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When you have children, most people will tell you that you have less time to exercise. Whilst this is generally true, if you speak to some runners, they’ll give you the perfect solution – just take them with you! If your children are of the age to be pushed around in a running buggy (recommended from 6-months upwards) you can still enjoy running and get the added benefits of family time outdoors.
Running without a buggy is certainly easier, but with a family, this isn’t always possible. Buggy running has only been around since the 1980’s (Alcantra & Wall-Scheffler, 2017), but the benefits to parents of being able to run with their young children is regarded by most buggy-runners as priceless. For many, it’s the only way they can run at all, for others they are added experiences together.
What makes a buggy a ‘running’ buggy?
There are several different types of running buggies on the market, and a great resource if you’re interested in buying one (along with so much more information) is www.runningbuggies.com. Different brands will appeal to different runners depending on things such as price, functionality and preferred running terrain. However, there are certain factors that are considered pretty non-negotiable for a running buggy. Here they are:
1. Fixed front wheel – Having a wheel that is able to lock in place provides stability so that you don’t lose control of your buggy. Some models allow you to lock or un-lock the front wheel so that the buggy can also be adapted for more general use, whilst others are permanently fixed. It is personal preference, but you should always have the option to lock the front wheel when running for safety reasons.
2. Suspension – This is an important feature to allow your buggy to absorb impact and make sure your little one isn’t bouncing around too much as you run!
3. Tyre Size – Running buggies have 3 tyres that are generally a lot bigger than your standard high-street buggy.
4. Handbrake – We don’t know for sure if ALL running buggies have this, but if you’ve ever run downhill pushing a buggy, you’ll know how important this feature is!
5. Wrist strap – This is a safety measure which ensures that if something happens you don’t lose control of the buggy completely.
We won’t go into brands, just like buying shoes – it’s a personal preference. However, we would recommend checking out the website mentioned above if you are having a hard time choosing!
Type of buggy and style of pushing:
There are two main types of running buggies, singles and doubles. A single can hold one child, a double can hold two. This decision will of course be determined by how many children you have.
Conversely, the style of pushing is very personal. The main variations are:
- One hand (static or interchanging hands)
- Two hands
- Combination of one hand and two hands
- Push and catch
Work & Running Style
Research has previously established that pushing a load is harder work and increases Vo2, HR, and RPE (Garcin et al, 1996). However, running buggy companies have taken this into account in their designs, with the larger wheels and lightweight materials making them much easier to push than you might think.
The (very) few studies that do exist analysing energy and kinematics are conflicting. In 2012, Gregory et al. found that running pushing a stroller increased heart rate (however noted that the increase was not significant), whereas a study in 2017 by Alcantara & Wall-Scheffler found there was no change in heart rate pushing a running buggy. Alcantara &Wall-Scheffler (2017) also proposed that in order to protect energy expenditure, runners changed their behaviour by altering their running style (kinematics]. They found that pushing a running buggy with 1 hand increased the overall energy burden and was most disruptive to running style.
The only study we could find on 3D kinematics was in 2016 by O’Sullivan et al. They concluded no global affects to running kinematics when pushing a stroller, but it did restrict movement of the trunk in the frontal and transverse planes (as a result of fixing the upper joints) as well as:
- Increased forward lean of the trunk, causing increased in anterior pelvic tilt and reduction in hip extension (3 degrees)
- No changes to knee or ankle joints
Run3D running study – 1 hand vs. 2 hands
We decided it would be interesting to do our own little study to better understand the differences (if any) of running whilst pushing a running-buggy with either one or two hands. Whilst capturing 3D data during buggy running requires a huge treadmill (which we do not have), we were able to collect some spatial-temporal parameters using wearable devices.
NOTE: On a regular basis, runners 1 and 2 pushed with two hands, and runners 3 and 4 pushed with 1 hand.
Each runner pushed their normal running buggy (with their normal load) over 1 mile at a pace that felt comfortable. In order to create consistency within the results, the runners were instructed to keep the same pace for each trial across the same distance (1 mile) and course. The only difference being whether they were pushing with 1 hand or both hands – did you average data from the two miles? Might be worth saying
Cadence changed very little between buggy-running trials for all runners, with only a few steps increase or decrease for each subject. The control cadence was higher for runners 1 and 4, but lower for 2 and 3.
For the runners who normally pushed with 1 hand (runners 3and 4), their stride length changed very little when pushing a buggy compared to the control trials. Interestingly, the runners who normally pushed with 2hands, had longer stride lengths when pushing a buggy compared to not pushing a buggy.
