The usual response to coastal erosion was to build concrete sea walls to protect houses and land masses from falling into the sea. Masses of rock and concrete were used to block the sea and stop its progression. But in fact sand dunes provide much better protection because they are not rigid, they allow water to flow around them slowing the sea but not standing rigidly against it. This is part of what has become characteristic of modernity and our relationship with nature. We brace ourselves with sturdy equipment rather than learning to bend like a supple tree branch in the wind. We have become inflexible in both body and mind. Industrial, technological and social progress have considerably reduced physical activity levels and greatly increased the amount of time we spend sitting (Matthews et al., 2012). When compared to our parents and grandparents, this generation work and live in surroundings that discourage movement and physical activity. We sit for prolonged periods in work, school and home (Owen et al., 2010). When we do move we all do it differently. The way people move may give us an unique insight into their personality. Each of us has an ‘individual motor signature’ which defines how we move and our movements give an insight into our inherent personality traits (Slowinski et al., 2016) We use body motions as trustworthy indicators of others’ personality types (Luck et al., 2010). The mind – what we think and feel – affects not only our health and well-being of the body but also how we move and interact and move through the world.
Go to the start of any race and it will be clear – ‘Everyone is different’. Different personalities run in different ways and times and for different reasons. The “serial stretchers” they will stretch right up until the start. The “Boozer” is trying a warm up mile and plans to run off the guilt and hangover of the night before. The “midlife crisis” is overdressed in unforgiving lycra and ready to burn off the overindulgence of his thirties, and he’s warming up with the “underdresser” who insists on wearing shorts 2 sizes too small. The “loner” has the headphones in and is avoiding eye contact, while the “Footballer” sporting his club socks wonders what all the fuss is about. The “real runners” are bounding up the road hoping it will all start soon so they can leave these “running riffraff” behind.
These differences are really important when it comes to running and sport because for an athlete at any level it is important to understand the significance of personality types and its potential effect on training, injury and performance. The body is designed for balance, and finding the equilibrium between strength and flexibility is the holy grail of both running and life. Strength is dependent on flexibility —the full power the muscles can’t be accessed if they lack range of motion. And flexibility is dependent on strength —stability is needed to safely achieve sufficient range of motion. Strength and rigidity of the musculoskeletal system may enhance running efficiency in runners by increasing storage and return of elastic energy from the foot contact on the ground. Basically stiffer joints around the ankle, knee and hip will return more energy and bounce then more flexible joints, making the least flexible runners the most economical (Craib et al., 1996; Jones, 2002). Far from being hurtful or unwanted, the natural strengthening of the lower leg joints and connective tissues that occurs in response to training allows the legs to function as stiffer springs. For runners there isn’t a fine line between fitness and injury: There is no line. We float between being unable to walk to running freely without pain – even when “injury-free” we’re managing, weaknesses, imbalances and the stiffness of the running itself. But we’re less than perfect living in a less-than-perfect world, and the very process of living causes muscle imbalances resulting in some muscles become extremely tight and others extremely weak. These imbalances can cause injuries in runners and result in poor performance. Stretching, and to an even greater extent, doing functional strength exercises incorporating flexibility that take these muscles and joints through their natural movements can counteract this process and help you run better. Becoming stronger involves enduring a level of injury. The reality is that this balance between strength and flexibility can be elusive and frustrating, constant adjustment is needed. Ultimately the search for equilibrium at the intersection of strength and flexibility is never ending. It is important to remember trying to brace and stand strong against an incoming sea may be fruitless, it may prove easier to learn to bend and go with the flow sometimes because “to stand fast is to eventually break”.
Craib MW, Mitchell VA, Fields KB, Cooper TR, Hopewell R & Morgan DW. (1996). The association between flexibility and running economy in sub-elite male distance runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc 28, 737-743.
Jones AM. (2002). Running economy is negatively related to sit-and-reach test performance in international-standard distance runners. Int J Sports Med 23, 40-43.
Luck G, Saarikallio S, Burger B, Thompson MR & Toiviainen P. (2010). Effects of the Big Five and musical genre on music-induced movement. Journal of Research in Personality 44, 714-720.
Matthews CE, George SM, Moore SC, Bowles HR, Blair A, Park Y, Troiano RP, Hollenbeck A & Schatzkin A. (2012). Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors and cause-specific mortality in US adults. Am J Clin Nutr 95, 437-445.
Owen N, Healy GN, Matthews CE & Dunstan DW. (2010). Too much sitting: the population health science of sedentary behavior. Exerc Sport Sci Rev 38, 105-113.
Slowinski P, Zhai C, Alderisio F, Salesse R, Gueugnon M, Marin L, Bardy BG, di Bernardo M & Tsaneva-Atanasova K. (2016). Dynamic similarity promotes interpersonal coordination in joint action. J R Soc Interface 13.