It’s summer time here in Colorado which also means it’s running season! With an increase in running frequency, we are also seeing a steady increase in injuries. Runners running an average of 30 minutes per day for 3 days/week have an injury rate of 12-24%. If we increase this frequency to 5 days/week, that injury rate increases to 39%. That’s over 1 in 3 runners currently battling an injury!
Most running injuries develop from overuse and are often related to poor ramp up and training techniques. Some common injuries related to running are hip pain, patellar and achilles tendinopathy, and plantar fasciitis, just to name a few.
Now the ultimate question: “How can I prevent injury and keep running and doing what I love?” The answer is simple: Cross training!
Why Cross Training?
The concept of cross training involves switching up exercise types to better prepare yourself for your “focus” sport, which in this case is running. As we all know, running can be a very repetitive activity that stresses the same joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles over and over again without too much variation.
Trail running with inclines and declines will challenge your body more than continuously running on flat roads. This lack of variety in exercise and direction can lead our bodies to get used to only one demand and one pattern. Cross training allows us to train our body in different positions, intensities, and styles to maximize efficiency while running and preventing injury.
Vary How You Run
One of the easiest ways to cross train for running is to change the type of running you normally do. For example, if you typically run ultramarathons, try signing up for a local 10k and running at a slightly faster pace. If you typically only run on flat roads, attempt some incline or decline.
Vary your pace and distance to stress your body in different ways, but be conscious of injury when starting a new routine. If you usually run 3-4 miles on the road, going on a 4 mile trail run might be “too much, too soon” and put you at greater risk of injury. Instead, start small at 1-2 miles on the trail and slowly progress up in mileage and pace.
Remember the earlier point of poor ramp up and training techniques leading to most running injuries. A good rule to follow is to increase either running intensity (pace or incline) or volume (mileage) by 10% each week. Never increase intensity and volume at the same time, as this can lead to injury.
Strengthen to Prevent Running Injuries
Running is mostly an endurance based sport. A great way to cross train is to focus on strength and power exercises. Everyone from casual to ultra-runners can benefit from strength training and see improvements in their running. Most runners tend to be fairly quad dominant, so we are going to focus on loading your posterior chain which includes your glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
Glutes: You have three glutes; gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. Glute max is your prime and powerful mover while glute med/min are more endurance and stability focused muscles. Our glute medius and minimus muscles help stabilize our hips, knees, and ankles while running. These muscles require strength, power, and endurance and should be trained accordingly to meet these three demands. Try doing 3 sets of 8 heavier resisted clamshells for strength and power followed by 4 sets of 20 sidelying leg lifts for endurance. Below are some links to these exercises!
Resisted Clamshell (Planked Clamshell)
Hamstrings: Our hamstring’s main function while running is to bend the knee to clear the foot from the ground after push off as well as decelerate the knee as it swings through before we strike the ground. Most runners have tight hamstrings and will stretch, stretch, and stretch some more, all to no avail or relief.
Strengthening the hamstring can solve this problem. Working your hamstring concentrically (bending the knee as the muscle contracts) and eccentrically (controlling elongation of the muscle as the knee straightens) is very important and should be focused on while exercising. Below is a great exercise which targets both!
Calves: Our calves absorb a lot of force while running. We are eccentrically loading (controlling elongation) our calves as we progress through the single leg stance phase of running as well as concentrically loading (contracting) them as we push off at the end of our stance phase.
The gastrocnemius and the soleus are the two muscles that make up the calf. While running, your soleus must absorb forces of up to 6-8 times your body weight. It’s important to strengthen your calves so they are conditioned for this heavy load over a long period of time as you run. Below is a link for a great calf exercise to help you reach this goal!
Let’s get down to business. The sooner you adapt a cross training approach to your running program, the sooner you’ll be back out running, pain and injury-free. For many of you, varying how you run and adding in a targeted strengthening program will wash your worries away.
But, if you find that you’re still searching for answers and continually guessing at what you can do to unlock your best self with running, it might be time to find a good physical therapist that specializes in running rehabilitation.
Lucky for you, if you’ve made it this far, you’ve had the opportunity to harvest some useful information to get you started. There’s a lot more than just cross training that can be addressed to help a runner.
We have worked with hundreds of runners in the Boulder area to help them achieve that “Aha!” moment everyone looks for. Our clients enjoy working with us because they know they are treated with the most up to date knowledge; they are pushed to their limits; all while having some fun!