Know your running body

Review of the Pocket Atlas of the Moving Body by Mel Cash.  Published by Ebury Press.  Every runner should develop a good working knowledge of how their body works, what makes it hang together and most importantly where it can get hurt.  If you have run for a few years you might have noticed that the pain of a niggling injury doesn’t always manifest itself in close proximity to the actual cause of the problem.  I’ve found over time that it’s quite helpful to start prodding and poking at the sore area that I have developed and then check out this little book and see what the sore bit might be and then where it connects to the rest of the body.  I’m not suggesting you avoid getting a professional diagnosis if things go wrong, but it does help track down the root cause of the injury and gives you and your physical therapist more information to work with.  For example; a pain in the foot might not be planta fasciitis, but a problem with tight muscles in the lower compartment of the calf.  In terms of treatment this means you can have a go at self massage and stretching in the calf area and see if it brings about any relief.  If you get a regular massage ask your therapist to focus in on potential sources of the pain.  You might also then have a look at your gait analysis and check for anything that might be causing the calf tightness.  The point is, with additional knowledge of your body you are much more in control of your running, able to detect and avoid injuries early and evaluate the effectiveness of any treatment you are receiving.  I’ve even taken this book along to physiotherapist appointments; it just helps give me a better frame of reference for what’s under discussion.  Even the plainest spoken physio can occasionally slot an abduction, external rotation or hyperextension into the conversation – with this book you’ll be able to nod sagely, pretend you understand and then check out what they were talking about later.

I’ve had The Pocket Atlas of the Moving Body on my shelf for about 10 years since I first completed a fitness instructing qualification and I can definitely say it is a well thumbed volume.  I’ve used it countless times to help identify injury problems and it has also been a reference in writing Running Technique.  The real value in the book is the excellent and easy to understand diagrams and illustrations combined with joint movement and muscle tables.  The tables give you a brief run-down of every muscle including its originating point in the body, where the muscle ultimately ends and inserts onto other structures, what the muscle does, and where its nerve origin lies in the spine.  This allows you to track back from any source of pain and discomfort to the potential source.

If you’re keen to learn more about running and running technique it’s a useful guide to help you understand and visualize which muscles are mostly responsible for each part of the running gait.  If you can picture where a muscle lies in the body it can really help you activate the area during running or your strength training sessions.  If you want to know what your personal trainer is on about when they talk about squats being an exercise that trains the glutes and hamstrings this book is also a good place to start.  The Pocket Atlas of the Moving Body is only about 60 pages long and is written in plain English, definitely a handy resource for any runner.

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