Is It Okay To Run With My Water Bottle or Phone in My Hand While I Run?: The Importance of Symmetry and Balance on Injury Prevention and Running Performance

“It is the harmony of the diverse parts, their symmetry, their happy balance; in a word it is all that introduces order, all that gives unity, that permits us to see clearly and to comprehend at once both the ensemble and the details.” – Henri Poincare

Today was my first day of marathon-specific training for the Montana Marathon in September, with my goal to break 3 hours. I ran ~6 miles and during this run (after ~12 minutes of running at an easy pace), I performed 40-60-second work bouts at ~5k pace or slightly faster and recovered with a slow jog for ~90 seconds between work bouts. After these work bouts, I ran for ~15 minutes at easy pace, and then performed 4 10-second hill sprints with a walk recovery between hill sprints, and then ran for ~10 minutes at an easy pace.

Immediately after my run I did the following exercises:

  • Leg swings forward and back with both straight and bent leg (10 repetitions of each for each leg)
  • Leg swings side-to-side with both straight and bent leg (10 repetitions of each for each leg)
  • Pushups on a stability ball (10 repetitions)
  • Monster walks side-to-side and forward and backward (15 repetitions on each side and in each direction)
  • Y, T, I, and W (10 repetitions for each position)
  • Clamshells (20 repetitions on each side)
  • Prone planks (~45 seconds)
  • Side planks (~40 seconds)
  • Supine planks (~30 seconds)
  • Glute bridge hip lifts (10 repetitions + hold for 30 seconds after last repetition)
  • Quadrupeds (15 repetitions on each side)
  • Fire hydrants (10 repetitions on each side)
  • Knee circles forward (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Knee circles backward (10 repetitions for each leg)

After performing these exercises, I performed foam and lacrosse/softball rolling on muscles that are commonly tight for me.

During this run, I focused on running form and thought about the importance of symmetry when running. This reminded me of a recent session I had with a runner I coach.

To help minimize the risk of injury and optimize running performance, it is important to be as symmetrical with running form as possible. There are several aspects factors which can contribute to lack of symmetry which runners can control. This includes arm swing, muscle imbalances/weaknesses, and flexibility issues. Lack of symmetry can increase the risk of certain injuries such as IT band syndrome, as well as other common injuries that occur at the ankle, knee, and hip joint.

You should be incorporating arm swing, if you aren’t already, and the range of motion for arm swing should be from the top of the hips to the nipple line (“hip-to-nip”). Both arms should swing through this same range. This can be an issue for those who are holding an object in one hand, such as a water bottle or phone. Therefore, you should not hold an object in one hand and instead, use a fuel belt or some other holder for water, phones, fuel, keys, etc.

Drill for Symmetric Arm Swing

To help be symmetrical with arm swing, I recommend the following drill. You can perform this at any time, although I feel the best time to perform this drill is during your dynamic warmup. Here is the drill:

  • Stand in front of a full length mirror
  • Bend at the elbow so there is slightly less than a 90 degree angle formed by the forearm and upper arm
  • Alternate swinging your arms from “hip-to-nip” at a vigorous pace
  • Continue for 30-60 seconds
  • Your hands should be lightly cupped with thumb gently resting on the index finger
  • Be sure that neither hand crosses the midline of the body

If you haven’t done so already, I recommend that you have your running form and your muscular strength and range of motion assessed at the ankle, knee, hip, shoulder joints for any muscle imbalances/weaknesses and flexibility issues that can lead to a lack of symmetry.

Muscle weaknesses/imbalances can also negatively affect symmetry while you run. It is common for runners to be stronger (dominant) on one side; often the right side. Therefore, it is important to perform strengthening and mobility exercises to address any muscle imbalances/weaknesses that can cause a lack of symmetry. The exercises you perform should include unilateral exercises, which would be performed by one side of the body. One great unilateral exercise that I recommend all runners perform, especially early on in their training, is clamshells.

Clamshells

  • Lie on your side with your torso and pelvis both perpendicular to the ground
  • Straighten the spine
  • Slowly lift the belly up off the floor to create a stable core position
  • Squeeze your glutes tight like you have a quarter stuck between your butt cheeks
  • With your feet resting on each other, lift only the knee up until it’s level with the hip
  • Lower the knee down keeping the glute contracted the entire time
  • Start by performing 8-10 repetitions on each side, and over time gradually increase the number of repetitions until you can perform 20 on each side with proper form

If you haven’t already done so, go to the welcome page on Denver Running Coach (www.denverrunningcoach) to receive videos on strengthening exercises, including clamshells, as well as ways to improve flexibility and mobility for any muscles that are tight and have limited range of motion.

Although perfect symmetry is most likely impossible to attain, we should strive to be as symmetric as we can while we run. This will help make us a more efficient, and thus faster runner, while helping us minimize the risk of injury.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian