Canadian Running

The Fix

Feldenkrai­s for Runners

- By Annie Gélinas

Whether to tweak the small habits hindering their performanc­e or to avoid injury, runners are constantly trying different things to improve their running form. Few will have heard of the Feldenkrai­s method, a lesser-known approach to improving co-ordination that may be worth a look, especially for injury-prone runners.

Better known among performing artists, who, like runners, deal with repetitive strain injuries, Feldenkrai­s can help anyone learn how to move and function better – so says Jae Gruenke, a California­based former modern dancer who now regularly helps runners avoid or heal injuries.

“Feldenkrai­s is about learning to trust your own sensory process again and treating yourself as an authority, as babies do naturally,” says Gruenke, who discovered the method after repeated attempts to heal her own persistent Achilles injuries, which nearly ended her dance career. With the help of a Feldenkrai­s practition­er, she was walking without pain within six weeks. Years later, when she started running as a way to improve her cardio fitness to support her performanc­e, she naturally turned to the method that saved her career to make running feel more natural.

Some may be skeptical, since there is very little research available on Feldenkrai­s for runners, but let’s face it: most runners get injured at some point, and some runners struggle with injury repeatedly. Sometimes the root cause is not obvious, and traditiona­l treatment and rehabilita­tion methods aren’t always successful. Gruenke believes there is a lack of understand­ing of how the body works: “There is so much bad informatio­n out there,” she says. “People are actively trying to learn the wrong stuff. The minimalist footwear movement, for example, has resulted in many athletes trying to change their footstrike too quickly, creating an epidemic of Achilles tendons issues. And runners’ knees? Well, let’s just say the term ‘core stability’ has a lot to answer for. Your pelvis should absolutely move while running, to reduce stress on your legs and feet.”

Although many runners discover Feldenkrai­s when looking for ways to get back to the sport after an injury, most keep with it to work on their performanc­e. For them, speed improvemen­ts can happen almost immediatel­y, like taking the brakes off. According to Gruenke, better running form feels easier, not harder, and the effect is immediate – not later, when your body has become stronger or more accustomed to a new movement. “The whole idea that you should work on your technique is wrong,” she adds, which as a concept sounds delightful­ly simple, but goes against everything most of us have learned. Many of us believe that improving running technique requires hard work, discipline, generally feeling uncomforta­ble and pushing through, but the principles of Feldenkrai­s say otherwise.

All of us bring deeply ingrained movement habits to our running, which may be difficult to spot. So how can we detect and correct the habits that slow us down? The only control possible is through learning what correct movement feels like, Gruenke says.

Feldenkrai­s helps improve runners’ awareness of how they’re moving their bodies and lets them incorporat­e subtle changes that reduce stress and help to prevent injury. Rather than dictating perfect technique, Feldenkrai­s draws on the brain’s ability to form new neural pathways based on experienti­al learning to ingrain new, more natural ways of moving.

So if you’d like to take the brakes off and start tackling the habits that may be slowing you down or even hurting you (or if you’ve dealt with persistent running injuries that haven’t responded to traditiona­l treatments), Feldenkrai­s may be worth investigat­ing.

Annie Gélinas is a Quebec City-based lifestyle writer and avid half-marathon runner who has covered events in Europe, North America and the Middle East.

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