Every day runners try to keep from experiencing that telltale soft smush of a misstep, it is a nuisance we have all experienced. I felt the squish, and cringed. My runners were doomed. And then I realized that the grass was still damp from rain. I had a choice. I could become one with the crap or get my feet wet. Without hesitation, I stepped from the path into the wet, squished, rubbed and “moonwalked” my heel around a few times, and hoped. When I got under the streetlamp, my heel was clean; I didn’t stink of a dog’s dinner anymore. The poop was gone – There is nothing like stepping in a dog turd to ruin a good run.
Dog poo seems to have taken over vast areas of our paths. On my daily run around town, I have to perform a strange, twisty dance as I sidestep the countless piles of dog poo dotted along the route. It seems to get worse during the winter months – perhaps the cover of darkness makes people more inclined to use the camouflage to avoid cleaning the path of their dogs mess. Unfortunately scanning the pavement for dog excrement, with the head and eyes down does not result in the best running form and it affects running performance. If the head tilts forwards, the upper back will normally follow, affecting posture.. Exercise scientists agree that endurance performance is dependent on the capacity to transport oxygen to the working muscles (McKenzie, 2012),. At rest ventilation, is rhythmical and calm due to the contraction and relaxation of the main inspiratory muscles – the diaphragm and the intercostals. Contraction of these muscle groups increases the dimensions of the chest, creating a pressure gradient which draws air into the lungs. Expiration at rest is passive and is achieved by relaxation of the inspiratory muscles and recoil of the chest (Richter, 1982). Breathing increases rapidly at the onset of running, at a rate which is proportional to the running speed (Yoshida & Fukuba, 1992). All runners experience shortness of breath, it’s supposed to happen. Rhythmic breathing patterns can help control shortness of breath, reduce fatigue and make running more comfortable, it may even reduce injury risk(Daley et al., 2013)). A head forward and eyes down position causes slumping, the ribcage sits forward leaving little space for the lungs to expand fill, preventing oxygenated blood reaching the hardworking muscles that powering you along the pavement ….… So the legs are pumping, but the head is down watching the pavement, and then the shoulder blades slowly round forward collapsing the ribcage; the breath gets harder, shallower and running has to slow.
Runners’ perceived level of effort is significantly higher in the head tilted-forward position; It feels like it’s harder so it is – perception is reality (Moore et al, 2014). If an uncomfortable or awkward neck position results in the runner perceiving the workout to be more difficult it hampers performance and slows them down or worse result in injury (Tucker, 2009). The head forward posture can cause pain in the upper back of runners, in between or under the shoulder blades. It’s not debilitating, but it can be painful and annoying. How the head is held is key to overall posture, and it can have detrimental effects on the efficiency of a running gait. Looking ahead naturally, scanning the horizon allows the neck and back to straighten, bringing them into alignment and preventing the chin from jutting forward. But as long a minority of dog owners allow their dogs to soil our paths it may be safer, in the interest of preserving your runners, to practice looking down ‘with the eyes’ rather than ‘dropping the head’ to do so.
Moore, S.; Thompson, S.; Doesburg, K.; Johnston, K.; Clark, M.; Portillo, J.; Leahy, T.; McCann, D. In Effects of neck posture on ventilation and percieved exertion in trained females, International Journal of Exercise Science: 2014.
Daley MA, Bramble DM & Carrier DR. (2013). Impact loading and locomotor-respiratory coordination significantly influence breathing dynamics in running humans. PLoS One 8, e70752.
McKenzie DC. (2012). Respiratory physiology: adaptations to high-level exercise. Br J Sports Med 46, 381-384.
Richter DW. (1982). Generation and maintenance of the respiratory rhythm. J Exp Biol 100, 93-107.
Tucker R. (2009). The anticipatory regulation of performance: the physiological basis for pacing strategies and the development of a perception-based model for exercise performance. Br J Sports Med 43, 392-400.