As part of my ongoing rehab of my knee injury, my physical therapist referred me to a PT downtown who specializes in analyzing running form. Running has been getting less painful for me, but we thought it would be worthwhile to have my form checked out in case I was doing something to aggravate the healing injury.
The evaluation started with me filling out a form about my running history, which unfortunately didn’t include anywhere for me to brag about how great I think I was last season. I’m joking, of course, but filling out my current running information (2 minutes of running and 3 minutes of walking at a leisurely 10 minute mile pace) felt like I wasn’t telling the whole story. I wanted to write in a postscript: “And I need to be able to run a lot more way faster, okay?”
At any rate, I filled out my form and changed into running clothes. If you’re ever going in for one of these, make sure to wear shorts, as obviously the knees should be easily visible.
The PT started by pinning up the back of my tank top so he could see my lower back. I felt weird and exposed on a treadmill with my shirt half pinned up, but (and this became a mantra throughout the evaluation) I wanted to be able to run without pain more than I wanted to be modest.
After I’d warmed up a little bit, he had me run at my current 10 minute mile pace while he filmed me from several angles. He spent what felt like a long time behind me where I couldn’t see what was happening, filming my overall form, just my feet, and just my low back. Then he came to the side and did the same thing — first the overall form and then a zoom in on my feet. I was trying not to act like I was working very hard, because I felt like my pace was very slow, but it was the most running I’d done since before I’d been injured and I was getting out of breath.
After the first filming, he brought me to another room to watch the video in slow motion.
I’m not going to lie — the first relief was that I looked relatively fit on the screen. Since I’ve been unable to run or bike, I’ve been swimming as hard as I can, but I’ve still gained about 10 pounds. I’m not someone who focuses on weight (or at least I try not to be). I evaluate my body based on how functional it is at doing the activities I want it to. And I know that once I’m able to get back to my standard triathlon training, everything in my body will regulate itself again. But the truth is that last season when I was training so hard, I came up with all kinds of innovative ways to sneak extra calories into my food so that I was getting enough nutrition and I might not have stopped doing all of those.
At any rate: I looked fine on the video so let’s just move on.
My main diagnosis is that I am over-striding when I run. That means I’m taking steps that are too big. As a result, I’m striking the ground primarily with my heel, which means that my knee is pretty much straight and all the force from hitting the ground goes straight into my knee.
Related to this is that I’m also going up and down quite a lot when I run. That is, there’s too much vertical displacement of my body. He showed me the line of my shorts in slow motion, and I was making quite a large jump up and down.
He explained that I was running at about 164 steps per minute, but the ideal is about 180 steps per minute. I found it interesting that it apparently doesn’t matter how fast I’m running – the steps per minute should be about the same.
So what’s the cure? Well, I’ve been running with a metronome app that I downloaded. I have it set to about 175 bpm right now, because 180 is a little too drastic of a switch. I’ve been practicing this for about 2 weeks now, and although it originally felt incredibly awkward and uncomfortable, it’s gotten much, much easier. Today I had no pain while running for the first time since the injury, and it felt almost natural to run at about 175 steps per minute.
Increasing my cadence like this means that every step is a little shorter, which leads to me landing on the flat of my foot instead of the heel. Check out how that translates to a bent knee, putting the force of the impact on my quad instead of my joint.
Running (on a treadmill) to a metronome is not the most stimulating endeavor, so I started looking for songs at my desired pace. Well, you can try searching for that yourself, but 180 is certainly a very popular number, and many, many folks across the Internet have put together extensive playlists. Here are just a few.
I’ve just downloaded the Cadence app, which is, at this very moment, analyzing the music in my iTunes library to add the bpm to the songs’ metadata. I’ll let you know how it works out so that you don’t have to waste a few bucks on it if it sucks. 🙂
How about you? Do you all know about this magic 180 number already? Do you pick your running music based on your cadence needs?