
To run on the Alter-G, you wear these fancy shorts and get zipped into an air chamber that fills up based on what percentage of body weight you want to take off. To add to my geekiness, in the sixth grade I went to Space Camp (in Florida, and we got to see a shuttle launch) since I wanted to be an astronaut at one point in life. We played on all the simulators, my favorite being this pulley system one that simulated being weightless in space. You attached to a harness that had your weight in weights on the other side of a rope, so you could stand at the bottom of the wall, push up, and fly to the top. So. Much. Fun.
Oh yeah, back on track. You zip in and the air chamber pressurizes. Since I’m not actually injured (anymore! hooray!), they just let me play around with it…so I dropped myself down to 50% body weight, changed the pace, accidently hit the reverse button once. (Can’t take me anywhere…) My nerdy runner self loved it. At some points I felt like I was running on clouds, and it was cool to see the difference between full body weight and lighter percentages. Annnnd you can run really fast with much less effort at lower body weights. (Crash diet pending…)
It was fun and great to play around with a fancy machine that reminded me of my astronaut wannabe days. And if my back pain ever comes back…I know where I’m headed.
So next up on track was more…treadmill running! FLPT has a treadmill that can break down your gait (via video) and you can see how you’re running. You hop on the treadmill and run at a comfortable pace while it records you…then the moment of truth.
I’ve never seen myself run before (only in pictures, why don’t I look like Kara Goucher?), so i was a little nervous. I picture myself looking like a gazelle. Newsflash: I do not. Physical therapist extraordinaire Jason (who apparently is ridiculously fast, thank you Athlinks for that knowledge) walked me through my gait and potential problems with it.
I will now use pictures to attempt to illustrate the facts.
#1: My foot lands in front of my hip:
Can you tell that my foot doesn’t land right under my hip? (Red line for your enjoyment.) Apparently it is supposed to, and the problem with that is, when your foot lands in front of your hip, it puts on a bit of a braking motion which can slow you down. Also, that’s a lot of force being shot up your leg and into your hips/BACK. Oops. Noted: It’s not so much about your foot strike, but where your foot lands. Thank you, Jason, for not suggesting I change my foot strike.
Anyway, the cause of this is apparently not so much that you put your foot in front of your hip, but you’re not flexible enough to extend you back leg back further, so you have to put your front leg down quicker (therefore in front of you) in order to get your leg down and run faster. MAKES SENSE.
#2: Pull through at a 90 degree angle
Next up: The pull through on the leg should be at about a 90 degree angle to be efficient. It’s like a lever. It’s like physics. I didn’t do all that well in physics, but I remember enough to know that that makes sense. I got this one in the bag.
#3: The view from behind.
I have no pictures to illustrate this, but looking at yourself running from behind can show how stable your legs are when you run. Running is more or less a long series of single leg squats. Right? Right. Kind of. So anyway, when looking from behind and on slow motion, you can see that my right knee kind of collapses in (medially, in medical speak, or towards the left leg) when placed on the ground. This is a result of weakness in stabilizing those muscles…because running is basically only in one direction, so we develop those muscles. The problem with this movement is that some of your power/energy is spent stabilizing that leg instead of pushing off. Therefore, if you can strength those muscles and establish more balance, then your energy and power will be focused on pushing off, therefore making you faster.
And faster is what I like.
Clearly my gait isn’t absolutely miserable or else I wouldn’t be able to run for 16 years fairly injury free. However, there are some things I could work to become faster. (You say the words, “I can potentially help you run faster” and I will listen to anything you have to say.)
It makes sense to me that if you strengthen muscles to help stabilize your legs to prevent you from wiggling (so technical…) upon landing, then you will go faster. If you can focus all your motion/power on moving forward, then that will help with speed. I went back to FLPT on Monday and ran on the Alter-G again, followed by a basic series of lunges. Lots and lots of lunges. And then some more lunges. It all directions, then with rotation. All I could think about with lunges was being in marching band, doing warm-ups and the drum majors yelling, “It’s time for LUNGESSSSSS.” And then everyone groaning because no one likes them. (Anyone? Julianne?)
Lunges in place. Walking lunges. Lunges with rotation. Lunges with a small weight. (Like…one pound.) They all seemed pretty easy. Then we did a couple drills, including high knees. Brought me back to the high school days when the track team would all do plyometrics together, then the distance girls (me!) would head out for our long workout and the sprinters would go do something for ten minutes and go home. (Ha! Kidding. Maybe.)
Anyway, lunges went well and felt good and all that jazz. Until yesterday when, well, I realized there are muscles I haven’t used in a long time annnnnnd I used them on Monday. Hellooooo, soreness. Oops. But I guess that’s a good thing and means that I did some new moves…which will hopefully help in the long run. (Long run…get it? Anyone? Anyone? I’m not funny, it’s okay.)
Check out Finish Line Physical Therapy for all your running needs, your nerdy science needs, your PT needs, and your “I just want to be a better runner” needs. Everyone was super nice (that’s important!) and explained things quite well. Also, they offered me a tissue when my nose was running…it’s the little things, people.