A Beginner's Guide to Amputee Running: Improving Running Form
Our "Amputee Running Series" aims to provide you with a practical guide to help you begin running with your prosthesis. This eighth installment will help you improve your running technique so you can increase your running distance and speed. For the previous articles on amputee running, head to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4—AK and BK, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7.
Your running posture is important because it could affect your running efficiency. Your head should be held high and centered between your shoulders. Your back should be straight, and your gaze trained straight ahead. Relax your jaw and neck.
Breathing is something that we take for granted. However, practicing proper breathing techniques is especially important when running with a prosthesis because it helps you maintain a steady pace and a calmer mind. In this case, deep abdominal or "stomach" breathing is ideal. To practice belly breathing, put one hand on your stomach. Slowly inhale and feel your stomach rising.
Arms and hands
Bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Lightly cup your hands and keep your wrists loose. For faster leg turnover, you can pump your arms at a faster rate. Mastering an arm swing can be difficult initially and may require someone to coach you.
Forefoot strike refers to landing on the ball of the foot rather than the heel when it hits the ground. This form is ideal for amputee runners because a prosthetic running foot often mimics a forefoot strike pattern. If you are a bilateral lower limb amputee, you do not need to train for this form since your prosthetic feet will automatically assume this position.
Additionally, running with the forefoot strike pattern is beneficial to your sound side leg because it reduces the chance of injuries like Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and stress fractures.
Training your sound side leg to run with a forefoot strike can take some time to get used to. This is because the pattern places different demands on the muscles of the calf and foot. Strengthening exercises and slow progression into this running pattern is recommended to prevent injuries. Below are some foot strengthening exercises to help you transition into the forefoot strike pattern. Do three sets of 10 of each exercise during the first and second week, then gradually increase to three sets of 20 to 30 as the weeks progress.
Heel raise on a flat surface
1. While standing, press upwards as high as you can on your toes.
2. Slowly lower your body weight back down.
Heel raise on the edge of a step
1. Repeat the same movement as the heel raise exercise on a flat surface.
2. As you lower your body weight, control your heel down past the step.
Toe spread and squeeze
1. Spread your toes as far apart as you can.
2. Then squeeze your toes together.
1. Place a towel or a piece of cloth on the floor and put your foot on it.
2. Curl your toes, grabbing onto the fabric.
1. Stand on a flat surface and press down with your toes.
2. Raise the arch of your foot while pressing down.
Running form exercises
Here's an example of how an above-knee amputee trained to improve his running form with his running prosthetic leg.
What do you think of these tips? Have you done them before? Also, if you have any additional tips for first-time amputee runners on how to improve their running form, please share them with us in the comments section below.