A few months ago we talked about step width while running and how this can help improve your running. Today we are going to talk more about running mechanics throughout the entire lower extremity, how this is very similar to the pistol, and how you can use pistol squats or progressions to get strong with running and prevent injury.
First, I want to address an area that I have seen a lot of confusion and had several questions raised. With recent strong emphasis in squatting to generate the torque at the hip and to drive the knees out while squatting, many assume the same is to be said with the pistol and running.
Do we want the torque from the hip? Yes, absolutely. But not only will you look like a weirdo if you try driving your knee to the outside, you won’t be very efficient. Running includes a stance phase, a swing phase, as well as a float phase since unlike walking there is a point in the cycle where both feet are off the ground at the same time. The focus of today’s discussion is the stance phase. We break this up into initial contact, midstance, and toe off. At midstance, our stance limb is planted and all of our weight is through that extremity. During this phase we do want that hip torque with our external rotators and hip stabilizers firing to keep our leg in neutral. Studies show that at a 12 mph pace we are in the midstance phase for approximately .2 seconds. That is not a significant amount of time to be able to practice that motor control piece of hip stability and external rotation. This is where the pistol comes in handy.
The pistol, or single leg squat, is movement that mimics the skills required for running in a number of ways. Not only do both require work from all major leg muscles, they are both movements that require single leg balance. They both also require a good amount of hip stability and torque to be done correctly. Many runners are missing this hip stability, which is evident by their arches collapsing and over pronating when their foot strikes the ground. Most runners will buy shoes or orthotics to correct this instability or collapse, however, this will not fix the mechanical issue and lead to dependency on the shoes or orthotics for support long term.
Rather than regular squats where you are able to adapt compensation strategies in the body when you have asymmetries, leading to more problems down the road by the way, the single leg squat is a great way to balance out the legs and work on some of these imbalances. We see a lot of running injuries that occur due to the fact that one leg is weaker or less mobile than the other.
All of this being said; the pistol should be practiced barefoot to improve foot and ankle stability and strength. You should start by balancing on one foot, stabilizing at the hip by creating the torque necessary to resist the collapse. While lowering the knee should be aiming right over the second toe.
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