When you're not running, do you spend more time stretching or strengthening? In my work as a physiotherapist at the Running & Gait Centre at the Pan Am Clinic, I have had the opportunity to perform many running gait assessments since we launched in November. We have been performing assessments on injured athletes and on those who simply want to identify any “red flags” within their running biomechanics that could lead to injury in order to prevent any down time. Already, I am starting to see some patterns and themes develop that confirm what many coaches and successful runners already know. A strong body is rarely a painful body.
I have been known to say that if runners would spend as much time strengthening as they do stretching, I would see a lot less running injuries in my practice. Coincidentally, lately I have found myself prescribing far more focused strengthening than stretching exercises to the keen runners who have come to our centre seeking solutions to their running injuries. Don't get me wrong. Spending time stretching is good, but we can't forget strengthening as well.
Strength needs to be balanced and it needs to be functional. A joint needs to be supported on both sides, side to side and front to back. Multiple joints need to be able to work together as part of the whole lower kinetic chain in order to produce the desired motion for any sport. Strengthening exercises for running need to replicate the desired muscle, joint or lower kinetic chain function as closely as possible to result in optimal biomechanical function and performance.
As your running season progresses and you find yourself spending more and more time logging miles, it’s easy to neglect your strengthening regime. However, even a few short strengthening sessions per week can create better balance in your body and protect you from injury. Here are some suggestions when choosing your strengthening exercises:
- Make it functional. Always ask yourself, ‘why am I doing this exercise?’ Keeping in mind this article is intended for runners, try to do most of your exercises standing up. Better yet, consider standing on one foot as much as possible, as 100% of running is spent with either one foot or no feet on the ground. You will improve not only in strength, but neuromuscular control, balance, proprioception and your ankle and foot cannot help but get stronger.
- Go minimal while strength training. As long as it is safe and allowable to do so, wearing minimal shoes or going barefoot while doing your functional strength training encourages your foot and ankle muscles to work more. You will be able to sense fine adjustments needed to stand stronger on one foot while barefoot than you will with your running shoes on. Try to keep your arch engaged (pretend there is a pebble or tack under your arch) and your toes relaxed, while avoiding rolling onto the outer edge of your foot. This encourages the deep muscles in the sole of your foot to work optimally.
- Work multiple muscle groups at once. Not only is this more functional, but it is more efficient and every runner knows that time is precious.
- Don’t neglect eccentrics. The eccentric or negative function of a muscle is a controlled lengthening contraction. Running is essentially a controlled fall with every foot strike and your muscles need to slow the impact force of your body weight as each foot hits the ground. This happens eccentrically for most muscle groups and is where breakdown of the body and injury most often occurs. For each exercise you do, try a 2:1:4 tempo, where you shorten the muscle on a 2 count, hold for a 1 count, and lengthen or return to the starting position on a 4 count.
- Optimize your core for running. We all know that having a strong core is important and there are dozens of great exercises out there. Generally, while running the core functions to control rotation and derotation as we transfer energy from one limb to the other with our arms swinging in the opposite direction. While you will be generally working your core if your workouts are functional, you should incorporate specific core exercises that involve reciprocal motions similar to running, such as mountain climbers, reverse mountain climbers, and the bicycle.
|Reverse Mountain Climber - TRX|
**This article was originally published in the Manitoba Runners Association February newsletter, On The Run.