Since last July I have had the privilege to work with two of the most dedicated women I have ever had the opportunity to work with, and two of the most amusing as well. Both came in knowing what their goals were and have tackled every obstacle head on while rarely missing a training session, eating well, and constantly hitting PR's on their squat and deadlift. Since starting, the two have lost 32 and 15 Ibs and 13% and 6% body fat respectively, as well as shoring up several muscle imbalances they both had. Keep up the great work ladies!
Take a look at the above picture. What looks wrong about all of their knees? Now let that resonate for the rest of the article.
Running. The most overused form of physical activity/exercise in the history of the fitness industry. Whatever the goal may be for a specific person, it always starts with running. Why? It's free, easy to do, and probably the only thing the individual knows how to correctly perform, or so they thought. Running is not only the most overused form of exercise, but it's also one of the most dangerous, especially to 90% of the current runners out there.
Over the past year I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with a group of marathon runners. In Downtown Milwaukee here, it seems as if there is a different marathon every weekend of the year and is pretty much considered a "who's who activity." "Oh, did you hear Becky doesn't run marathons, I'm so not going out to the bars with her anymore." Yes, I have heard this type of conversation before. Now, I by no means am an advocate for running, but if it is my clients goal to win race A or B then I am going to do everything in my power to make sure they are risk free of injury and can run the most efficient they have ever run before.
I firmly believe that 90% of those who consider themselves marathon runners, should not be running in the first place. The common deficiencies with the common runner are iliotibial tendinitis(runner's knee), hip pain, and lower back pain. Most of the runners who have come to me, did so because they were experiencing knee pain. Here is where the scientific stuff comes.
When a person produces movement, there are many muscles at work and the human body is very prone to developing imbalances through the favoring of different muscles used on a daily basis from a person's life style. Two of the core sub systems of the body , the lateral and deep-longitudinal sub systems, are of extreme importance when improving a runner's performance. The lateral sub system is comprised of the glute medius, glute max, tensor fascia latae, and contralateral quadratus lumborum. This sub system works to control the pelvis and femur in the frontal plane and provide pelvofemoral stability in the frontal plane to limit excessive pronation of the foot (flat feet), excessive valgus stress to the knee. and excessive stress to the foot and ankle. The deep longitduinal system is comprised of the erector spinae group, biceps femoris(hamstring), thoracolumbar fascia, and sacrouberous ligament. The main purpose of this sub system is to limit the ground reaction force up through the muscle.
However, life happens and muscular imbalances happen. Within the lateral sub system, something referred to as pronation distortion syndrome can occur. Pronation distortion syndrome is classified by the internal rotation of the femur, external rotation of the tibia, and excessive pronation of the feet (flat feet). This can come about from weak glutes, weak tibialis anterior/posterior, and tight lateral gastrocnemius, TFL, IT Band, hamstrings, and adductors. This is the most common reason for pain I find in runners who have come to work with me. Couple this with the fact that about seven times a persons body weight is applied in force to the muscles with each stride when running, injuries or pain are going to happen. When glute max and glute medius are weak, especially glute medius, then the adductors are typically overactive as well as the TFL, IT Band, and hamstrings. The hamstrings have to synergistically compromise to perform hip extension, the knee is free to go where it wants because glute medius is weak, and the tibia will externally rotate due to a tight tfl, it band, and lateral gastroc. This is when the hip will adduct, valgus stress will occur (knees caving in) and the nagging knee pain starts as well as the runners susceptibility to severe knee injuries. Now, put all of this together happening over and over again when running a marathon. What do you think will happen? Most likely you'd be on the ground in agonizing knee pain because you just tore your ACL and the runner behind you will be jacking your gatorade energy blocks or GU packets from you and the homeless guy bystander will be sporting your fresh pair of New Balance Minimus.
I am not 100% against running, it's just that I believe someone should have these things shored up before moving on to running. Efforts should be taken to release and lengthen the tfl, lateral gastroc, IT band, hamstrings, and the adductors through proper foam rolling, dynamic mobility drills, and stretching coupled with proper activation of the medial gastroc, glute max, glute medius, and tibialis anterior/posterior. These corrective modalities should all be paired with a well designed strength and conditioning program for the runner in order to improve running economy. Running economy has been shown to be the biggest indicator to endurance performance, more so than lactate threshold and VO2 levels. Running economy is improved through proper strength training by correcting muscle imbalances, strengthening muscles so they can produce more force easier while propelling the body easier with less ground reaction force back up through the surrounding joints, and having less energy leaks from a more stable core.
Runners out there. Incorporate strength training into your training regimens with a qualified strength coach and your performance will sky rocket.
Clark, M. Corrective Exercise Specialist Online Manual. National Academy of Sports Medicine, 2001.
Alex Rosencutter, CSCS, CISSN, CES, NSCA-CPT