Saturday, October 4, 2014

Jogging Strollers: Safety and Changes in Running Biomechanics

Running Stroller Safety
Violet is 4 months going on 5, and her head control, torso
strength, and motor skills have been exceptional since birth,
and I really feel like this kid will be crawling any day now, no
joke, BUT I am still not taking her out in a jogging stroller
any time soon. She has her walking stroller and loves it! :)
Is your baby ready?
Before 6 months of age, babies just do not have the head and neck control and neuromuscular tone required to stabilize themselves while you jostle them around to get your running chi on. Yes, there are infant car seat adapters for popular jogging strollers like the Bob, but I would recommend against these. We pediatricians discourage anything that can rattle a baby’s brain since we don’t like shaken baby syndrome and retinal hemorrhages. If you think it’s fine for your baby, just take a look at how much your baby’s head moves around when you try to sit him or her up. Some babies aren’t even ready for jogging strollers at 6 months, but this age is the minimum as far as I’m concerned. Just my professional opinion.

Are you ready? Altered Biomechanics –

Being ready to run postpartum is a little different than being ready to run with a jogging stroller postpartum. Pushing the jogger requires additional abdominal strength to stabilize your torso and pelvis while you are pushing with your upper body. You need increased gluteal and hamstring activity to push the weight of the jogger because you lose forward momentum generated by shoulder drive. People often compensate for this by increasing foot turnover, i.e. shortening running stride. Unfortunately, this has a potential to stress the sacroiliac (SI) joint and can be especially problematic for women who already experienced SI joint pain during pregnancy. The remedy is to try to maintain as much space as possible between you and the stroller to give yourself a more regular stride. Some physical therapists recommend pushing the stroller out in front and maintaining regular stride while using the safety strap to maintain control of the stroller, only in safe flat areas. This is not a good idea for your child, though, as this is NOT SAFE, no matter where you choose to do it. Try running with a partner and taking turns pushing the stroller, or keep your jogging stroller runs short, so that you aren’t altering biomechanics for hours on end. If you are having SI joint pain or dealing with different nagging injuries, you may need to find a different way to get in those runs (i.e. don’t use a jogging stroller) or consult a PT or Sports Physician to see how you can alter your stride. Women are particularly weak in the hips, core, and pelvic floor musculature after having a baby (next blog: pelvic floor syndrome!!!), and even running without a stroller can lead to injuries if you don’t strengthen these muscles and correct your mechanics prior to hitting the road. More on this next blog.

Do you have the right stroller?
There are so many out there and choices can be overwhelming! Even picking one brand often still leaves you with many options of different models. In general, you shouldn’t be running with a regular stroller. A stroller specific for jogging is preferred, usually with a single front wheel that provides better steering for running. Check out some of these top brands:
Top-of-the line stroller maker for dedicated running parents.
Baby Jogger F.I.T.
A mid-price range brand stroller, it offers your child a wide seat and folds nicely. The fixed wheel can be challenging for maneuvering.
The classic bike company has branched out into the stroller market. It offers a simple and affordable stroller.

Additional Tips:

◊ Pack and schedule runs wisely.
Bring hydration and snacks for the both of you. You are working harder and need the fluids and nutrition and kids need snacks, let’s just face it. Try to schedule a run pre-naptime or another time when your child is likely to enjoy the ride without getting fussy or cranky. You may have to go for shorter runs than anticipated. You can also run to a park and let your child play and run around, then run home. Having a short break mid-run makes for a happier child in the stroller.

◊ Protect your child from the environment
This means proper clothing, a shield for colder wind, dressing your child appropriately (in general, one more layer than what you would be comfortable wearing if you were just sitting out in the weather and not running), and also avoiding running near cars or other dangers whenever possible. Control your environment as much as you can. You’re not running alone anymore!

Use the full harness and consider a helmet.
I know it sounds nutty, and I guess it depends on how safe your environment is and how fast you are going, but think about what would happen if a crash were to occur. The harness is a must because it will prevent your child from falling out or getting shaken around. Depending on the age, you also don’t want your child to get fingers caught in the wheels. Yikes!

Don’t run hands-free.
We mentioned this before, but, although this is a great way to preserve some of your running form and give your SI joints a break, it’s not safe for your child or others who may be on your running path. Yes, there’s a safety strap, but it’s just not worth it. A better idea is to have a running buddy and take turns for who pushes the stroller, so each of you get a break for full regular strides. You can also alternate pushing with one hand on the stroller to help give your legs a break, so that you get at least one arm with your natural arm swing that helps you drive through your stride.

Don’t look to PR. It’s a “jogging” stroller, not a sprinting stroller.
Consider stroller runs resistance workouts and alter your goals accordingly. Expect one minute per mile slower than your normal pace. Speed and other form runs really should be done alone or on the treadmill. Sorry folks, but feel good about the fact that the jogging stroller workout is improving your core and back strength. You may even notice that running sans stroller makes you feel light and effortless with improved PRs!

Father-daughter duo: Iram Leon, who has brain cancer, crosses
the finish line with daughter Kiana 
at the Gusher Marathon in Texas.
Okay, so this guy isn't the best example of not PR-ing, BUT,
isn't he basically your hero now?
Build up gradually.
Mix in jogging awhile doing your regular stroller walk, then work up to running only with an empty stroller, then try with your child.

Follow race rules (some don’t allow jogging strollers), start in the back, safety first, and remember that when running with your child, it’s about the journey, not the destination. Run slower and enjoy the ride.

References and More Info:

Gregory, et al. Physiologic responses to running with a jogging stroller. Int J Sports Med. 2012 Sep;33(9):711-5.

Smith, et al. Physiological and biomechanical responses while running with and without a stroller. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2005 Sep;45(3):270-6.

Looking for a fun way to get your child involved in your workout? Check out Stroller Strides! 1,112 classes in 47 states!!!

On deck: Pelvic Floor Syndrome! (I promise, it’s really happening. Been doing some more research!)