Running is an extremely popular form of exercise with almost no cost and fantastic physical and mental benefits. I’m sure we’ve all met runners who are almost obsessive about their running and are like a bear with a sore head when they can’t run. We see lots of runners at Central Performance, from office workers who run a couple of times a week for the health benefits to our elite running group coached by physio and track coach Ben Liddy.
One thing most of our runners have in common is that they would like to run a little better. Whether that’s reducing aches and pains they feel when running, improving their City2Surf time or lowering their 1,500m PB everyone wants to improve somehow. An often-overlooked way to improve running performance is to include some weight training into your training. The classic opinion was the weight training made you heavy and slow however there is a lot of good research that shows that weight training can significantly improve endurance, running performance and running economy.
It used to be thought that to improve performance in endurance sports like running that it was more beneficial to use a light weight for lots of repetitions when performing weight training. The theory was that it better replicated how the muscle worked when running and therefore it would lead to greater improvements in running performance. We now know that low repetition, heavy weight training and plyometric training is better for improving running performance and economy. This might seem counter intuitive but there are some good reasons for why that is the case.
First of all, heavy weight training and plyometric training both improve what is called Rate of Force Development (RFD). RFD means how quickly a muscle can produce force, the higher the RFD the quicker a muscle is able to produce force. A high RFD is important when running because ground contact time with each stride is so short. If you are able to increase the RFD of the muscles in the legs then you are able to decrease your ground contact time and increase your running cadence. Increasing your running cadence improves your running economy, making you a more efficient runner.
Secondly, a stronger muscle means that each stride requires relatively less effort from the muscles in your leg. For example, the soleus muscle in the calf has to deal with between 6-8 times body weight with each stride. That is an awful lot of force to be dealing with for a sustained period of time. A strong soleus, strengthened with the help of weight training, will be better able to handle 6-8 times body weight for a 800m race, 5km fun run or full marathon.
Thirdly, heavy weight training and plyometric training help to strengthen and stiffen tendons. A stronger, stiffer tendon is better able to transmit the force produce by the muscles into the movement of bones required for running. Better force transmission by the tendons again improves running economy and efficiency. It also has the added benefit of helping to guard against the development of tendinopathies such as Achilles or hamstring tendinopathy. We see many runners with these injuries and heavy weight training is the starting point for their rehabilitation.
As you can see there are some very good reasons for including heavy weight training and plyometric training to improve your running performance. As simple as two sessions of weight and plyometric training per week can lead to significant improvements in running performance. Below is an example of a simple weight and plyometric training session for runners.
The goblet squat is a fantastic way to introduce the squat movement into your training program and it is the first version of the squat we use with our clients. The squat is one of the key movements in weight training programs we develop for runners as it is fantastic for developing quad strength. This is important as the quads take the second most load during running after the calf muscles.
Single leg deadlift:
Another key movement in the weight training programs for our runners, the single leg deadlift is great for developing strength in the hamstrings and muscles of the lateral hip, particularly the glute medius. The glute medius plays an important role in maintain lateral stability of the hip, helping to prevent hip drop and subsequent valgus collapse of the knee when your foot strikes the ground. We also aim to have a mix of double leg and single leg exercises in our programs and the single leg deadlift is one of our favourite single leg exercises.
Bent knee calf raises:
An often overlooked muscle group when weight training, the calf muscles have the highest demand on them of any muscle group when running. As stated earlier, the calf muscles must handle between 6-8 times body weight with each stride. Therefore, it is important to strengthen the muscles of the calf. The bent knee calf raise helps to prioritise loading on the soleus muscle and better replicates the ankle position during running.
Hurdle hops are one of our first plyometric progressions we introduce into our runners programs. It is a great exercise to help develop power on one leg and get our clients used to the landing forces associated with plyometric exercises. With a hurdle hop we emphasise ‘sticking’ the landing which requires our clients to be able to control the landing forces.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) is a condition typified by a vague, diffuse pain around the knee. It is often most noticeable during running and walking up and down stairs or hills and is a frustrating injury because it can severely limit a sufferer’s ability to partake in sports and activities they enjoy. While the pain usually isn’t associated with significant damage, the pain itself can be severely limiting. One of the first steps to getting back to activities pain-free is to reduce the aggravating activities to allow the pain to settle and to start a strength training program.
Traditionally it was thought that the most important muscles to help prevent and relieve PFPS were the VMO (one of the quadriceps muscles on the inside of the patella) and the gluteus medius (one the glute muscle on the outside of the hip). However, recent research shows that specific exercises for those muscles have no better outcomes than general exercises. Therefore, the goal of strength training for PFPS should be to have a comprehensive program to strengthen the whole lower body to not just rehab PFPS but improve performance and reduce the risk of other lower limb injuries.
