Strength Training To Extend Your Running Career

Running is a basic and fundamental activity that every human being should be able to do. Yet, unfortunately, running is the most injurious non-contact sport around - somewhere between 60-70% per year.

Let me get this out of the way before I start this - I'd rather be bashed over the head with a cricket bat then run 20 km. I don't even want to drive 20 km. That’s just my opinion, so before you get up in arms, remember that in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter. Running is still hugely popular and if it's your passion, then you go ahead and run until your feet fall off. Sound good?

A lot of people in the fitness industry trash doctors; some deservedly, some not. I've trained a few in my years and I do have a lot of respect for them, especially in today's era of Google and WebMD. They put in a lot of work and are extremely knowledgeable. If you are sick or have a serious injury - please be smart and go to a doctor.

With that out of the way, there's one thing that drives me absolutely bonkers and I'm going to use runners as an example.

Said runner goes out every morning and runs at least 5 km. Our hypothetical person has big cushy shoes, maybe with some orthotics. Their hip hurts pretty much all the time, they have a mild case of shin splints and let's say, tendonitis, in their knees. Usually they'll just pop some Advil and hope it hurts only a little so they can keep going.

Shiny knee guy

One day they were rushed and dehydrated, the pain gets a bit too much, and something gives. Sharp pains abound with every step in one joint or another. So they go to the doctor, and the doctor asks when does it hurt, they say when they run, and the doctor tells them to stop running. Makes logical sense.

But I find this a completely unacceptable answer. Look, I totally get it. Doctors are busy and they don't have time to go through a complete assessment and mobility program with every person. It's not their fault because that's just the way the system is - go until you're broken and then stitch you back together.

As I said, if someone told me no more running, I would be ecstatic! No problem doc! But for this hypothetical person, running is their passion and taking that away from them can be absolutely crushing. This is what I truly empathize with; if someone told me I couldn't lift weights anymore, honestly, unless I was going to die from it, I would probably just ignore them and find some way to do it anyway.

Let's rewind on our runner. The warning signs were all there. The hip pain, shin splints, and tendinitis are basically your body's "check engine" light, which when they took the Advil, they put metaphorical band aid over. Running injuries (generally) tend to be chronic or overuse in nature, so there's always a warning. These warning signs need to be heeded and treated so we can keep doing what we love.

When you run you have roughly 4 - 8 times your bodyweight coming down on your joints with each step. If your achilles are tight, if your arches have fallen, if you have zero hip external rotation and your hip flexors are encased in cement, your body is basically out of alignment. It is going to have a hard time dealing with the sheer amount of force going through those joints.

This is especially true if you have, ahem, let’s say, “self taught” mechanics and your heel is striking each time the pavement each and every step. It's a ticking time bomb, especially if you've got some miles on your body. (Before you say this sounds like a specific case, I can assure you that no, it's an extremely common scenario).

Runners, and quite frankly, most of the general population, have a checklist of problems I tend to see over and over:

  • Weak posterior chain/hip extension (glutes, hamstrings, low back)
  • Weak/poor core engagement
  • Stiff hip flexors leading to poor stride length and back pain
  • Stiff achilles/lack of dorsiflexion in the ankles
  • General lack of adequate recovery
  • Poor movement mechanics in general

Buuuuuut - if we work on mechanics such as core engagement and proper foot position a little bit, get proper hydration and nutrition, a couple strength training sessions a week, topped off by working for roughly ten minutes each and every day on aggressively addressing those tissue and joint restrictions, that runner will be right back in the game.  

water

This all might sound like a lot but it's really quite easy to fit into a schedule.

In regards to the type of training, I'd like to throw the old stereotypes out the window. We aren't doing bicep curls on a machine for strength, we're doing box squats and deadlift variations to strengthen our posterior chain for a more efficient “engine”. We're not pulling our foot up toward our butt a couple times or doing static hamstrings stretches for 5.6 seconds before we leave as a warmup with no regard to our hip position, we're doing a targeted warmup to get our body ready for the demands placed on it. We're doing a couch stretch every night to improve our hip flexors and the quads in a meaningful way, not the standard old quad stretch while waiting for the light to change.

And for the love of all that is good we're using a lacrosse ball or something similar to address the tissue quality of the feet and shins (and obviously other things).

And I just to want to take a moment to make one thing clear:

Even if you aren't injured, you are leaving an incredible amount of performance on the table by not doing these things! 

Now showing you all these things is a bit out of the scope of this post, but if this is something you are interested in, and you can't come see me (because obviously that's the best idea in this whole post), I'd very highly recommend the book Ready to Run by Dr Kelly Starrett.

I don't get paid at all for this though I'd definitely like to (Side note: if you're interested in paying me to sell out - please direct your inquiries and email money transfers to karl@infinitefit.ca. Next week's refreshing post will be brought to you by PepsiCo!).

My main point is a little bit of perspective shift and maintenance can go a long, long way in making sure you're a healthy, happy (I think? I still don't get it) runner for the long haul.

If you are interested in any of what I'm throwing down here you can find me at karl@infinitefit.ca, @theoriginalkarlg on Instagram or Karl Gellert on Facebook.

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