If you are a runner, one of the worst feelings in the world is sustaining an injury while training for a big race. An even worse feeling is having this injury slow your time down significantly or even knock you out of the race all together. Overuse injuries are notorious in the endurance athlete population, particularly in runners. One of the reasons for this is that many runners do not incorporate any kind of exercise variety into their training program. Coupled with the very high volume of activity, the lack of cross-training predisposes these athletes to many different kinds of overuse injuries that can turn chronic if the underlying issues are not addressed.
One common strategy that runners use when dealing with overuse injuries is R&R, or rest and relaxation. While R&R has its place, I often implore my runners to try what I call S&S, or strength and stability training. This type of cross-training can have numerous benefits for runners, including improving form, multiplanar strength, tissue resiliency, and kinesthetic awareness.
To understand how S&S training can help you, you must first understand the basics of how most overuse injuries affect your body. High-volume training coupled with subtle weaknesses in certain muscle groups can cause a breakdown in your running form. These weaknesses often occur in some of the stabilizing muscles such as the gluteal muscles or the muscles that support the arch of the foot. In the short term, you may not notice the effects of form breakdown, but over tens of thousands of steps, even a slight decrease in your running economy causes increased pressure and demand on your muscles, tendons, joints, and bones. Complicating matters is that many athletes will train through the injury, resulting in increased tissue damage, increased chance to develop a chronic injury, overall prolonged recovery time, and more missed training days in the long term.
S&S is also critical for runners who always feel tight; no matter how much you stretch your tight muscles, they never seem to loosen up. This is likely because your muscles aren’t physiologically shorter, but that your muscle weaknesses are causing instability in certain joints. Your body is a master at protecting itself against what it perceives as potential threats to its well-being, and so it uses the muscles that directly affect that joint as a “protective spasm,” keeping the joint from moving or shifting in various ways. If this is your issue, correcting these weaknesses is likely the underlying solution to your chronic tightness.
Incorporating strength and stability into your training has numerous benefits, including, but not limited to, the following:
- It improves strength and endurance of stabilizing muscles in the lower extremities. This will in turn improve overall running economy and take pressure off of tissues that compensate for weaknesses in these areas.
- It subjects tendons and bones to increased loading. This will improve tendon strength and bone density, decreasing risk for common running injuries like tendonitis or stress fractures.
- It improves proprioception, or the ability to sense where different body parts are in space. This helps running economy and also can prevent acute injuries like ankle sprains.
- It also improves overall function in daily activities not related to running, such as squatting, lifting objects, climbing stairs, etc.
S&S training comes in many different varieties. If you are considering incorporating this into your routine, then you may choose to try weight lifting, yoga, Pilates, body weight training, resistance band exercises, functional training, TRX classes — the list goes on! If you can implement a large variety, that will only magnify the benefits that you get.
If you are a runner suffering from an overuse injury, then you should consider seeing a physical therapist at Druid Hills PT. Your therapist can determine the sources of your injury, analyze your running form, and advise you on the appropriate cross-training strategies based on your individual needs and goals. And if you are not currently injured, consider implementing some S&S training to prevent future injury and help you reach your running goals.