Injury Prevention: Strength/Power Training, Cross Training, Warm Up/Cool Down
Injury rates among runners are extremely high; most injuries occur in the lower limbs and are a result of “overuse” or constant repetition of the same movement. Distance running breaks down muscle mass and can result in loss of strength; this will increase your risk of injury and decrease your performance. Strength training not only decreases risk of injury for endurance runners, but also has positive effects on running performance through improvements in running economy and neuromuscular adaptations.
While most strength-training programs will be beneficial, runners should look to tailor their program to match their marathon goals and the different phases of running training to get the most out of it. I often hear patients and clients tell me that they just don’t have time for strength training with the amount of running that they have to do. Strength training and running training should complement each other rather than compete for attention. Many runners assume they need to run six to seven days per week to get as many miles in as possible. It is possible, however, to run four days per week and complete a marathon successfully.
The old school of thought was that runners should work on endurance training (low weight/high repetition) to prepare themselves for running 26.2. This may be beneficial early in the training cycle or for someone who doesn’t have a lot of resistance training/running experience, however, a combination of carefully timed strength training and power training (including plyometric exercise and Olympic lifts) will also be beneficial for running economy. As mentioned above, running occurs in one plane of motion; with a lot of repetition, this can result in injury. Strength programs should also be multi-planar and should encourage full body exercises through full functional ranges of motion to prevent injury.
In addition to resistance/power training, runners should consider other forms of cross-training. Again, this is important because running occurs in one plane and is very repetitive. Performing motions in multiple planes will help improve your range of motion and strength in a more functional way and will help reduce risk of injury. A lot of runners will turn to biking as a form of cross training. While a number of studies have demonstrated that high power bike intervals can improve running speed, cycling also occurs in one plane (the same plane as running, but in a different position), so I often encourage patients and clients to find another form of cross-training in addition to cycling if they do end up with an injury or have had a history of running-related injuries. Swimming (sidestroke, breaststroke, butterfly) is a great alternative because it incorporates multiple planes of motion.
Warm Up/Cool Down
A proper dynamic warm up is an important start because it increases your core temperature and blood flow (therefore oxygen delivery) and stimulates nerve conduction for muscular contraction. Walking lunches, power skips, high knees, carioca, and other body weight movements in addition to some very light cardio will prepare the body for your workout so that you are not wasting the first one to two miles of your run to allow your body to warm up. Foam rolling can performed both pre- and post-workout for benefits and traditional static stretching should be reserved for the end of a workout.