Here is a sample of exercises we use for runners and other athletes recovering from PFPS:
A fantastic foundational exercise, split squats help develop strength in the quads, hamstrings and lateral (outside of the hip) glutes as well as develop balance in a split stance position. These place more emphasise on the quads and lateral hip muscles than the other exercises in the program.
Another fantastic foundational exercise, deadlifts are great for developing strength in the hamstring, glute max (the big, main glute muscle) and back muscles. Deadlifts particularly strengthen hip extension which is very important in running and athletic movements.
Surprisingly the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) are the muscles that receive the most load during running (6-8 x bodyweight), more than the quads (4-6 x bodyweight), hamstrings, glute medius (2.6-3.5 x bodyweight) or glute max (1.5-2.8 x bodyweight). Therefore, it is important to strengthen these muscles to improve their ability to cope with the loading they receive during running .
A great, simple exercise for the lateral core muscles which play an important role in helping keep the pelvis level during running.
These four exercises together provide a comprehensive strength program that strengthen almost all the muscle of the lower body. Together with a temporary reduction or modification to activity and exercise they can help get you back to what you want to do pain-free.
Running season is well and truly underway! With so many fun-runs, half marathons and marathons going on at the moment, we’re seeing a lot of clients come into the clinic with niggling injuries holding them back, be it in training, competing or just participating! The most common of these injuries is an Achilles tendinopathy (previously known as Achilles tendinitis), which occurs when the Achilles tendon is unable to adapt to an increase of strain being placed on it, leading to small amounts of damage within the tendon fibres themselves. This increase in strain commonly comes about in runners who have suddenly increased the distance they’re running, the amount of hill running they’re completing or the intensity they’re running at!
So, what can you do to help heal an Achilles tendinopathy? Here at Central Performance we love taking an active approach, believing that combining specific exercises with appropriate Physiotherapy techniques is the best treatment possible.
So, what exercises should you be doing? A loaded calf raise program is your best chance at getting back on track. It’s important to remember that initially, these exercises will likely increase your pain, but don’t worry, that soon settles!
Your initial loaded calf raise program should include:
For all these exercises, aim for 3 sets of 15 reps on alternating days. As their difficulty decreases, weight can be added to each of them to further progress the strengthening side of the rehab process.
We recommend following this program for at least 8-12 weeks, progressing from 15 reps max to 6 reps max towards the end of the program. You can still continue to run throughout this time, as long as your pain levels don’t exceed a 3/10 and your pain subsides following the run.
The final phase of your journey to full recovery incorporates ballistics and advanced strengthening exercises. Exercises based around advanced sport-specific strengthening and high- speed movements, combined with rapid change of direction drills are essential for getting you back to full fitness and preventing a recurrence of the injury!
Foam rolling is an extremely popular form of self-massage, with a huge number of athletes from almost all sports using it in one way or another as a part of their preparation for either training or competition.
Here at Central Performance, we get a great number of new clients asking about foam rolling, and whether it will be helpful to them not only as a part of their training, but in their everyday injury maintenance. We encourage our clients to utilise the foam rollers in their gym or homes every day, as they are a great way to not only help prepare for exercise, but also recover from it!
Foam rolling is a fantastic tool to use as a part of rehabilitation because they enable you to release tight areas of the body on a daily basis, leading to improved movement and performance. These tissues can be tight due to injury from regular training, or even sustained postures throughout everyday activities e.g. desk-based workers often experience tight hip flexors from having their hips in a constantly flexed position at their desk all day.
Foam rolling is also extremely useful when recovering from exercise. Evidence shows that Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is significantly reduced when performed immediately following exercise, and then both 24 and 48 hours on muscle groups that were the main focus of the exercise session. Enhanced recovery leads to a greater level of ability and performance, hence why elite athletes everywhere are using it!
1. Quads: rolling is very helpful for reducing tightness is your thigh. Runners find this especially useful, and it can help prevent or manage patellofemoral (kneecap or runners knee pain) and quads strains. To do it, lie on your front with a foam roller under one leg and slowly roll up and down the length of your quad.
2. Calf: excellent for runners with tight calves, place a foam roller under one calf and lift off the floor with your hands, rolling up and down the length of your calf.
3. Lateral (outer) thigh: great for reducing soreness on the outside of the hips or knees, lie on your side with a foam roller under the outside of your leg and roll up and down the length of your thigh.
So if you are feeling a bit tight and sore with running, training at the gym, netball or whatever, give these a try and let us know if you need any help!
For more tips on training, mobility, strength and rehab make sure to follow us on Instagram (@centralperformance, #centralperformance), Facebook (@centralphysioandperformancefitness), or Twitter (@centralphysio). And keep an eye out over the coming weeks for more great recovery tips!
