Strength requirements for running

Strength requirements for running

Running technique has become a hot topic recently with a growing trend towards ‘barefoot’ running and forefoot strike. The popular book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall along with the work of evolutionary anthropologist Daniel Lieberman have propelled the idea into the recreational running world. The increased demand on shock absorbing and push-off muscles has ultimately led to a new wave of injuries being seen in our clinic. So, what can we do to prevent this new technique becoming an injury?

Recently, Associate Professor Gavin Williams presented to our physios about his clinical research in running. Gavin is a neurological physio who works at Epworth Rehabilitation and has had numerous articles published in multiple peer-reviewed journals. He offered some interesting statistics on force generating muscles during running, in particular that the muscles acting on the knee don’t contribute much to propulsion when running at a steady speed. Instead the quads and hamstrings perform more of a shock-absorbing role while the calf and hip muscles propel the body forward.

In order for propulsion to be efficient the trunk and pelvis need to provide a steady attachment for the calf to push from. Specifically, the hip abductors (Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus and Tensor Fascia Latae) and hip adductors (groin) contract together to stabilise the pelvis from foot strike to push off. Gluteus Medius is in the most advantageous position to control the side-to-side movement of the pelvis and so exercises are geared towards strengthening it in a functional way.

This is a simplistic view of running biomechanics and other deficits may contribute to a running injury. However it suggests that many traditional gym exercises may be of limited benefit to runners trying to improve their endurance and technique. The ever-popular double leg squat (plus other exercises that focus on the quadriceps and hamstring muscles) may not be the best exercise to boost performance. So what strengthening should you be doing?

Calf raises are an excellent exercise for all runners as calf strength and Achilles function is critical for propulsion. Some calf raises should be done slowly with good control, and others quickly to practice the spring effect of the Achilles tendon. Hip abductor strengthening exercises focused on Gluteus Medius are also important. Single leg squats performed in a way that enhances Gluteus Medius function are a far better choice than double leg squats. Other exercises that strengthen the Gluteus Medius and improve trunk control should also be included in a comprehensive program for recreational runners.

The most effective program incorporates exercises that are done in a position that replicates the activity you are trying to improve. Professional guidance will help you get the most out of these sessions. If you are training for an upcoming run, seek the assistance of one of our sports physio’s to show you how to best enhance your performance and reduce injuries.

Published August 18, 2015


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