Running Rewired: Reinvent Your Run for Stability, Strength & Speed
This might be bad news, but putting in a lot of running time is no guarantee that you are getting better at it. The brain and body work together to find the easiest ways to move, but to get the best running gait, you may need to rewire your brain’s messages. Don’t worry if this sounds scary, there is no surgery required.
Jay Dicharry is a physical therapist and researcher who identifies and plugs the unique holes in a person’s athletic performance potential.
“While this book is no substitute for a oneon-one running gait lab examination,” he explains, “there is a pattern to the problems that plague runners.”
In recent years, research has caused running records to fall faster than rain says Dicharry. “And if you harness this knowledge and change your training, ultimately your running times can change.” His practice of rewiring is based on the brain’s plasticity, or its capacity to adapt, in ways that significantly change long-established patterns.
Dicharry has first-hand experience with using the brain’s plasticity to re-learn fundamental and basic movements. After a severe head injury that put him in a coma, he could not walk in a straight line. His gait was no longer automatic and reflexive, and it took a lot of active thinking and practice to get him back to normal walking.
The acts of walking and running become largely subconscious once you get the hang of it. After that, lifestyle factors can bring about gait changes that again become subconscious, but might be detrimental. Even with simple movements, there are many components that need to stay in sync to support and facilitate each part’s role.
Dicharry describes fixing the gait of Wes, whose right iliotibial band was very painful during running. A foam roller and massage didn’t help. Someone noticed his right knee was collapsing inward, but correcting that created more pain. It turned out the real problem was that his hip was collapsing inward due to unplugged hip muscles.
“To plug the muscle back in, we need to teach it to work and coordinate it with the rest of the body,” explains Dicharry. A lot of sitting and a stiff right ankle joint further inhibited Wes’s tight hips and prevented a good push-off, leading to his legs swinging farther in front and less behind. This overworked his knee muscles which then didn’t steer straight.
To get his external rotators – responsible for steering the hips – plugged in again, Wes learned how to feel and engage his hip muscles through a very isolated movement. “Initially,” says Dicharry, “he couldn’t carry a conversation while doing it – while not hard physically, he found it tremendously difficult mentally.”
Two weeks of exercises led to Wes’s hips moving more smoothly, which helped him to develop a strongly planted foot. It still took extra thought, but after a month into practising the new movements, it was almost automatic, and Wes was extending his hips correctly and the pain was completely gone.
Dicharry provides ample photographs and illustrations for drills, workouts and tests to assess where gait corrections are needed. He cautions that there is considerable variability between people and cueing alignment requires understanding the idiosyncrasies of each individual: “Knowing what proper alignment looks like for you is really important.”—helen