Sunday, 28 February 2016

A Strong Body is Rarely a Painful Body

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
Mountain Climbers
Reverse Mountain Climber
Reverse Mountain Climber - TRX
If you have very little experience with strength training, consider asking for help from a professional such as a coach, personal trainer, or physiotherapist.  If you know your body is a little bit complicated or cranky, and you want a tailored plan to address your specific weaknesses, consider visiting us at the Running & Gait Centre for a comprehensive biomechanical and physical assessment. We’d love to help!

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.

**This article was originally published in the Manitoba Runners Association February newsletter, On The Run.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Ramping up & Ramping Down

A quick post for the record books.  I am into week 8 of my Grand Canyon Ultra training plan and just over 12 weeks out from my first big race of the season.  Mileage is starting to ramp up, which means some creative time management, efficient meal planning, and a constant struggle to find enough hours in the day to sleep.  I'm between about 70-80K/week for mileage now, and it's only going up from here.  I've been doing long runs out at Birds Hill Park on a nice meandering forested trail, which has nice variety but a noticeable lack of elevation as does every outdoor run here in Manitoba.

Still at Todd rocking the running kilt!
So, once per week I've started making the drive out to a small town east of Winnipeg to run treadmill hill intervals with my training buddy Todd.  His gym kindly lets us prop one treadmill up on a step (~15% down grade) and we put another treadmill at +15% incline.  After 1 mile warm up, we have been doing 10 min intervals on each treadmill, trading back and forth.  We are now at 6 intervals.  With the warm up and cool down that totalled 2 hours 20 min and 12.5 miles (~20K) of running and trekking.  Argh!  Can we say stinky and sweaty not to mention brain numb afterwards?  However, after these runs I feel the exact type of DOMS and fatigue in my legs that I used to after mountain runs, and since that is the only time in the week that I can train for sustained climbs, those nasty treadmill intervals are going to get longer.  I (we) plan to add more variety to the intervals as time goes on, and try to start replicating portions of the GC course as closely as humanly possibly on a treadmill.

On another note, last weekend I volunteered for an 8 hour all night shift at the Actif Epica race.  It was very inspiring seeing runners and cyclists come into our aid station with 15 of 125km or 160km left to run/ride, in up to -40C wind chill weather.  My Sunday morning 30K run was at 5:30am on no sleep the night before.  Good training as I've never run that mentally tired before.  My legs were fine, but I almost nodded off mid step!

Finally, I tried a new nutritional supplement yesterday called UCan.  Thanks to a friend who told me all about it during the long night at Actif Epica, I think I may have discovered something amazing.  I hesitate to shout about it too loudly yet, but it's a slow release complex carb drink mix made from non-GMO corn that gave me seriously sustained steady energy for over 3.5 hours of running on only 2 servings of the powder (42g carbs!).  I can't handle gels for hours, and prefer whole foods, but they are heavy to carry and always have fiber.  Stay tuned as I experiment over the next few runs and try to further my body's ability to burn fat rather than sugar.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

2015: Momentus Video

Before 2016 gets much more underway, I figured I'd better get my memories of 2015 recorded and encapsulated.  Here is a video of the year that was MOMENTOUS for me: because each moment was precious and savoured and special.  Because many were my last moments in places and with people I love dearly.  Farewell 2015 and BRING ON 2016!

Running Adventures 2015 from Kim Senechal on Vimeo.