Runners: Practice Consistency to Avoid Injury

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There are endless ways to train, but when it comes to healthy running there’s arguably one contributing factor that overrides all the others: Consistency. If you want to stay healthy and race successfully, you’ll need to be consistent in your preparation. Haphazard training is an easy way to end up sidelined with injury, so it’s essential to prepare yourself in an appropriately structured way.

Consistency doesn’t just refer to your weekly mileage or the format of your workouts. It also plays an essential role in balancing your aerobic and structural fitness, and allowing your body to be strong and stable enough to support your running throughout your training.

As a runner, staying healthy requires you to tune into your body every time you run, race or cross train. This can be more challenging for beginners who may not be able to tell the difference between normal aches and fatigue from pain that may be a warning sign of an impending injury.

Being attentive to both the smaller and larger scale inconsistencies in strength and stability can make the difference between successful, healthy training and ongoing, nagging injuries.

Small Scale Inconsistencies

On a smaller, more localized scale, inconsistencies in strength and stability can show up as nagging aches and pains or minor injuries that never quite seem to resolve. Maybe you have a cranky Achilles that flares up on occasion or a nagging pain in one quad when you do hill work. Uneven tread wear on your shoes may be a more subtle sign that your gait and form are uneven, even if you aren’t currently feeling any pain or impact from it.

AdventHealth physical therapist Sheila Klausner recognizes that running is inherently an imbalanced form of exercise, saying, “Running occurs in the sagittal plane and it primarily involves the muscles of flexion and extension movement patterns. This straight plane activity can easily create imbalances with muscles that primarily move the body in the frontal plane, i.e. abduction and adduction.”

If you’re someone who logs a lot of miles or runs as your primary form of fitness, Klausner notes that “imbalances and strength inconsistencies can easily be created over time between these two different groups of muscles.”

That training can cause inconsistencies, leading to potential injury.

Overcoming Inconsistencies

If you don’t do any supplemental strength or balance work and have never suffered an injury, then you’re in the minority of runners. Unfortunately, you’re among a frequently injured group. The good news is that a little bit of strength and mobility work can go a long way toward improving these inconsistencies and reducing your injury risk.

Klausner agrees, noting that a physical therapist can help determine any imbalances you might have. “The best way for a runner to determine whether strength or stability issues exist is to have a biomechanical evaluation from a physical therapist. Then, the runner will be given a specific exercise program that has targeted stretching needed to be done for the tight muscles and strengthening exercises needed for the weak muscles,” she says.

Both tightness and weakness can cause pain and injury when left unattended, so it’s essential to address them both, as Klausner notes. Dynamic mobility routines, both pre- and post-run, can help prepare your body to run more efficiently, as well as help you cool down and recover after a challenging workout. Massage and deeper tissue work, like foam rolling or active release therapy, can help you address chronically tight areas. Adding a daily mobility routine will prove even more beneficial over the long term.

Since running is essentially a series of controlled, one-legged hops, adding elements of balance to your routine are essential.

Working with a physical therapist is the best approach to learn the right way to correct imbalances. “Runners will be taught how to work with their body to balance out the force loading through both planes of motion,” says Klausner. “The emphasis for runners is to learn a better understanding of the biomechanics of running, the dynamics of body control and power, and an exercise routine that will allow the body to balance out all planes of motion to successfully keep them moving as pain-free as possible. “

The therapist might recommend single-leg movements — like Romanian deadlifts and pistol squats — to help you develop strength and coordination, and balance positions to bolster your comfort level with single leg movements.

No matter what routine you choose, start slowly and build cautiously. This should supplement and benefit your running rather than leading to new problems.

“Big Picture” Inconsistencies

In the big picture of your training, inconsistency can take on a slightly different form but still lead to similar results: Nagging pain and long-term injuries. This imbalance can happen when your aerobic fitness outweighs your structural fitness.

To use a car analogy, your engine starts to outpace your chassis. In practice, this means that even though you may be aerobically fit, your body can’t handle the volume or workouts that you’re trying to perform.

This imbalance can happen at any point in your training, but is most common with the following scenarios:

  • You’re a new runner or coming back from injury and you try to do too much, too fast.
  • Your training is inconsistent with frequent stops and starts, and you aren’t prepared to handle the workload.
  • You’re ramping up for a race, and increase your volume or workouts too rapidly, or try to increase both at the same time.

Because your aerobic fitness improves faster than your structural strength and fitness, it’s easy to overdo it in any of these situations. You may feel fit enough to go run a fast, hilly 10-miler, but weakness in your hips or glutes causes you to end up with IT band issues. Or your tendons can’t sustain the pounding on the roads and your shins get sore.

These injuries exemplify inconsistencies in your aerobic “strength” or fitness versus your structural strength. If you want to stay healthy and push your body to faster racing or longer distances, you have to address this inconsistency and work on both aspects of your training. While the source of the problem may be more broadly based than the small-scale inconsistencies described above, the solution is the same: An ongoing commitment to building and maintaining your strength and mobility.

Consistency is healthy running’s best friend. It allows for ongoing progress and successful training and racing. Strength and stability are what keep us healthy, mobile and efficient as we run. Combine these elements and you’ll be on track for a long, enjoyable relationship with your running.

To learn more about the sports medicine and rehabilitation opportunities available through AdventHealth, visit us online. Our sports and rehab care experts at these locations are ready to help you get back to your personal best.

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