Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Running Strong and Injury-Free: Using the Off Season to Your Advantage

The race season is over.  There are no more race goals, no more training plans on the fridge.  The holiday season has arrived and it’s easy to lose focus and start running inconsistently, setting yourself up for a potential injury. Conversely, maybe you’ve been battling an injury all season and are hoping it will start to heal over the holidays.

The off-season is the prime time to check in with your body.  It’s an opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive.  

Some primary causes of running injuries are:
  • Training errors: This includes too much too soon, poor planning and periodization, and overtraining.
  • Sub-optimal biomechanics: This leads to less ability to absorb training errors.
  • Poor body alignment: Sometimes you can change this, sometime you can’t.
  • Muscle Imbalances: Imbalances in strength and muscle length can lead to an asymmetrical gait pattern which is a big predicator of injury in runners.
  • Lack of variety:  Running involves highly repetitive movement patterns that can lead to overuse of key muscles if each footstep lands on the ground in the same way.
  • Incorrect or worn out shoes: This is less of a factor if you have addressed biomechanical, alignment and muscular factors, but should be considered.
Here are my top five suggestions for setting yourself up to be injury free in the new year.
  • Slow down and do a self assessment.  Pay attention to those niggles and pains that you’ve been ignoring all season.
  • Identify and correct the risk factors you can on your own.  If your gut is telling you something needs to be changed, follow your instinct.  Make changes slowly and gradually.
  • Cross train.  When the weather precludes you from getting outside as much as you’d like, the off-season can present the perfect opportunity to add variety to your training through cross-training.  Consider activities like spinning, cross-country skiing, skating, weight training and yoga.
  • Make a plan.  Take the time to develop a training plan for the next season or race.  Hiring a coach can provide invaluable guidance, but there are many good training plans available online.  This will help you train smart by increasing your mileage gradually and intelligently, and balancing hard training days with recovery and rest days. Recovery is as much a part of training as running hard, and it’s important to build rest into your plan.
  • Get professional help in areas you can’t correct yourself.  Attempting to make changes to your biomechanics, alignment and strength are best done in the off-season, not at the peak of your training cycle when your body cannot absorb those changes well.  Having professional guidance can help you focus your efforts in the areas you need to address most.
If you are a runner who has been dealing with an injury for a long time with no resolution, or a runner who wants to prevent future injuries from occurring as you reach for your next big goal, you might want to consider visiting the Running and Gait Centre at the Pan Am Clinic for a 3D Biomechanical Gait Analysis.  The centre is the only clinic in Manitoba to offer this highly advanced assessment in a clinical setting.
3D Gait Analysis

During the assessment you will have 16 sensors attached to your joints, and five sensor clusters attached to your legs and pelvis. As you run, six cameras measure your gait pattern.  A report is generated with 16 gait variables, comparing you to a database of thousands of runners.  This data is combined with a very thorough physical assessment that seeks to correlate your gait report with your measures of alignment and muscle strength and length.

You will then return to the centre for a second visit where you will be presented with a comprehensive report and plan for addressing your individual risk factors and weaknesses.  Specific strengthening, stretching, shoe and orthotic recommendations, and targeted physiotherapy treatment will all result in improved running form and efficiency. Research has shown this method to be very effective in helping runners perform pain-free, and to their peak potential.

The Running and Gait Centre is currently accepting bookings for January 2016.  For more information, visit our website or call 204-805-1912.Kim Sénéchal is the lead physiotherapist at the Running & Gait Centre: Foundation Rehabilitation Services at the Pan Am Clinic.  She is also an ultra marathon runner and run coach.

NB: This article was written for the Manitoba Runner's Association newsletter, Dec 2015.