Antonio Williams, M.S., NASM, P.E.S
Case Management Specialist, Health Educator
Help protect yourself from injury with a little training know-how
When you think about training for a long-distance race, strength training may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Many runners do not do any strength training as part of their preparation. The problem with this choice however, is that it may make them more likely to become injured.
Perhaps you are wondering, "How can strength training prevent injury?"
Every time your foot hits the ground, it absorbs a small shock that tires your muscles as you run. As you increase the length of your runs, other muscles are forced to compensate. When this happens, your muscles have to work harder than they are prepared to. This is when your body becomes susceptible to injury.
Running develops more muscular endurance than strength. As a result, it is important to do strength training in addition to running in order to help prevent injury.
A lack of flexibility is another common cause of injury. Tight muscles - calves, hip flexors, IT bands (side of thigh), quadriceps, lats (back) and adductors (groin) - all put the runner at risk. These muscles are usually tight for people who have desk jobs. Athletes with tight muscles also may have slight external rotation when their foot lands during sprints. Running at top speed with a slight external rotation can cause groin strain, a pulled hip flexor, and low back pain. This is just one example of how a lack of flexibility can prevent runners from increasing their speed.
A lack of flexibility may also interfere with running mechanics. Runners who can't maintain proper running form will ultimately begin to slow down. This is because certain muscles are working harder than others and may fatigue sooner.
Imagine if four people are carrying a box and they each have a corner to hold. If two people decide not to carry the box, there's more weight and pressure on the other two people. Although they are strong enough, they will soon tire out and drop the box. This same concept is true for your body. A lack of flexibility will cause certain muscles to work harder than others. Eventually, your body will "drop the box" and you will be more likely to experience muscular injuries.
Strength training two or three days a week will help your body absorb the constant pounding of the pavement and over time, your muscles won't tire as quickly. You'll be able to run further, faster and for longer durations. This takes some time, so give this routine a couple of weeks to see a difference.
Stretching before and after working out also helps keep your body balanced. It prevents muscles from over-compensating and interfering with your form. Here are some recommended stretches to get you started.
Put both hands against a wall with arms extended. Lean with one leg bent forward and the other leg extended back. Keep your knee straight and foot positioned forward. Push rear heel to floor (toe pointed straight ahead) and move hips slightly forward. Hold stretch. Repeat this with the opposite leg.
Kneel in front of a chair or stable surface. Place one hand on the surface and slowly lower chest toward the ground. Feel the stretch in your upper shoulder area around your armpit. Do not arch your lower back, and tighten your core as you lower your chest. Repeat on opposite side.
Kneel with one knee on a padded mat and your other foot positioned forward. Place back foot onto a stable surface, such as a bench. Slowly drive hip forward and squeeze glutes on the same side as the leg being stretched. Hold stretch. Repeat with the opposite side.
Stand next to a stable, knee-high surface. Place your foot on the surface and slowly reach your hand toward your feet. Feel the stretch in the groin area of your upper leg. Keep both feet pointing straight ahead. Do not shift hips toward your leg on the surface. Repeat on opposite the leg.
By incorporating regular strength-training and stretching into your workouts, you will be taking important steps to keeping yourself injury free and on the right path to a successful race day.
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Healey, K, Hatfield, D, Blanpied, P, Dorfman, L, Riebe D, The effects of myofascial release with foam rolling on performance, J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jan; 28(1):61-8
Lieberman, D, Warrener, A, Wang, J, Castillo, E, Effects of Stride Frequency and Foot position at Landing on Braking Force, Hip Torque, Impact Peak Force and the Metabolic Cost of Running in Humans, Journal of Experimental Biology 2015 218
Dunne, J, Running: It’s All in The Hips, Jan 8, 2013, http://www.kinetic-revolution.com/running-its-all-in-the-hips/
The information provided is for educational purposes only. It is not medical advice. Always consult your doctor for appropriate health advice and guidance, including prior to starting a new diet or exercise program.