Keep Running Strong this Summer!
As Summer heats up, so does the racing season for runners and triathletes. Regardless of whether you are a trail or road runner, chances are your training picks up this time of year. Unfortunately, injuries commonly occur as we ramp up our training. This can be due to a variety of factors including poor running technique, progressing your training too quickly, poor footwear, muscle weakness or tightness just to name a few. Ideally, if you are injured you take some time off to let the injury heal while addressing some of the factors listed above that may have caused your injury. Let’s be honest though, many of you don’t have time to slow down and are trying to manage your injury through race season. Regardless of whether you are trying to push through an injury and make it through your next race or have had an injury and are back to running, it’s important to understand what happens to your muscles when you have an injury.
Whenever we have an injury such as an ankle sprain or an “overuse injury” such as plantar fasciitis or knee tendinitis our muscles tend to “shut down”. What does this mean? Each time our foot hits the ground with running, several muscles need to contract or fire quickly to keep us stable and running fast. Think of it like a computer program that works automatically without you even thinking about it. Think about how quickly and how many times each foot hits the ground when you run. You can’t consciously think about contracting each muscle that needs to work when your foot hits the ground. Your brain puts this on autopilot.
When we have an injury this “program” can shut down. This is one way your brain tries to protect you from doing more damage. Your brain is trying to stop you from running by shutting down your muscles. For example, research has shown if you sprain your left ankle, the muscles of your left hip shut down (along with other muscles). Obviously, they don’t completely shut down, but they become weaker and don’t fire as quickly.
Why is this important if you are pushing through an injury or have had an injury that you think has resolved? If you are constantly pushing through an injury, it can be difficult to get your muscles working the way they should be. Remember, pain can cause your muscles to shut down making it more difficult for them to work as they should while you are running. Even if your are doing the right exercises, it is much more difficult to get them stronger when you are working through a painful injury. If you have had an injury that has resolved and have not done the appropriate exercises, you are at risk for injury in the future. This is because your muscle strength (along with the “motor program”) does not always automatically come back even when the pain goes away. It is important for you to retrain your muscles with specific exercises most appropriate for running. A simple assessment/exercise of your hip/core strength is the single leg mini squat seen here. This is a good place to start. Depending on your strength and control with this exercise you may need to scale back your exercise program or progress it to a more dynamic program specific to running. Your physical therapist can guide you with this progression. 1 or 2 exercises performed a few days per week may be all you need to keep running strong.