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS) is a common complaint we see here in the clinic. This usually presents as a gradual onset of pain in the front of the knee which is generally vague and difficult to pinpoint. This knee pain usually progressively worsens over time and can interfere with your daily activities and overall function. There can be a number of contributing factors to PFPS and therefore it needs a thorough examination to identify the important factors for each individual patient. Factors such as load management, range of motion, strength and control of the hip, knee, ankle and foot can all play a part in the development of PFPS. It is important then, that we identify the contributors and target these factors with an individualised rehabilitation program. Let’s take a look at these factors in some more depth:
Load Management: As with many injuries we see here at Central Performance, the main contributing factor tends to be a sudden increase in activity (running or loading) e.g. getting back to running after a break but trying to do the same distances you were running before you stopped. Although PFPS often affects runners, it can also occur from other repetitive activities such as stair climbing, hiking or hill running as well as excessive compressive activities such as squatting and kneeling. Key to the successful rehabilitation of PFPS is to manage your load in an appropriate and graded way.
Knee Strength and Lateral Tightness: Research shows that people suffering from PFPS tend to have a weakness in the quadriceps muscles. We also see that the structures (eg the ITB) on the outside of the knee and hip are tight and this affects the position of the patella, pulling it laterally and causing increased wear and tear on the cartilage of the knee due to this sub-optimal tracking.
Hip Strength and Control : A lack of hip strength or control, particularly in the gluteal (“glutes”) muscles to the side of your hips, can result in a rolling inwards of the knee during single leg activities (e.g. walking, running, steps etc). This inward rolling (“valgus collapse”) also pulls the patella outwards, which causes further wear and tear on the under surface of the patella itself and on the contact points of the femur.
Ankle and Foot Factors: Stiffness or restriction of the ankle can transfer excess load up the leg and place more stress through the knee. Similarly, if there is a lack of strength in the calf complex, then this can result in an increase in load through the knee joint in order to compensate. Foot posture has also been linked to PFPS, with those people having flat or “pronated” feet more likely to present with patellofemoral pain.
As you can see, managing Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome is as complex as it is to spell it! It requires a thorough assessment and an individualised rehabilitation program addressing the factors that are specific to you and your pain experience – there is no “one size fits all” treatment recipe. So if you are experiencing anterior knee pain our talented team of physio’s can help!
Hamstring injuries can be tricky, and proper treatment is a definite must before testing them out again on the sporting field. Hamstring injuries are among the most common we see here in the clinic, and we believe in using a holistic treatment approach encompassing several areas to get those dodgy hamstrings healthy again!
Strength is a crucial part of keeping hamstrings healthy, and there are a number of exercises we like to use to increase hamstring strength. We use progressive overload in both hip and knee dominant exercises to ensure maximal strength levels are achieved. Some of these exercises include single leg bridges, Nordic curls, prone hamstring curls, single leg deadlifts and hamstring slider curls. Remember to mix up your exercises and give yourself plenty of rest between sessions.
Obviously, flexibility is a massive part of healthy hamstrings, however many people don’t release that flexibility of muscles other than the hamstrings also plays an important part of keeping those hamstrings healthy. Therefore it is important that flexibility components of hamstring rehab programs focus on glute, hip flexor, quadriceps and calf range of motion as well as the hamstrings themselves. Poor range or severe tightness in these muscles are an injury risk factor, so this should be a priority for anyone returning to sport from a hamstring injury.
Running can be a difficult part of hamstring rehab, as in many cases it was the mechanism of the injury! It is however an extremely useful tool in hamstring rehabilitation, and once you’re over the initial hesitancy is the trick to getting those hamstrings firing again. Changing up the style of running training you do is key. We use a mix of progressive speed exposures, max speed exposures, change of direction and deceleration training, and again suggest varying the type and intensity of running training you complete.
For many people who play winter sports like football, soccer, AFL, netball and hockey, pre-season training is just around the corner or may have even started already. Completing a whole pre-season program is not only vital for fitness levels and skill practice, it can be a massive component of preventing injuries throughout the season!
A 2016 study found that elite AFL players who completed <50% of their pre season training were 2x more likely to sustain an in- season injury than those who completed >85%. This isn’t just relevant for AFL though; it’s relevant for all sports at any level.
This is a telling stat, and one that needs to be at the front of all athletes’ minds whilst participating in pre-season training. Even if you’re injured, there is something you can do. Pre-season isn’t just about “getting fit again”, it can be used for rehabbing those niggly injuries still hanging around from last season. The is also lots of research showing that increasing strength can help prevent many common sports injuries including hamstring and adductor (groin) muscle tears, rotator cuff and other shoulder injuries, shin splints and other sprains and strains.
Research from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) also shows that avoiding rapid spikes in training load helps you avoid injury not only in pre-season, but during the season as well. Going straight in to in-season training and competition loads causes a huge spike in strain through your body and this dramatically increases your risk of injury during the season.
