Injury Proof your Running
When training and racing, the discipline of Adventure Racing that most overuse injuries occur on is running. If you're stuck in the town during the week, you'll probably be pounding out your miles on the pavement or, even worse, on a treadmill. The repetitive foot-strikes can easily mean that even small imbalances or tightnesses can become full blown injuries. Even if you're lucky enough to have daily access to the trails or fells, it's all too easy for niggles to creep up on you and put a dent in your training. Stick on a pack on race day, without having trained with one and you're even more likely to be paying a trip to the physio.
Fortunately by working through a simple strengthening routine 2-3 times per week, it's possible to safe-guard yourself against many common running injuries and, in the process, improve your running strength too.Why is it necessary?
If running is one of the most natural activities we can take part in and we evolved to do it, why do so many runners pick up injuries? If our bodies are adapted to running, why do we need to do any special preparation to run? One of the answers is, that although we might be the same "running animal" as our mammoth hunting ancestors, our modern lifestyle isn't what we evolved for. This means that all the wonderful anatomical features that should allow us to effortlessly run for hours on end are underused, compromised, weakened and ineffective. When we do throw ourselves over enthusiastically into a running training programme, our bodies simply can't cope. A good analogy would be keeping a high performance racing car garaged for years and then, on the first turn of the key and without any servicing, expect it to post a record lap on a race track.
One of the biggest contributing factors to our body's diminished ability to run is the amount of time we spend sitting. Think about it, working at your desk, driving your car or sat watching the TV, twelve hours on your backside each day isn't beyond the realms of possibility. We didn't evolve as sitters, we evolved as upright movers, hunting, gathering and avoiding being eaten. Sitting causes all sorts of problems. Key muscles groups for running such as our hamstrings and hip flexors tighten and weaken. Supportive muscles in the core and buttocks, that are vital for strong injury free running, switch off and waste away. When we then go out and run, other muscles and tissues take up the strain to compensate for the weakened ones that are supposed to be doing the job but, this just compounds the problem, and sets you up for injury woes.
The strengthening routine, that'll be an integral part of your preparation and training, is designed to undo the damage that sitting has done, switch on and strengthen your running muscles and make sure you start running correctly and strongly. Many of the exercises in the strengthening routine are ones that you'd typically find in the re-hab routines that phyios prescribe to injured runners. As far as I'm concerned, that's closing the stable door after the horse has bolted and it's obviously far better to get strong for running and not get injured at all.
As well as leg strengthening exercises, that have an obvious relationship to running, the core strengthening movements included are vital for providing a strong running platform and safeguarding you against non-running injuries and mishaps. This "Robust or Bust" philosophy to conditioning was coined by a good friend of mine and top Sports Physio Tim Deykin. He was working with the GB Canoeing Squad and noticed that, although they were super strong in their boats, they were relatively weak outside of them and prone to injuries when picking up boxes, children or in other areas of everyday life. This is another reason why strengthening work has to more than an optional extra in a marathon programme. You're investing a staggering amount of time and effort into your training and definitely don't want a silly niggle picked up gardening or doing DIY to ruin it all. Building a great all round strength base is the best insurance policy you can take out against this.
The strengthening routine is easy to do at home or in the gym with the minimum amount of kit. All you'll need is:
- Exercise Mat
- Swiss/Stability Ball
- Adjustable dumbbells or a selection of dumbbell weights
- Go as deep as you can manage and tap your hind foot on the floor.
- Bend forwards and reach out with your arms to assist balance.
- Focus on engaging your butt muscles.
- As you progress, deepen the movement by standing on a step or bench.
Single-legged Deadlift: Another single-legged movement but this time working predominately on the hamstrings and lower back.
- Keep a slight bend in the standing leg.
- Keep your head up and spine neutral.
- Lower the dumbbell to just in front of the standing foot.
Walking Lunge with Twist: More single-legged movement and the twist helps to develop lateral strength and stability.
- Step slightly outside of your centre line to give a more stable platform for the twist.
- Make sure the twist is slow and controlled.
- Hold a dumbbell or medicine ball to increase the intensity.
Calve Raises: Your calves and Achilles tendon are particularly vulnerable to injury so some strengthening is strongly advised.
- Try to do one leg at a time to identify any discrepancies.
- Standing on a step or bench is more beneficial than using a seated station.
- Work through a full range of motion from a deep stretch with the heel fully down to full extension right up on tip-toe.
Ball Hamstring Curl: As well as hitting the hamstrings, an excellent movement for building core stability and strength.
- Keep your hips high and butt muscles clenched.
- Work in a slow, controlled and balanced manner.
- Aim to progress to performing the movement single-legged.
One Legged Dynamic Bridge: Following on from the work on the ball this again will hit your backside and hamstrings.
- As you lift your hips, squeeze your bum.
- Keep the non-supporting leg extended, pointing with the toes and the thigh parallel to the supporting leg.
- Lower to the point where your bum just touches the floor and then drive straight back up.
Roll-outs: The deep stabiliser muscles of your trunk are essential for avoiding excessive body roll when running. This movement targets them in a dynamic way.
- Maintain a neutral spine throughout with no hint of hyper-extention.
- Don't roll too far, keep in control of the movement.
- Strongly contract your abdominal muscles throughout.
Oblique Plank: A second movement aimed at delivering a stable and strong trunk.
- Keep your head up and avoid sagging or lifting the hips.
- Reach high with the extended hand and open your chest to almost the point of overbalancing backwards.
- Stop the "rep" when your form deteriorates.