Monday, 3 June 2013

Get your feet moving

This weekend, I learned to run and it was fantastic! Malcolm Balk, a teacher of the Alexander Technique and runner with many kilometers in his legs shared his knowledge with us.

As with everything else my mind slipped over to riding and horse management during the work shop. To run is to bring many small detailes to form a whole and every detail is important for the quality of the whole.

Just as in riding, it is important to know in which direction the movement will take place. For a runner, there should be an upward direction in the body while we want to move forward. If we bounce with each step we are wasting energy. I thought Malcolm said that with a bouncy running technique during a marathon you are likely to have climbed up to the top of the Empire State Building (381 m) and down again.

When we run, there is very little free energy for us to use, compared to cycling for example we can let the bike roll from time to time without stopping completely. The small amount of free energy in running is developed when the achilles tendon is stretched as the heel touches the ground and is released when the heel leaves the ground. In order to make use of that energy, our foot fall needs to be both accurate and fast enough. If we stand for to long on our foot the free energy disappears into the ground and we'll have to work our way to the next step. Besides making it harder to run if we waste the free energy our shock absorbing is decreased and  the risk of injuries such knee pain, shin- and calf muscle problems increases.

As we sit on horseback, we should have an upward direction in our body (vertical seat) while the horse should move forward. The horse's legs store and release more energy than we can in our legs and therefore can provide more free energy into the next step, if we let the horse's direction in the spine be forward and slightly upward. Riding the horse behind the bit, with the third cervical vertebra as the highest point, the horse moves on its forehand and the power from the back legs is pushed into the ground. Just like us, the loss of free energy forces the horse to work more with muscle power to take the next step and the degraded shock absorption increases risk of problems in fetlock and knees.

A good lateral balance is important for running, it increases the chance that the legs are equally loaded during a run. To train lateral balance, you can stand on one leg and then switch leg with a small jump. You should be able to do that transition without wobble and a need to balance yourself with your arms way outside your body. As humans, lateral balance is fairly easy, we have two legs that needs to interact. The horse has four. Shoulder in in walk is a movement that trains the lateral balance of the horse.

Step rate, or cadence as Malcolm calls it, should be 180 steps per minute (90 steps per leg per minute) when we run. If you, like me, is a recreational runner without competition aspirations, it's a good deal faster than what you're used to. Usain Bolt takes 2.5-meter-long strides with a cadence of 240 steps per minute, no wonder that he is the fastest!

The horse has different cadence in different gaits and that means walking horse with a lower cadence than that one should strive for is free energy wasted straight down into the ground. An approximate cadence to aim for in walk is 55 steps per leg/minute, in trot 75 steps per leg/minute and at a gallop 95 beats per stride/minute.

The best tool for keeping track of cadence is a metronome, there are small handy digital metronomes that you can attach to your clothing for around 100 sek.

I will be taking a summer break with the blog from today. On the schedule is, in addition to summer vacation with the kids, two practical courses in Applied Equine Podiatry (June and July) and the theoretical part where the final exam is approaching. Next week is a two-day conference on the theme Musicians Health in Piteå that I think will be very interesting. Music and riding has so many connections!

All that remains is to wish you all a wonderful summer, many tropical nights and moderately amount blood-sucking insects. Take good care of yourselves and your four-legged friends and we will meet again in the fall when life slows down for the winter.

Happy summer!