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Why Runners need to build strength and increase flexibility

Why Runners need to build strength and increase flexibility

When I ask runners what their primary mode of exercise is, the answer is simple: running. However, most runners could benefit from an individualized strength and flexibility program to add to their exercise routine.

Running is repetitive and occurs primarily in one plane. The same movements, done by the same muscles, in the same direction, will build up the strength of the specific muscles being used to achieve this movement – typically the quads, hamstrings, and calves – while other muscles have the tendency to become under utilized, and therefore weaker. A common issue is relatively weaker glute (butt) and core muscles. Part of this under utilization is simply due to energy conservation – the glutes are a large muscle group; requiring a lot of oxygen and energy. When the body is fatigued it will save energy by looking for alternate routes to achieve the movement of hip extension. This can manifest in lower back hyper-extension, or overused hamstrings. Additionally, strengthening of the glute, hip, and core muscles often requires lateral movements – whereas running occurs mainly in the forward direction. When the body is fatigued (towards the end of a long run, for example) it may start to compensate for these weaker muscles through altered movement patterns, or increased loading through the joints, increasing one’s risk of injury.

One of the best ways to improve your running – whether your goals are to achieve a specific time, distance, or simply to get out the door every day – is to train consistently over time, without having setbacks due to injury. So, what can runners do to keep running? Incorporating a simple strength and flexibility program into your exercise routine can help prevent injury by strengthening target muscles that contribute to proper running form, and using stretching, massage, and other therapeutic techniques to maintain optimal muscle length and quality of the working muscles. Additionally, these strength and range of motion gains can improve the form and efficiency of your stride – helping you to run faster and for longer.

As a former varsity level cross-country and track and field athlete, there were times when both my teammates and myself have neglected the weight room and stretching when short on time. I understand that for runners with a busy lifestyle, trying to find the time to fit in a run can be enough of a challenge, without adding the extra commitment of lifting weights or using a foam roller. I enjoy working with runner clients to develop an individualized strength and flexibility exercise program that they feel is realistic for them to incorporate into their current lifestyle. Often times, no special equipment is required. The program is individualized through movement pattern analysis, muscle strength and length testing, and other components of a physiotherapy assessment.

By: Bridget Pyke, Physiotherapist