With the winter months finally coming to an end in a few weeks, the next phase of the annual exercise calendar will soon commence: running season! Every year around this time people flood the streets charged with excitement to strap on the new running shoes they got from Santa Claus that, until now, they haven’t been able to use. But now, armed with the ambition to beat their race time from last year’s half marathon, everyone will be outside logging their miles, and trying to squeeze 6 months-worth of running time that they lost over winter into the 6 weeks they have before the big race. However, with this aggressive desire to get out and jog mile after glorious mile, there are some risks that need to be taken into consideration, and strength exercises that should be completed before you hit the pavement.
As is the case with any sport where you are required to complete a certain repetitive motion over a long duration of time, there is the propensity for the body to develop overuse injuries. These particular types of injuries arise from the fact that the muscles that are involved in completing whatever movement that is being done over and over again (agonist muscles), wind up getting stronger than the muscles that are responsible for supporting the movement (antagonist muscles). For example, a major league baseball pitcher who throws hundreds of pitches is at risk of developing an overuse injury because the agonist muscles he uses to accelerate his arm to throw the ball become stronger than the antagonist muscles he uses to decelerate his arm after the ball is thrown. Therefore, the goal is to develop muscle balance between both the agonist and antagonist muscles of a given movement so that injuries like joint pain and tendonitis don’t occur.
In the case of long distance running, especially during the first few weeks of running after a long winter hiatus, there are a few common overuse injuries that will occur to the body, namely: knee pain, low back pain, and muscles tears of the anterior tibialis, commonly known as “shin splints.”
Knee pain will usually manifest itself as patellar tendonitis, which appears because the repetitive running motion is largely controlled by the quadriceps group. Every time you take a stride, your quads pull on the patellar tendon (the strap of tendon that runs over the top of your kneecap) causing the knee joint to extend so that your foot can land on the ground, propelling you forward. As a result of this action happening hundreds to thousands of times during the course of any given run, soreness will develop if the opposing muscles (hamstrings) are not strong enough to balance out the force of the quadriceps. In terms of preventing knee pain, you need to strengthen the hamstring group in order to balance out the quadriceps group. Therefore the deadlift, Romanian deadlift, and drop lunge would be advised.
Low back pain can develop in runners for a couple of different reasons. First, because each time that your legs stride forward during your run requires you to bring your leg from behind your hip to in front of your hip, your hip flexors are firing constantly to allow this to happen. As a result, these muscles are constantly pulling your pelvis forward, which causes your spinal erector muscles to have to work in order to keep your pelvis in line. Secondly, your spinal erectors are also primarily responsible for holding your torso in the favorable upright posture that you need in order to run long distances efficiently. Due to this double duty, the muscles and fascia in your lower back have to be strengthened in order to avoid chronic pain. Therefore, in order to alleviate lower back pain due to overuse of the hip flexors and weakness in the spinal erectors, you would want to strengthen your transverse abdominis muscle in your core as well as your glutes. Exercises that are great for your abs and glutes would include the deadlift (again), hip bridging, and planks.
Shin splints are caused by tiny little micro tears in the anterior tibialis muscle, which is the small skinny muscle that runs vertically over the front of your shin bone, and is responsible for actively lifting your toes off the ground every time your heel strikes the ground. Typically this injury occurs because the foot over pronates (ie collapses inward) each time you land due to weakness in the muscles on the outside of your lower leg and/or tightness in your Achilles tendon. Therefore, to prevent shin splints, strengthening the lateral side of your lower leg and keeping your calf muscles flexible are imperative. Great exercises for building these areas include lateral step ups and deadlifts (third time’s a charm!).
Also, it should be noted that, in addition to all of these strength exercises, using a foam roller as a part of your warm up routine is a great way to keep the muscles loose and prevent injuries. And, as always, if any of this sounds overwhelming, we are here to help! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Distance running is one of the easiest ways to stay in shape; all you have to do is get up and go! Additionally, with the increased social component of competing in marathons, 5Ks, and obstacle races, more and more Americans are getting in on the action. However, having some insight on the cause of potential risks and injuries that can occur if you go too hard too soon can be extremely valuable. Hopefully knowing which exercises to include in your strength training routine (hint: deadlift) will now give you the confidence to hit the road in your town and enjoy running season ’16 to the fullest! And who knows, maybe just like Forrest Gump, you’ll be a “runnin’ fool” too!
Joe Gernetzke CSCS