No this is not me preaching the "run/walk" method again, or selling Jeff Galloways programs, but only a sharing of my recent awareness of the benefits from incorporating a "strong" walk into your weekly schedule. Strong is not about "speed" in this element, but about quality of movement. Activating the hip and abdominal muscles and taking your body through the full range of motion it was designed to be taken through.
Most of the injures that are sidelining runners these days are caused from a loss of mobility at a specific joint, which results in inhibition of specific muscles, usually on the opposite side of the tightness. When your running speed increases your turnover rate increases, which means that less time is spent on your foot (leg), less time in contact with the ground. This is all great stuff as you are setting PR's and improving your endurance however, this reduction in time spent on the ground significantly reduces the mobility at the ankle, knee and hip and even reduces the natural rotation that occurs in the upper back when your leg hits full hip extension.
If you can incorporate at least one walk a week, and possibly a 5-10 minute warm-up walk prior to your runs, it will allow the body to engage all the muscles needed to prevent injury and take the body through the full range of motion it is not getting in on your runs.
Awareness of your standing posture is the first step. You need to be sure you are not standing with your shoulders rounded or head sitting way forward of your shoulders. Your butt should not be tucked in. The best way to get your body to sit in the correct position, is to activate your deep abdominal muscles. Pretend you just put on a bathing suit for the first time this season, or a tight fitting dress ladies. What do we do? We pull in our belly button to tighten the stomach muscles. Now this should not feel like you are holding your breath, but simply pulling your belly button away from your pant line. This contraction will automatically place the upper back and neck in a neutral position. Focus on your toes pointing forward and not in or outward, and begin your walk. You want to walk in a heel to toe fashion and keep your foot in contact with the ground all the way through hip extension (this is when your leg comes behind you). When your right leg is in the back a natural turn of your upper body to the left should occur. This motion with the activation of your abdominal muscles will:
1. Provide full hip extension which stretches the hip flexors out and activates the gluteus maximus (your butt).
2. Create dorsiflexion (ankle mobility) elongating the calf, achilles and plantar fascia.
3. Rotate the torso, also creating elongation of the hip flexors and activation of the oblique muscles.
4. Elongate the IT bands, hamstrings and piriformis with the toe in a straight forward position.
5. Strengthen your core which is engine of your run.
6. PREVENT INJURY BY GIVING YOUR BODY BACK ITS FULL RANGE OF MOTION AND ACTIVATION OF ALL THE STABILIZERS.
Give it a try! It works on a treadmill too, just stick your back foot to the belt and ride it as far back as you can before your lift it off the belt. We call it the "sticky foot" workout.