Canadian Running

The Fix

Feldenkrai­s for Run­ners

- By Annie Géli­nas Health · Running · Lifestyle · Healthy Living · Fitness · Athletics · Sports · North America · United States of America

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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