By Elena Soles
If you’ve been on social media in the last few years, you’ll see just about every running coach is discussing and incorporating strength training. So how does this relate to PT? The effect on injury risk and injury recovery is an ever growing field in research, and an important evolution in physical therapy for addressing dysfunction for runners. While we might think of prevention and rehabilitation as separate entities, the growing body of research indicates that we can take advantage of the same strategies of reducing injury risk to also promote injury recovery, creating a vast and effective Venn diagram of the complementary goals.
While we are unlikely to exhaust the many reasons why this topic matters, we would love to share a few pearls that might inspire you to explore this in your own running journey! For the sake of simplicity, let’s just refer to strengthening as the body of exercises that help us improve the force production of our muscles and nervous system.
Running economy, a measure of efficiency and resource sparing, is a hot topic across runners. The focus is, however, often on performance. While it’s hard not to get excited about that next PR, here at Stride we get slightly more enthusiastic about the idea of form integrity. Improvement in the running economy suggests we can run a certain distance or speed with decreased effort. Runners will often have pain associated with a certain distance that can be correlated with fatigue. Fatigue is multifactorial, but we can think of this at the point that our musculoskeletal, nervous, and/or cardiovascular system might be starting to suggest that we are getting close to our available resources to complete that task. In other words? Use fewer resources to complete an activity for a given amount of time and thereby reduce the impact on our body’s systems to accomplish the task.
One thing that has been well studied is variability of stress and movement being associated with positive markers for the body. Heard of heart rate variability? Turns out, this is a positive measure of our autonomic nervous system and cardiovascular functioning. There has been a focus in the running content community that suggests running in several different types of shoes (minimalist, supportive, alternating heel to toe drop) promotes resilience. Other emerging research even suggests stride variability is also a health promoting metric.
Strengthening is another metric of variability that we can manipulate to help distribute the stress of movement and help develop other muscle groups that might assist us in our form. Our running form represents what our body feels is the safest and most efficient way to perform an activity. Strengthening allows us access to other critical parts of our toolkit to overcome gravitational forces. If we strengthen in planes of motion that we don’t often think about in our running, such as side to side and rotational aspects of movement, we can address injury risk from improving our body’s proficiency in more than one way of moving.
Have you ever heard the phrase that walking/running is just a controlled forward fall? Jay Dicharry, author of “Running Rewired”, and “Anatomy for Runners”, describes this best when he refers to the body as a ship that needs steering. Strengthening, quite simply, bolsters our robustness in responding to gravity. What runners often don’t appreciate is how the body is challenged in balance and strength based aspects, which are not necessarily addressed by just running more. The best way we get better at running is running more. The way that we make our body more skilled at each step we take is to challenge our body’s skillset with overcoming gravity. Strengthening gives us an opportunity to address how to be still and stable in certain joints while others are moving in a controlled fashion through a full range of motion. This is running in an essence, where we would like some muscles to learn how to control motion from happening at all, and others to help create more motion. Sometimes the old adage of “just run more” doesn’t help us with this pertinent piece.
How to get started
What type of strength training is most effective? Everyone’s favorite answer .. It depends! For those that are already engaged in heavy resistance training, there may be room to increase body weight control. Always lifting slowly? Maybe speed should be a variable to incorporate. Do you always strengthen with both feet on the floor? Considering running requires the control of only one leg at a time on the ground, this might not be addressing strengthening in a functional way.
Whatever medium you choose, choosing something and perhaps incorporating something different might be what the doctor ordered. Paralysis by analysis can plague our ability to be consistent and get started. As with everything, progressing based on where you are currently at and honoring your body’s responses are important to ensure strengthening promotes injury resilience versus increased injury risk
Questions? We are here to help! Take a look at our services we offer for strengthening, particularly for reducing injury risk by clicking here.