ARE YOU STRONG ENOUGH TO RUN?
When most people think of running, the primary words that come to mind involve the cardiovascular strength end of the spectrum: breathing, endurance, distance, etc. Yes, running is an aerobic sport. And to breathe more efficiently and endure longer distances, we must practice the activity that is running. When the title of this blog asks “are you strong enough to run?” it doesn’t just mean can you move from one place to another, at a pace faster than walking, for a certain amount of time. It is asking can you move from one place to another in efficient, safe manner, a manner that is not susceptible to injury. What many runners, not just beginners, fail to acknowledge is the physical strength end of the spectrum. Somewhere along this spectrum is also mental strength, which is a necessary skill a runner needs to hold themselves accountable.
I used to be one of those runners. I have been running off and on since I was 14 years old, more competitively over the past four years. I have always been good at following a plan (for the most part). I need to use to word “follow” loosely. I would always pride myself on being able to adhere closely to training plans, for example a 12-week half marathon training plan. If a week called for 20 miles, I would make sure those 20 miles were done in a seven day time span, even it meant cramming it all in on the weekend. In the plans I usually follow, two of the days dictate “stretch and strength”. It’s bad enough I would sometimes procrastinate with my mileage assignment, what’s worse is I would almost always ignore the stretch and strength assignments.
Throughout the years of becoming a more competitive runner, what I started to see in small performance gains also came with slowly increasing overuse injuries: Achilles tendinosis, pes anserine bursitis, proximal hamstring tendinosis, the list sadly goes on. Of all the possible tendons that can be overused with running, I found a way to put an –itis or –osis at the end of each of them. I felt unlucky. Was it my weight? Was it my training plan? Why did I keep getting hurt? As a sports medicine professional, I of course had a multitude of knowledge in treating these injuries, but why would I refuse to do the obvious and prevent them? It all came down to me being stubborn. Wanting to get the “most for my money” and not addressing the strength and mental points on my own spectrum.
That continued to be the case until I began working with other like-minded individuals who were passionate about sports medicine: practitioners who not only treated the injury, but found out the root of the cause. They look at the entire athlete; their entire kinetic chain. Which muscles were tight? Which were weak? Which needed more endurance? Again, working in the sports medicine field, I followed similar principles, but the problem was I never applied them to myself as an athlete.
I quickly learned how weak my hips were. Through reviewing videos and pictures of myself running, I finally saw the big picture. My form was terrible: too much adduction at my hips leading to unnecessary rotation of my legs and knocked knees. A study performed in 2011 by the Running Injury Clinic in Alberta, Canada revealed that runners with patellar knee pain had 28.71% weaker hip abductors than those in the control group. Subsequently, after following a three week hip abductor strengthening program, they reported a 43.10% reduction in knee pain. I would have been a perfect test subject for that study!
So, I finally began to address the strength aspect. It was a key element that was missing from my running plans. I focused on core and abdominal strength, hip, gluteal and hamstring strength among others. I finally used that foam roller than was collecting dust in the corner of my living room. I dedicated my time to not just the physical activity of running. Today, I recover more easily. I have less aches and pains. I keep up my “accountability” exercises as I like to call them. And as a result, I have become a stronger, more confident runner with a lot less aches and pains.
Below I would like to share some important exercises that all runners should become familiar with and try to adapt BEFORE starting a running or training program. Any runner, whether a weekend warrior or competitive elite, can benefit from these exercises. Even if performing these exercises takes away from running itself at first, your body will thank you later!
a. ABDOMINAL BRACING: while lying on your back, tighten your stomach muscles as you draw your navel down.
Be sure not to arch your lower back.
Start with 30 sets of 5 seconds.
Try to add this workout routine into your training schedule two times per week. If anything causes pain, do not continue. Speak with your athletic trainer or health professional before continuing. If you have any questions or comments, please email Diana at .