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Run strong: Train to run further, faster, and with fewer injuries

Over the last couple years I have become more and more interested in the running world. After having a baby and starting a business in the same year I’ve often resorted to running around my neighborhood when going to the gym wasn’t an option. What I’ve found was surprising to me. I’ve found that when I’m running I think more clearly than any other time. There’s a peace there hidden within the miles and for the first time in my life I’ve truly enjoyed running. I have plans in 2023 to push myself further in the running world than I’ve ever been before both clinically and physically. I’m writing this to give you 3 considerations that will help you run stronger this year. 1. Get your rear end in gear with training and a warm up.

As a PT most running injuries I see can be traced back to a few factors. One of which is poor gluteal strength, firing patterns, or both. Although most think of our “glutes” as 1 muscle, we have 3 gluteal muscles that are each incredibly important. -Gluteus maximus: which is the largest muscle in the body and functions to extend the hip. (Think propel you forward). This muscle is vitally important for running because it should be the PRIMARY muscle propelling us forward on our run. When we have significant weakness or decreased firing patterns here it is common to see muscle groups such as hamstrings and calf have to take up the slack and help with propulsion.

This can lead to a plethora of overuse injuries such as hamstring/calf strains, muscle tears, and achilles tendonitis to name a few. Working on powerful and strong glute driven hip extension is a no brainer to help you run stronger and let the smaller accessory muscles assist. Here are a couple simple accessory exercises I use frequently with runners in rehab or as a solid warm up. Pigeon press up: Box plank with hip ext: -Gluteus medius and minimus: smaller muscles underneath of glute max that help to control hip rotation, stabilize our pelvis, and absorb shock.

These small but mighty muscles are vital for preventing repetitive collapse of the femur with impact. They can be a huge contributing factor in preventing anything from foot, knee, hip or even low back pain in runners. These muscles are talked about quite frequently in running circles yet so many don’t take training them serious.

Here are a couple easy exercises you can use to prime these beautiful injury preventing butt babes. Iso clam: Skater lift off: 2: Take your feet to school During foot contact while running, our bodies must absorb force that is equivalent to 5-6x our bodyweight. If you’re a runner, you’ve probably heard this before. Even though we know our feet our important, our strategy to take care of them is very often lacking at best or negligent at worst. We cram them into a shoe with a giant heel to toe drop, tons of padding, and tiny toe box and hit the road. (I’ll save my footwear thoughts for another time). Since our feet are our connection point to the ground with running, it’s a no brainer that we should train them and take care of them. This can be accomplished by spending time out of our shoes and working on strength and proprioception (balance and feel). Many runners spend so much time in heavily cushioned shoes that their feet lose proprioceptive abilities. Training foot stability and control in combination with the hip is a MUST for recreational and competitive runners alike. Here are a few easy drills that I love: 3 way RDL: Standing semi circle: Run big. Stride small.

Another factor to consider with foot and leg injuries is the prevalence of running with significant heel strike. “Heel strike” is when the first contact that a runner has with a stride is through the heel. This is normal for walking but for runners this can be negative for several reasons. -When we heel strike we’re working against ourselves. This sounds weird but hear me out. When our foot is far in front of our body and we jam our heel into the ground, the ground reaction force produces a vector in the opposite direction. This force “pushes back” against the runner. The more the runner over-strides the greater the ground reaction force in the opposite direction. Running with shorter strides decreases this push back and allows more energy to be transferred into propelling forward. Also, landing closer to your body with a bent knee allows for more shock absorption and decreased knee stress over long bouts of running. 3. Use cross training to supercharge your run game Many people believe that to get better at running the solution is to simply run more often. While this of course can make you a better runner, running ONLY is not the best option to optimize your abilities. For individuals who are experienced runners or run 5-6 days a week, the best option for them to improve their run times may be to actually run less. Instead of pounding pavement everyday, they can utilize a few training sessions a week to help create physiological adaptations that benefit running, without jogging a single mile. While there is an overwhelming amount of research out there to support multi-modal training for runners, let’s look at just a couple. One study looked at highly trained middle and long distance runners to examine their running efficiency. Now running more efficient isn’t a substitute for good aerobic fitness, but it allows us to get MORE out of the fitness that we have. This study revealed that groups of highly trained athletes that incorporated 2-3 days a week of strength training and plyometrics improved their running efficiency significantly over those who just ran, or those who just ran and utilized strength training2. Keep in mind, these were people who were already very good at running and they got better by well…running less. The second study had a different focus. This study looked at more recreational runners. Although this study was small they found some interesting data. They tested the relationship between anaerobic training and aerobic training. What they found was that subjects who included explosive training with moderate loads saw an improvement in their aerobic output or VO2 max1. In short, explosive training with weights can make you more aerobically fit and a better runner. As we ramp up into warm spring weather and beautiful outdoor runs, let’s not forget these 3 keys to running stronger. Running is a wonderful way to produce long term fitness and fortitude. Let’s be proactive together and refuse to let injuries run rampant this year. Stay Kinetic Friends.


References: 1. Gillen ZM, Wyatt FB, Winchester JB, Smith DA, Ghetia V. The Relationship Between Aerobic and Anaerobic Performance in Recreational Runners. Int J Exerc Sci. 2016 Nov 1;9(5):625-634. PMID: 27990224; PMCID: PMC5154721. 2. Balsalobre-Fernández C, Santos-Concejero J, Grivas GV. Effects of Strength Training on Running Economy in Highly Trained Runners: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Aug;30(8):2361-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001316. PMID: 26694507.


Dr. Levi Kerby is a physical therapist, orthopedic certified specialist, and owner of Kinetic Performance and Rehab in Winston-Salem, NC. He enjoys fly fishing, guitar, various forms of fitness, and treating active and motivated individuals.

If you're dealing with an injury or pain, you can contact Kinetic Performance and Rehab directly below.


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