Reducing injuries from running: Understand Relative Stiffness

December 3, 2018


Relative Stiffness explained:


The Problem


The enjoyment of clocking up miles running can be cut short by niggling issues.  Sadly, as more time is invested into physical training the time spent appropriately recovering also exponentially increases.  This is a daunting but when working with a good quality coach or coaching team small issues that could turn into large issues can be addressed quickly.  


Lower back pain can be caused by the pelvis moving away from its neutral position, frequently, alongside large or repetitive forces transferring through it.  For an office worker lower back pain may stem from excessive lower lumbar (lower back) flexion.  For the runner though it is more likely this will occur from an anteriorly tilted pelvis and excessive lumbar extension.  This involves the pelvis that rotating forwards so that the spine is in an excessively lordotic curve (s -curve).  




The reason why your pelvis is rotating forward while running is less likely to be because of poor running mechanics alone.  Poor running mechanics could possibly occur because of relative stiffness at a joint.  This concept was introduced by Dr Shirley Sharman, author of 'Diagnosis and treatment of movement impairment syndromes'.  She proposed that if a there is a lack of flexibility (stiffness) from one muscle then when movement occurs around that joint a compensatory pattern will occur.  The body will find movement elsewhere so that you can achieve the task, albeit not optimally. 




How does this relate to running?


Two muscles that play a role in stabilising the pelvis are rectus femoris and the hamstring.  For a medium to high range of motion running gait the hamstrings and hip flexors are required to work from extreme flexion right through to extension.  This can cause the following. Tight hip flexor pulls the pelvis down and the hamstring is lengthened.  This causes 'backside running mechanics' and results in the pelvis being in an anteriorly titled position and excessive pressure on the lower back.  As one of the muscle groups around the pelvis is stiff the body finds range elsewhere such as the lower back.


What can you do?


The first step is to complete a range of motion test on the area to determine whether there is a flexibility imbalance.  This will help you determine whether specific mobility extras are required at an area.  Beyond this it is vital to develop good motor control at a dysfunctional joint.  Simply put it; after spending copious amounts of time performing a movement sub optimally it s now time to retrain the body to move differently.


The Deadbug


Exercise one to readdress imbalances in the pelvic region is the deadbug.  This involves lying supine and extending alternate arms and legs away from the centre of the body.  The weight of the limbs means that tension is required in the transverse abdominis and rectus abdominis to maintain a neutral pelvis.  It is important that this exercise is completed with control so that the participant can grove the new feeling.


The Superman/Birddog


Exercise two moves the individual to a prone position and uses the glutes as the prime stabiliser of the pelvis.  Similarly the individual is required to extend their opposite and arm and leg away from the centre of the body. Not only does this target the glutes but rectus abdominis is required to stabilise the trunk as only two points of contact are involved during the exercise.




These are just two of many exercises that can be utilised to assist in the reduction of injuries in runners. We recommend a well rounded strength programme that includes complex movements, completed safely alongside corrective exercises to develop robustness and body awareness.   If you have any further questions about this just get in touch.


























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