Heart rate was lower pushing with 2 hands instead of 1 hand for runners 1, 2 & 3. Runner 4’s heart rate increased a lot pushing with 2hands, which coincided with their perceived effort jumping from 3 to 8. Interestingly, the control heart-rate better matched the buggy running trials where the the runners pushed the buggy with their ‘normal’ pushing style (runners 1 & 2pushing with 2 hands matched control heart rate, runners 3 & 4 pushing with1 hands normally matched control heart rate).
Vertical excursion changed very little between trials, the only difference in runner 3 became less bouncy pushing with 2 hands.
Although the least scientific, this is probably the most interesting result. Most of the runners found their chosen pushing style less effort than the alternate. Runner 2 had a high perceived effort for 1 hand and interestingly also had a higher heart rate for this trial. Runner 4 had a higher perceived effort for 2 hands (normally a 1 hander), and also had a much higher heart rate for this trial.
Although there were some changes, they were in consistent across the runners. The interesting relationship is when you take into account the runners ‘normal’ pushing style. Stride length did not change for those who normally pushed with 1 hand, but those who normally pushed with 2 hands had a longer stride length pushing the running buggy. Heart rate and perceived effort(and assumed energy consumption) increased together when pushing in the style that was uncomfortable for the runner (2 and 4). Comment on body adapting to be good at what you make it do (be it 1 or 2 handed) and therefore not so good at the other?
Injures & Running Buggies
We ran a short survey within the buggy running community to help us understand more about ‘how’ people run whilst pushing a buggy and whether buggy-runners reported more or less injuries compared to when they used to run ‘buggy-free’. Our (untested) theory is that buggy-running results in lower injury rates because the ground reaction force is reduced when the runner leans on the buggy to push it forwards. We collected 40 responses, here are the results:
Running Style and Training Characteristics:
· The majority of buggy runners (65%) push a single running buggy as opposed to a double one.
· A combination of pushing with one hand and two hands was the most common response at 47.5%. Only 15% of people pushed with 2 hands only and 37.5 %pushed with one hand only. Nobody adopted a push and catch technique.
· Most of those who responded had been buggy-running for 2-3 years (27%) and only 15% had been pushing a running buggy for greater than 4 years.
· 10-20 miles is the clear winner for mileage per week at 35% of responses, with the next most popular distance at >30 miles per week (22.5%).
Prior to pushing a running buggy, 52.5% of runners were injured once per year and only 15% responded with never being injured. After taking up buggy running, the percentage of runners not being injured increased to 45% and those who were injured once per year went down to 32%. Interestingly, when asked if they thought they were injured more, less, or the same after pushing a running buggy, the most common response was no change in injures at 60%.
The most common injury prior to buggy running was anterior knee pain and Achilles tendinopathy at 21.62% of the responses. This was followed closely by iliotibial band syndrome (18.9%) and plantar fasciitis at 16.2%. After taking up buggy running, anterior knee pain and low back pain were the most common answers at 21%. This was again followed closely by Achilles tendinopathy and other knee pain at 14%.
90% of runners found that running pushing a buggy was more difficult than without, with only 7.5% finding it the same and 2% easier (1 person).
Conclusion of Survey
The most interesting relationship found was the perception of running injuries remained the same for a runner, with 60% thinking they didn’t have any change, whilst their answers showed that they were actually injured less after taking up buggy running. The most common injury before and after remained anterior knee pain, however low back pain increased after taking up buggy running. This is in agreement with O’Sullivan et al(2016) kinematic results that the increased lean in the trunk and greater anterior pelvic tilt could cause more loading on the lumbar spine.
Running pushing a buggy is overall a gain for lifestyle and family life. In terms of injuries, it appears to shift loading slightly differently with a semi fixed upper limb holding onto the handles causing a greater anterior pelvic tilt. Studies show, including ours, that low back pain is more common after pushing a running buggy. How you push the buggy will likely correspond to your strengths and weaknesses, with the body always favouring minimal energy expenditure – whether that is one hand or two hands. Some studies have reported increased heart-rate and work-load, as well as changes in cadence and stride length. As the number of buggy-runners continues to increase, we hope there will be more access to research on this topic in the future.
1. Alcantara,R., & Wall-Scheffler, C., 2017, Stroller running: energetic and kinematic changes across pushing methods, PLOS ONE, pp 1-9.
2. Gregory,D., Pfeifler, K., Vickers, K., Aubrey, A., Flynn, J, Connolly, C. et al. 2012,Physiologic Response to running with a jogging stroller, International Journal of Sports Medicine, Vol 33, pp. 711-715.
3. Garcin,M., Cravic, J., Vanderalls, H., Manad, H. 1996, Physiological strains while pushing and hauling, European Journal applied physiology, Vol 72, no. 478-482.
4. O’Sullivan,R., Kiernan, D., & Malone, Ailish, 2016, Run kinematics with and without a jogging stroller, Gait & Posture, Vol 43, pp. 220-224.