Key points to monitor to keep your body moving well from Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Matt Crear.
Over my career as an exercise physiologist, I have had the pleasure of working with plenty of individuals to help with the management of their injuries and aid in safely returning to, or managing a running load. My experiences have varied from the every-other-day jogger, to sport-specific and elite athletes. However, across these different populations, I often note common misconceptions and errors which could have greatly improved the outcome of their rehab, if not prevented the injury entirely. Here are the most common talking points I have come across during my time as an Exercise Physiologist.
1. My pain eases within 5 minutes of starting my run, I don’t think I have an injury
In some instances the effect of the body warming up after a few minutes of running and pain easing won’t mean anything. It’s simply your body overcoming some muscular soreness or tightness during your strides. However, this can also be a key indicator of a present injury. A classic characteristic of present tendinopathy (patella, achilles, glute, etc.) is this characteristic of pain easing when warming up. This may be observed when you rise from bed in the morning – the first few steps are painful, but before you know it, it has settled down. A tendinopathy occurs when the tendon is exposed to a load greater than it can handle. This may be over a long or short period of time. In this instance, the best course of action is to seek professional advice and implement a strengthening program to assist with increasing the load tolerance of the tendon and eliminate the pain entirely.
2. I missed my run this week, I’ll do double next week to make up for it
The human body, and specifically soft tissue, is amazing at adapting to loads when they are applied in a progressive nature. For example, if we are running between 10 to 15 km per week over a long period of time, our body is going to handle that well, and progressively we will likely stop experiencing any muscle soreness post-session. However, if we were to miss a session or two, and decide to ‘make up for it’ the following week by increasing our total weekly distance to 20 or 25 km, our body is going to experience an ‘overload’. Similar to the point above, it is the instance of exposing the tissue of our body to a load greater than what it can handle. In the short term this may trigger some irritation, causing pain, then ease. But in the long term this can be more harmful and inhibit an overload injury. It is highly recommended to ensure that your running program follows a progressive protocol. If you anticipate a period where you can’t meet your plan, then discussing this with your coach or an appropriate professional is the best thing to do. If you have been through this scenario yourself and are experiencing detriment to your performance or pain, then it is highly recommended you seek advice.
3. I don’t do strength exercises because it will make me bulkier and slower
A misconception is that by doing strength exercises we will make our muscles bigger and bulkier, and our running performance will decrease. Research has shown that strength exercise interventions can significantly improve the performance of endurance athletes. In our field we refer to the concept of ‘running ergonomics’, or simply put, our ability to perform a movement (running) with the least amount of energy. This concept allows our body to move easier, and in running terms allows us to run faster or further with the same amount of energy output. To capitalise on this effect you will first need to have your biomechanics (the way you move) analysed, and from there, an individualised exercise program can be written. Strength exercise is recommended to be performed 1-2x per week depending on your individual goals and running schedule, for the best results.
4. I saw Stewie McSweyn break another record on the weekend, I want to change my running style to be like him
There is no one technique that we all must follow in order to improve our running performance. In fact, Stewie is an amazing example of how we all perform movement differently. It’s very important to understand that we each have different requirements for our body, from our running program to our strength program. The best thing you can do is take the time and effort to understand how your body moves, and how to maximise your performance based on this understanding.
The key underlying point here is to ensure that at all times you are listening to your body, and not ignoring the alarms when they go off. Your body will tell you if something doesn’t feel right, it may be pain, fatigue, or decreases in performance. If left for long periods these alarms can turn into issues, but if addressed quickly and promptly can be nothing but a small hurdle in your running career!