Sports Biomechanics is a science that focuses both on increasing your performance as an athlete along with minimizing chances of injuries. It helps to understand your sporting movement, and any relevant working forces in running (and other sports, but running is the best obviously). The results are then utilizes such forces in a proper, efficient manner to maximise your sporting (or running) advantage with least chance of injury.
Don’t get too excited, I’ll start with the basics; a brief introduction of a biomechanical assessment, and running analysis. However the later sections of this article gets juicy, pertaining important biomechanical mistakes that are observed commonly in runners. A well rounded, solid understanding of biomechanics will really help you to avoid simple mistakes; running faster, and safer.
The initial steps of analysis of any sport is observation of movement, usually this is recorded (to help slow down each movement as well as a priceless visual aid to educate you, the runner, what was observed and needs addressing for running form). These biomechanical assessments provide the safest and quickest possible way for meeting your personal run performance goals.
In terms of instruments, there is a vast range of state of the art biomechanical equipment dedicated to focusing on one particular aspect of sport movements, such as:
- High frame rate sports cameras,
- Force platforms,
- Wireless IMU sensors
And many more.
However, the simplest tool to observe gross mistakes in running are high frame rate cameras. The high frame rate (100 to 500 Frames Per Second [FPS]) is essential to slow down the recording of running movement for thorough observation of mistakes (if any).
Some of the available models of high speed cameras are:
- Phantom Miro LC320
- Sony cameras
- Simi cameras
Scientifically, observation of any sport movement without taking in account forces responsible for the movement, is known as kinematic study (Or video analysis) Kinematic analysis of your running pattern will reveal your movement mistakes, without any data on forces. Nowadays, mobile phone cameras with high frame rate recording up to 250 FPS, are good enough for kinematic studies.
For scientific analysis, (more than just your phone) a specialized software like Dart fish, Tracker, Physmo Kinovea is required for the analysis of sport movement. These cameras along with digitising sports software give comprehensive information like displacement, velocity, acceleration, joint angles instantly.
Biomechanical mistakes to avoid
The term ‘Biomechanical mistakes’ simply means inefficient use of optimum running posture or improper utilization of forces during a movement (neither are your fault, by the way). The forces (both internal and external) impact your run performance by their influence on your mechanics.
Some forces can lead to significant injuries, falling victim to improper running mechanics. And the most commonly observed mistake found?… In your running foot-ground striking patterns.
Ground or foot Striking Pattern mistakes
Running speed is the function of your stride length and frequency. So, elevating any of the these will inevitably increase your speed. However, wilful increase in stride length often leads to inefficient ground striking patterns, as they mechanically act as breaking forces in the forward running motion.
These breaking forces result in horizontal deceleration, thereby, affecting velocity and overall performance of an athlete. There are 3 main patterns of foot strikes, they are categorized on the basis of various portions of the foot that initially contacts the running surface.
- Rearfoot (heel strike)
- Mid foot strike
- Forefoot strike
contacting the ground with the lateral aspect of the heel.
initially contacts the ground across the metatarsal heads with the heel subsequently contacting the running surface.
initial contact on the metatarsal heads but the heel never touches the ground.
There is a debate on scientific advantage of these foot strike patterns but rearfoot strike (heel strike) have been reported to be most inefficient foot strike patterns biomechanically.
If you have a heel strike technique during running, you will definitely benefit from going to get a biomechanical assessment, and alter your mechanics! It is also worth noting, that if you are not a natural heel-striker but increase your stride length, you will automatically land on heels, voila! Heel striker. So keep an eye on your stride lengths, short steps are better.
Landing on your heels leads to generation of high impact ground reaction forces which directly affects your knees in long run (no pun intended). Secondly, heel strike patterns increase your ground contact times (the time period for which you make contact with ground during running). Increase in ground contact times leads to decrease in speed and overall decline in running… not ideal.
For peak and safe running performance follow these rules
- Don’t over-stride and let your feet get ahead of you: When your feet land in front of your knees, you’re effectively putting on the brakes with every foot strike (due to heel striking), sending a major impact to your knees.
- Don’t over lift your knees when you run: Lifting your knees, make your feet hit the ground in front of your body and you’ll, again, be putting on the brakes with every stride.
- Avoid foot splay during running: If your feet splay, it can create knee pain because you are torquing your knees with every foot strike. Always aim to run with your feet pointed in the direction you’re headed. It might sound obvious but this type of mechanical habit can significantly increase your chance of injury. Training for alignment is key here, and best to be worked with a run coach or biomecahnical analyst.
- Adopt fore foot or mid foot strikes: The forefoot as well as midfoot strikes have been observed to be most beneficial in terms of both performance as well as injury prevention for sprinters. Both of these ground striking patterns are economical in nature and cause significant reduction in impact peak and loading rate. Biomechanically, both of these foot patterns help in deceasing ground contact time, thereby, minimising breaking forces and maximising speed.
- Work on stride frequency for speed gain: Recent studies have evidenced increase in stride frequency via shortening stride length is an effective strategy that could improve performance and prevent chances of running injuries. The decrease of stride length leads to decline in horizontal distance between their centre of mass and the point of ground contact. This technique helps to boost horizontal acceleration along with decline in breaking forces.
Focusing on all of above biomechanical points and you will certainly boost your running performance and minimize biomechanical running injuries.