So you’re a runner. And you know that if you want to be a better runner you need to improve your aerobic fitness and that you have to run more. So, you run, and you run, and run some more. You see some progress; your times get better, your endurance is skyrocketing… and then you run yourself straight to the doctor’s office.
Yep, you got hurt.
Your doctor tells you to stop running and do some non-impact cross training. You limp over to the bike or an elliptical machine at your local health club and start pedaling and keep building your aerobic fitness. A few weeks go by and your injury seems to be an ancient history, so you decide to go for a run. Thirty minutes later you come back home limping again, but this time you are hurting somewhere else. Now it’s back to the doctor, who sends you to physical therapist, who puts you on the bike and tells you to keep doing your “cardio” as long as it is a non-impact in nature. Fast forward a few weeks, you are feeling great, your “cardio” is through the roof because of your biking and you are itching to get back on the road and have a good run. You lace ’em up and hit the road just to come back feeling like you have been hit by a truck. You’re hurting all over and that ancient injury seems more like a new visit to the doctor’s office.
What is going on you may ask?
When runners get hurt the first thing they are told to do is to stop running and do some sort of non-impact cross training. Non-impact cross training continues to build your aerobic engine but it does little for your “exterior” – muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones. When you get back to running after a prolonged hiatus, you have the engine of a brand new Ferrari but your wheels, brakes and suspension system look more like my 11 year old compact car’s than of that Ferrari you have parked in your lungs. Your connective tissue is not ready to handle the same amount of stress as your aerobic engine is willing to do.
Most of the running injuries are mechanical in nature, so in order to prevent the injury we need to take care of our bodies in such a way. The best way is to add strength training (yes, that includes lifting heavy weight) to your exercise routine in order to increase your relative strength (strength to weight ratio). Increasing your relative strength decreases your chance of getting injured in the first place, or getting injured again (if you did get hurt and had not done any strength training prior to your injury).
Just because you have a runner’s knee, ITB syndrome or some other running injury doesn’t mean that you can’t do some variation of squats, dead lift, and/or lunges. These exercises will decrease your risk of getting injured again. You could also work on core stability, hip mobility, flexibility and don’t forget your upper body too.
Strength training is the best cross training activity for runners. Don’t buy it? Here is a question: what is one thing that every athlete, regardless of sport, have in common? They all lift weights (including elite runners).
They can’t all be wrong.