01 January 2016 - Personal stories
Victoria Worsley, Feldenkrais Practitioner

Sustainable Training

Jim starts running again. Back in the day, when he was a teenager, he was fast. Now in his thirties, stuck in an office, he feels the need again. He knows he should begin by going easy but after just a couple of months he signs up for his first half marathon. He wants a goal. He has four months. It seems reasonable. One month in he develops pain. He tried running before a few years ago and this wretched pain stopped him then too. He is damned if it will stop him again. He gets a gait analysis and changes his shoes. It works for a bit and then pain again. He gets some treatment. The same. He takes a break and then only runs short distances, but the pain starts again eventually. He is pretty upset. Why does this happen?

We could say that running is a skill and we may need to learn (or re-learn) better technique. True. But I would go further. No physical skill is separate to the fundamental habits you have in life: how you sit, stand, walk, reach etc. Jim’s patterns of movement in these every-day activities are part and parcel of what he brings to the skill of running. They began to develop right from birth, but they may have deepened or altered since he was 18, affected by life experience. Now he finds that patterns good enough for his every-day life are simply not up to coping with the extra strain of distance running.

Strengthening muscles, tendons and bones is, of course, part of the picture. But just exercising won’t always do it, because even if you train in a well-rounded way, you are likely to develop within the movement patterns you already have and simply entrench them. For example, a one-leg squat, which could be a useful strengthening exercise for running, may not help unless your weight is truly over the foot. For Jim, how his pelvis, back, chest, neck and shoulders need to adjust for him to be really over his foot is just not working well enough, which, when running, makes a considerable difference to the impact of landing and its effect. It is not easy for him to consciously change it either, as there are so many little pieces to that jigsaw.
That’s where Feldenkrais comes in: through hands-on sessions and classes, Jim starts to feel what he is doing and learns how to use all those different parts of himself together more efficiently. Improving his basic movement patterns allows him to improve many aspects of his running gait including landing over the foot in ways that reduce strain. As time goes on he finds that whenever he challenges himself with faster, longer, more intense levels of training he has to re-address his patterns, because yet greater skill is demanded (along with strength). But the difference is that now he has the tools. He can learn, improve and so sustain his training without pain.