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Injury Prevention for Runners

by Lauren Wentz
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Foam Rolling 

We’ve all heard the term “foam rolling” but do you know why or how to foam roll? Foam rolling is a form of self myofascial release. It helps draw blood to the muscles, activating the muscles, breaking down scar tissue and increasing extensibility of the soft tissue. Foam rolling is ideal to perform before running to decrease recovery time and muscle soreness post workout. Although it does not hurt to include after a run, in the form of a massage to the sore muscles. 

Activation and Dynamic Stretching 

Muscles need to be activated and “woken up” prior to going for a run. After sleeping or sitting all day at work our glutes turn off due to the inactivity and need to be turned on in order to work properly during our workout. If the glutes are not activated then we over use smaller muscles like our quads and hamstrings and in return end up getting overuse injuries. 

Ways to activate your glutes are to carry a pair of looped resistance bands in your running bag. One or two bands can be used. The first band is placed above the knees and the second band is around the ankles. If using two different resistances, the band with more resistance would go above the knees, allowing the one with less resistance to stretch further around the ankles. 

Perform the following exercises: 
  • Clamshells
  • Monster walks 
  • Side stepping 
Other muscle groups such as abdominals and periscapular muscles should also be activated by completing plank holds, banded pulls and scapular push ups. 

Dynamic stretches should be performed prior to running. These are stretches that move through the range of motion, improving mobility in a functional pattern specific to the sport being performed. These increase blood flow to the muscles preparing for the demands about to be placed on them. 

Examples: 
  • Leg swings
  • Walking lunges with torso twist
  • Side shuffle 
  • Monster kicks 

Strength Training 

Strength training is by far one of the most important factors to injury prevention for runners but most frequently forgotten. The posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, gastrocnemius) is typically weaker in runners and should be a focus in the strength training routine due to the goal of achieving triple extension in the push off phase of the running gait cycle. There is a misconception that distance runners should lift lighter weights with more repetitions but contrary to popular belief it is better to increase the weight with fewer repetitions in order to increase strength and power in the muscles to tackle the varying terrain. The legs should not be the only focus. The core and upper body should also receive attention to improve posture and running mechanics. 

Stretching/Yoga 

Finally, after running and working out, this is the time to include static stretching or gentle dynamic movements held for longer periods of time to move the muscles and joints to their end range. Yoga is a great practice to incorporate into your routine. The physical benefits of yoga include flexibility, mobility, strength, biomechanical balance, improved breathing and an energized body. Increased flexibility and mobility is seen in the lower extremities, especially those nagging hip flexors, hamstrings, quads and gastrocnemius/soleus muscles. Good ankle flexibility and mobility will reduce chances of Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis. Most runners are unaware they have decreased ankle mobility due to tight ankle musculature. Poses like half pigeon and happy baby are both great hip opener poses for endurance athletes. Upper extremity flexibility and joint mobility is also important, especially in the shoulders and neck due to runners typically tensing their upper trapezius muscles. Yoga also relieves tension in the lower back and obliques. By performing yoga in bare feet, one benefits by increasing intrinsic foot musculature and removes the stability assistance of shoes. Increased intrinsic foot strength decreases your chances of developing plantar fasciitis and assists in coping with the pounding your feet and ankles endure with running. Proprioception training is achieved through the balancing poses, weight bearing poses, changing body positions and the repetitive flow of poses. Visual, vestibular and auditory systems are also trained while the sensory system is being soothed. In order to hold and maintain certain poses, some muscles need to stretch while others need to contract. This is known as finding one’s muscle equilibrium. 

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