Secret runners’ business: The dying art of movement

There’s a cruel irony in the fact that many business leaders often have their health and fitness compromised by the very jobs that mark them out as some of the more successful members of society.

In some cases success isn’t always good for you. In running, years of sitting at your desk, at meeting tables, or on flights between capital cities can be the worst possible medicine for your ability to run with good technique and avoid getting injured.

All that time on your backside isn’t good for your gluteus maximus, which in many individuals doesn’t really live up to its name at all. A withered posterior is often the prime suspect behind many common running afflictions such as pain on the outside of your knee and about the hips. This is all perfectly understandable: 10 to 20 years of sitting your way to the top is not going to be perfect conditioning for running. It’s not the end of the world and adopting a good strength training regime can be the perfect and effective antidote.

What’s more concerning is we’re increasingly seeing many young children exhibiting similar running injuries and compromised movement patterns to their parents. While it’s easy to understand and accept that long years of study and working in the office might lead to some physical decline, it’s not so great to see these issues emerging in our kids.

We have a steady stream of enquires about running technique problems and injury woes from parents of children involved in competitive ball sports such as Australian Rules football, soccer and basketball. These sports are built around the ability to sustain running throughout the game, accelerating and changing direction – often with someone pulling at your uniform! The issue is many of these children exhibit the same weak and unstable running patterns as a sedentary office worker. Why?

Kathleen O’Connell is a sprints coach who works extensively with junior athletes in school programs, Little Athletics and with young football, basketball and soccer players looking to improve their running ability. Kathleen and I believe that lifestyle factors, footwear with raised heels and too much support seem the leading candidates behind the deteriorating running ability of our young people. Screen-based leisure time (TV, social media and gaming) doesn’t help, nor does the practice of driving kids to and from school and their sporting commitments.

It’s not an easy issue to solve because there are legitimate safety concerns for parents to contend with – who wants their children on bikes in busy city streets?

I grew up in a country town where bike riding, climbing, walking and running about like a mad thing were usual practice. It didn’t make me a great runner, but I probably developed a baseline strength that helped me avoid some of the problems we see in the young athletes in our coaching practice.

Sport or running usually happened following a walk or bike ride that served a useful purpose in warming up the body and getting the muscles firing ahead of more intense physical activity. Today kids go from the couch to high-intensity football or basketball training – a real shock to the system.

A simple solution is to encourage more youngsters to get involved in athletics from an early age. Little Athletics and the junior divisions of state-affiliated running clubs are a great place for developing running strength and programing in good movement patterns for later in life. We’ve recommended to a number of parents that finding a balance between team-based ball sports and encouraging the development of running skill is a good way to approach things.

So rather than taking on too many team sports, devote some of the summer months to training for running with a local junior track coach. This can be an effective and fun way for children to develop the running strength and co-ordination that seems to be a missing part of modern life.


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