So make the most of your pre-season training. Get yourself to those sessions, and work on everything you can! Remember, the work you do now will pay off come start of season if you make the effort!
Not sure what to do for your pre-season training? Let one of our Strength & Conditioning coaches or Exercise Physiologists get you on the right program to boost your performance and reduce your risk of injury
Reference: Murray et.al 2016 Individual and combined effects of acute and chronic running loads on injury risk in elite Australian footballers
At Central Performance we see a lot of runners coming in either for physio treatment or running training with our running coach/physio superstar Ben Liddy. We know that runners love to run and can be like a bear with a sore head when they can’t run due to injury. One great, and often overlooked, way to both improve running performance as well as reduce the risk of injury is to add some strength training to your running training.
Traditionally it was believed that strength training won’t improve running performance as lifting weights will make people bulky and slow. However there is now good evidence that strength training improves running performance by increasing running efficiency. An increase in running efficiency means you to use less energy while running.
Strength training helps improve running efficiency by increasing the rate of force development (RFD) of a muscle. RFD is how quickly a muscle can produce force. The higher the RFD the quicker a runner is able to spring off the ground, reducing the ground contact time and therefore reducing the amount of energy they use.
Also contrary to popular belief, the best form of strength training for runners is not light weights with high reps to build endurance. Research shows that the most effective form of resistance training for runners is heavy weights with low reps and plyometric (power) training. Using heavy weights for low reps helps to increase neural drive to the muscle which helps to improve RFD. Plyometrics also help to improve RFD and power development. Plyometrics involve jumping exercises and help teach the body to use muscles and tendons like springs, reducing ground contact time and thereby improving running efficiency.
The best types of resistance exercises for running are compound exercises such as deadlifts, squats and lunges. These exercises use almost all the lower body muscles in a coordinated fashion.
Research shows that weight training twice per week causes significant improvements in running efficiency and performance. It has also shown that for competitive runners reducing weight training to once per week during the competitive season maintains the improvements made with twice per week.
Strength training also helps to reduce the risk of injury to runners and all other athletes. A recent review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that resistance training can lead to a 66% decrease in sports injuries and a 50% decrease in overuse injuries. The below picture does a good job illustrating why strength training is important injury prevention for runners.
As you can see the soleus muscle, one of the muscles in the calf, needs to handle between 6.5-8.0 times bodyweight on ground contact during running. Having to tolerate such huge forces obviously requires a lot of strength otherwise the rsk of injury is greatly increased. A good guide for having adequate strength in the calf muscles is to be able to confidently do 30 single leg heel raises on each leg.
Tendinopathies are a very common type of running injury. They occur when the amount of load going through a tendon overloads the tendon’s ability to recover from it. Commonly occurring tendinopathies for runners are hamstring and achilles tendinopathies as both the hamstrings and calf muscles are extremely important in running. One of the best ways to improve a tendon’s capacity to handle load is by resistance training. Heavy resistance training provides a beneficial stimulus to tendons to help them build strength, remodel and allow them to adapt to high volumes of load put through them during running.
You can book online or call us on 9280 2322 for more info.
This post was written by Hugh Campbell, our senior Exercise Physiologist. He has extensive experience and has attended numerous post-graduate courses on running biomechanics and the role of strength training in runners.
Getting a coach involved with your training program can be a huge help in lots of different ways, but there are a few things to consider before taking the plunge. Whether your thinking of hiring a personal trainer, run coach, or whatever other sport you’re in to, here are a few questions you should ask yourself:
It’s inevitable when you decide to employ a coach they’ll implement some changes to your current plan. If you’re someone that’s resistant to change or struggles to put your faith in someone, the relationship has a high chance of breaking down. Without a foundation of trust between athlete and coach it doesn’t matter how good the training plan is the results won’t follow. If you want to succeed using a coach you need to be open to change.
After sitting down with your coach you need to ask yourself whether what they’re asking of you is realistic. If you believe you’ll struggle to fit their plan in around the other commitments in your life you need to be open with them. Good coaches modify plans to suit the demands of the athletes they work with. However, there is still a minimum body of work that needs to be done to achieve certain results so you need to be prepared to commit to that.
Perhaps the most important part of any coach/athlete relationship is that of trust. The more important your goals are to you the more important the trust in the relationship is. There is no perfect training program and despite their best intentions a coach cannot guarantee their program will work for you. However, if you both trust each other and form a deep bond you’ll be able to see out any hardships along the way and ultimately find the right path to achieving your goals.
If you do decide a coach is right for you and go about employing one, you’re about to develop a new number one fan! You’ll have someone who is as committed to your goals as you are, someone who’ll be there to celebrate the successes with you as well as share in your disappointments. You’ll be held accountable to the process but most importantly you’ll develop a bond that you’ll will carry through the entire process. A coach/athlete relationship can be very special and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll have this relationship for life.