Why Can’t My Child Run Very Fast?

Why Can’t My Child Run Very Fast?

Untitled design copyRunning requires no equipment, little thought, and from an early age, kids seem to run a lot more than they walk – so it should all come pretty naturally to them, right? 

Not exactly. As kids sports medicine experts here in Melbourne’s Point Cook, we often hear from parents that are concerned for their children that appear to run a bit slower than others in their sports team or class. They worry it may affect their ability to make top-tier sports teams, that it may affect their confidence, or even discourage them from sports altogether. It’s a very real concern, and as such, we’d like to start answering the age-old question of “why is my child slower than others?” with another question:


“Who taught your child to run?”


If you ask a young child about how they run, the most common theme you’ll get in response is that they just run as fast as possible. There’s little consideration aside from this, and when they’re very young, there really doesn’t need to be more to it. As kids grow, develop, enter school and start competitive sports, however, things change greatly.

While we go through the next few tips and strategies, remember to try not to compare your child to others. Just like how some kids are naturally great at puzzles or the arts, some have a naturally good running technique, strength and biomechanical function. These are all things that can be worked on and improved upon, whether you want to up your child’s reading game or their running game, and there is plenty of time. 



Their biomechanics, techniques and habits matter

Don’t be confused by the word biomechanics – we simply mean how your child’s feet and legs, as well as the muscles, bones, joints and ligaments that comprise them, work together to create movement.

Taking intel from a study that compared the running mechanics between children and adults, they found the biggest difference between running slower and faster is a result of these two patterns:

  • Slower running is comparable to a spring oscillating up and down – you accelerate up off the ground, gravity pulls you down, your muscles and tendons absorb the ground impact, and then proceed to accelerate you back up off the ground. It’s very much like a spring or a bungee cord, with your body spending as much time moving upwards as it does downwards
  • Faster running looks very different – you generate more force faster to push off the ground, so you accelerate faster, spend more time floating and getting back to the ground. To produce this force, you need more strength and power in your muscles, and to produce this in a shorter time (given that the time in contact with the ground is reduced). This increases the stride length, and hence the demand on muscles like the hip extensors and the gluteus maximus to get to those top speeds


If you’ve read that and are finding it a little bit confusing, the main point is that those that run faster have greater demands on their bodies. And if their muscles (as well as many other factors we haven’t even touched on like co-ordination, ability to absorb shock to help minimise injury risk and fatigue) can’t meet the variety of demands, then they won’t be able to run faster – or won’t know what to do to help train themselves to run faster.

Of course, when we discuss anything biomechanics-related, we also pay close attention to the structural alignment of the feet and legs – something we spend all day examining in both kids and adults. There are many variations to our alignment and foot posture that may place us in the “not likely to run optimally naturally” basket. However, and perhaps the beauty of what we do here, is that we can easily address this and alter the way our feet and legs perform, so while it’s a very important consideration and critical to efficient, fast, running – it can all be improved upon, and without much difficulty.



Address reasons your child may be slower

Let’s point out a few reasons why your child may be running slower naturally. It’s really important that any factors identified by your podiatrist are addressed, otherwise, it’s likely trying to beat your personal best on a fractured foot. If you don’t have the right foundations in place, there will always be something holding you back, and you’ll never reach your goal (with much frustration for both parent and child).


Here are examples of things that may be holding your child back:

  • There’s some asymmetry in their bodies – meaning legs are moving and performing differently – which also increases your child’s injury risk
  • Insufficient strength or flexibility – muscles need strength to produce power for good, sustained function. And joints need flexibility so that they’re not held back and restricted when performing a movement. So if your child has never worked on their strength or flexibility, it could be a good time to start as this is a key for anyone that is serious about sports and performance – whether they’re kids or adults. A weak core, weak hip flexors and weak glutes are three particularly problematic areas we see that can make for the biggest setbacks
  • Insufficient speed training – we see a lot of kids that love one, or a few, sports. They spend hours training on those sports – kicking techniques, catching techniques, shooting techniques, you name it. There’s nothing lacking in the dedication or commitment department when it comes to their training.What they are lacking is speed and endurance training for the running aspect of their chosen sport, which means they’re ill-equipped for efficient, sustained running or rapid acceleration and sprints
  • They may not be well hydrated – did you know that a 5% reduction in body weight from dehydration can equate to a 30% decrease in sports performance? Yep, it’s studied and proven. Both hydration, as well as fuel/energy, matter a lot
  • They haven’t properly recovered from previous injuries – just because the swelling goes down, which in turn decreases pain, doesn’t mean that your child has rehabilitated their injury correctly. Rehabilitation is much more than just achieving enough healing for the pain to subside. Take the ankle for example. It’s one thing to stop feeling pain when you walk following an ankle sprain, it’s another to rebuild sufficient strength and flexibility through all the muscles and ligaments surrounding the ankle so that you regain sufficient strength and function for the ankle to keep you stable, steady and moving well



My child needs help with running. Where do I start?

If your child needs help with their running, their gait in general, or reading this has flagged that maaaaybe their knee injury may not be as ‘sorted’ as they had led you to believe, then the best place to start is with an appointment with one of our podiatrists here at Sole Motion.

Children and sports are one of our specialities – something that not many other clinics can say, and it’s important to be working with health professionals that understand kids and the unique demands on their bodies. We’re also parents of school-aged kids too! So we are very much going through it all ourselves at the same time.

We’ll start with a comprehensive biomechanical assessment, including a video gait and running analysis, to understand exactly what’s happening with your child’s feet and legs, and why they’re experiencing what they are. Next, we’ll form a plan to address any problems and deficiencies to help your child get to where they want to be, smash their goals, and help them become the next sports-star!


Book your appointment online here or call us on 1300-FX-FEET


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