Difficulties children have with running

Walking and running are described in terms of the actions that occur in the leg, trunk and arms. .

In walking each leg goes through a swing phase, a single and a double leg stance phases as the bodyweight is transferred from one leg to the other. 

At the end of the swing phase the heel makes contact with the ground, followed by the forefoot. 

Girl walking (Suterland etal).jpg

In running there are several important differences

The double leg stance phase becomes the flight phase when both feet are off the ground.

This requires a strong push off action from the back leg as well as a full range of extension of the hip. 

7 right push off.jpg    8 take off.jpg

When landing, the middle and front of the foot make contact with the ground rather than the heel. 

Also notice that the knee of the swing leg is bent to quite a sharp angle as it is carried forwards

Proficient runner also bend their elbows to about a right angle as they are moved forwards and backwards. 

3 landing.jpg   6 late stance.jpg

Difficulties children have with running

The child may land with the foot turned out

This means that during the stance phase the normal rolling forwards over the foot in preparation for push off is disturbed. 

Instead the foot rolls sideways with little effective push-off. 

Push off is poor due to weakness in the leg muscles, especially the calf muscles

The child does not fully extend the hip and the strides are shorter. 

The arm actions are not well coordinated with the leg movements

The arms may be held straight at the elbows rather than flexed.  Read more 

Child does not keep head up and look forwards

Instead he or she may look down at the ground and tilt the trunk forwards. 

What can be done to improve a child's running?  

A program to improve running style, efficiency and speed needs to incorporate several different elements. 

Strengthen the leg muscles 

Use jumping, hopping and marching exercises to improve strength and coordination. Stronger muscles improves stamina for running and will also improve running speed. 

Practice stepping up with foot facing forwards

Hopping for strengthening the calf muscles 

Small jumps for developing calf and knee coordination

Big jumps for strengthening the hips and knees 

Improve arm action and coordination 

Work on getting better pumping action of the arms and better coordination between the arms and the legs. Read more 

Improve muscle stamina for running and cardiovascular fitness

Children who are inactive and children with DCD have poor general fitness levels including cardiovascular fitness. The child quickly becomes tired, the heart starts to race and breathing becomes laboured. These all produce unpleasant sensations of effort and will often stop the child from continuing to run.

Building cardiovascular fitness levels needs to be done in a way that allows the child to increase his or her tolerance of, and even learn to enjoy the  the sensations of effort.  

Important note: If your child has a condition that affects breathing or the heart it is important to consult your child's doctor before starting a program of exercises to improve fitness.