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With the closure of gyms during the COVID-19 restrictions, we have seen a large increase in the community’s uptake of running. While this is fantastic to see, it is important that everyone carefully eases into running and correctly manages their training load to avoid injury.
Sometimes, one of the best ways to get into running is not to run at all! Building your capacity with a walking program or some leg strengthening exercises can be a good way to start. But if you do want to put shoe to pavement, then I recommend starting with a run-walk program 3 times a week. Aim for about 20-30 minutes to begin with and start with 2-3 minutes of running followed by 4-5 minutes of walking. Don’t worry about pace at this stage just go with what feels comfortable! Gradually increase your running time and decrease your walking time but stick to your target of 20-30 minutes of total activity. Once you have reached this goal, it’s then time to set the next challenge.
There are many ways you can make your running harder such as increasing the intensity/speed, distance or volume of activity. It is important that you only increase one parameter at a time otherwise you risk going too hard too soon and put yourself at risk of developing an overload injury.
An easy way to monitor your load is the 10% rule. Don’t increase your weekly total running time or distance by more than 10%. Your body needs time to rest and adapt to the increased load you are putting it through, so rest days are vital!
What’s an overload injury?
An overload injury is caused by the progressive accumulation or repetition of stress/load on the body. The injury typically occurs from training errors such as training too frequently, at an intensity that is too high, training for too long, or performing too much of one type of activity. Technique errors (inefficient biomechanics of the body or poor form) can also lead to overload injuries because of increased stress/load placed on particular parts of the body.
Some typical overload running injuries include:
Should I do strength training?
It’s important to mix up the type of training you do during the week to vary the load placed on your body. A recent systematic review by Blagrove et al. (2018) found middle and long distance runners who performed strength training 1-4 times a week improved their running economy significantly more than matched controls who did only endurance training. Running economy is a measure of how efficiently you use oxygen to generate energy to sustain a submaximal running velocity. This is a very important factor for endurance runners.
Strength can improve by a greater coordination of the muscle unit, or an increase in the cross-sectional size of the muscle fibre. Strength training also converts the larger, highly fatigable fast twitch muscle fibres (type IIX) to more efficient, smaller, fast twitch muscle fibres (type IIA). Blagrove et al. found runners did not experience an increase in muscle mass size through strength training, but did significantly gain strength. This suggests strength training in endurance runners improves strength via neural changes, including faster rates of muscle contraction and greater coordination of the muscle unit. Not only can strength training significantly improve running performance, it also plays an important role in preventing injuries like those mentioned above.
The major muscle groups involved in running that should be particularly targeted in your strength training program are the quadriceps, hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings and calf muscles. It is also very important to include some core strengthening exercises to maximise stability through the trunk when you run. Exercises should be functional to replicate the movement patterns utilised in running and some should incorporate explosive power. Some examples include calf raises, seated calf raises, lunges, single leg squats, arabesques and box jumps.
Wanting some guidance to build a strength program suitable for you? Our Physiotherapist lead PIER (Practitioner Instructed Exercise Rehabilitation) reformer and gym program is perfect for you! Our PilatesFIT Run class is also an excellent way to build strength and control to enhance your running.
Want some guidance and motivation to get you going?
TeamCSSM is starting up a runners group! Run by Podiatrist Alicia Schifferle and Physiotherapist Ella Hanna, start your Tuesdays and Fridays off at 6.30am with guided running sessions suitable for all ages and running abilities. Sessions will incorporate interval training, Fartlek runs, tempo runs and some hills, so no matter what distance you are currently clocking, our group will accommodate. Location will vary between local parks and tracks. Some extra perks will also be up for grabs, so stay tuned and follow us on Instagram and Facebook to stay in the loop! Visit our runners group website page for more info.
Blagrove, R. C., Howatson, G., & Hayes, P. R. (2018). Effects of strength training on the physiological determinants of middle- and long-distance running performance: A systematic review. Sports Medicine, 48, 1117-1149. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0835-7
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