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Arms control: A way to better biomechanics

Brom Hoban

If you're like most runners, you run to the exclusion of other forms of exercise even ones that can enhance your running ability. Do that long enough and you may develop biomechanical inefficiencies that affect your stride. To compensate, many runners begin overstriding, which is a leading cause of injuries, said Paul Carrozza, the owner of RunTex.

All this mayhem is easily preventable, though, if you include regular drills in your workouts.

"Your body uses push-pull mechanics to run, but it's got to stay in proper balance," said Carrozza, who also coaches Austin runners.

"After years of running, your back and your hamstrings get tight. Personally, I found I was using my upper body more and more to help ‘pull' myself along, instead of pushing from my hips. I've always been a big believer in performing running drills — specific exercises to address the running gait, but I recently discovered a new one that has really helped restore proper biomechanics."

Carrozza found that by using running drills that didn't involve the arms, he could teach runners to emphasize efficient striding and avoid overstriding.

"By taking your arms out of the picture, you're forced to focus on your legs," he said. That causes you to push off better. As a result, your hips get stronger, and you'll be able to open up your stride, but not overstride."

At a recent workout on the Texas School for the Deaf track, Carrozza took his training group through the paces. After an easy one- or two-mile warmup run to the track, the "armless" drills began. Runners circled the 400-meter track, first with hands on hips, then with hands on head, and finally, with hands clasped behind their backs.

Sounds easy, but it's fairly taxing if you're not used to it. And it does indeed force you to focus on a more efficient stride — one that emphasizes pushing off with the mid- or forefoot rather than landing on your heels.

"You can really see how you focus on just your legs to power you forward," said Jeff Dailey, a 61-year-old Austin runner who's competitive within his age group. "I've been doing the armless drills for a number of months now, and I feel that it's enhanced my (running) efficiency."

Carrozza mixes in more traditional drills as well, including:

Running sideways, which helps develop the inner and outer thigh muscles.

High heel kicks, which calls for runners to kick their heels up to their backsides as they run. This drill takes the hamstring muscles through a full range of motion and helps with the natural follow-through of the stride.

Skipping, to help develop the hip flexors, which draw the knee back as you push off the ground.

Running backward, which improves balance and works the muscle groups in opposition to the ones you normally use when running forward.

"I believe that by doing routine drill work for running, you can develop greater efficiency that leads to faster times." Carrozza said. "You'll see some immediate gains and continue to see benefits over time."

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Wednesday: Sunstroke Summer Stampede Race #11, 7 p.m. at Brushy Creek Trail, Cedar Park. www.summerstampede.com

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