Hips, Model-Ts, and Ferraris
I had a conversation a few years ago with a non-runner friend whom I would have to describe as – let me be gentle here – “somewhat fluffy.” We were discussing our respective eating habits, which were about as far apart on the health spectrum as you could get, and I could not help but marvel at his apparent immunity to any apparent deleterious effects from his diet. Nothing seemed to bother him or cause the slightest gastric distress. I, on the other hand, was always acutely aware of the ramifications of one-too-many french fries, the extra slice of strawberry cheesecake. The consequences of these infrequent lapses in dietary discipline were always most noticed during my next run.
My friend explained this phenomenon concisely by making a simple analogy. “You’re a Ferrari,” he said. “You need premium fuel to run fast and smooth. You put “Cut-Rate” gas into your tank, your engine’s gonna start knocking, your power’s gonna go down, you’re not gonna go 90 instead of 140 mph like you want. Me, I’m a Model-T. I can put anything in this machine and if it only goes 25 instead of 30 mph, who could tell the difference?”
I’ve always been fond of this explanation (especially the part about me being a Ferrari!) for most runners’ seeming hypersensitivity to gastronomic variations. I’ve also always thought this analogy works just as well to illustrate the potential effects of biomechanical irregularities on runners compared to more sedentary people.
What exactly are we talking about when we speak of “biomechanical” problems? As the term suggests, we are referring to improper postural alignment and/or movement patterns in living organisms. The effects of these anomalies are similar to those experienced with less-living entities such as, say, automobiles. A car with improperly aligned axles may lead to a variety of problems: shimmying at high speeds, uneven tire wear, premature destruction of bushings (or bearings … rotors … whatever – I know nothing about cars other than the hundreds I had to pay the repairman for this last year!). It stands to reason that the harder and longer you run the vehicle, the more likely a breakdown will occur. In addition, the greater the degree of axle misalignment, the sooner you will be reaching for your Mastercard.
The same principle holds for people (and probably horses as well). A mild pelvis-hip (your axles) misalignment may never cause grief to the average sedentary person, while the 70 mile-per-week runner develops sciatica. A more moderate imbalance may still not affect the couch potato, but will now cause problems for the 30 mile/week runner.
Once a problem such as this develops, the average runner would be hard pressed to perform a self-evaluation to determine the exact nature of the biomechanical fault, correct it, recover from the injury and get back to running – no matter how many books he reads. What she could do, however, is pay attention to some simple postural principles to prevent such injuries. Here are a few to think about:
Stand on both feet evenly. Many people, especially women, often put most of their weight on one leg, with the other knee and hip flexed, as they stand. This isn’t so terrible, though still not advisable, if you keep switching sides equally, but if you habitually favor one side, you lengthen the hip abductors on one side while shortening those on the opposite hip. This can lead to a whole host of problems.
Same for crossing your legs. Women tend to cross one leg flush over the other when sitting in a chair. Men generally sit with just the foot on top of the opposite knee with the thigh and leg parallel to the ground. Could this explain why most women exhibit a predominance of internal hip rotation, while men show the opposite? Maybe, maybe not, but one thing is almost certain: crossing one particular leg over the other habitually leads to hip and pelvis imbalances.
Don’t let kids “W” sit. Youngsters love to sit on the floor in this position – feet to the outside of their knees. The long-term result may be an imbalance of the hip rotators plus a torsioning of the tibia as the child grows that will affect foot position when standing, walking, or running. Adults, too, should avoid sitting like this, even if it is only one leg to the outside.
Keep these simple tips in mind and you’ll be much less likely to develop the kind of “axle” misalignments that could keep you from running like a Ferrari. Of course, you need to go light on the french fries, too!