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.
In Part 1 of this blog series on back pain we reviewed the three types of low back pain, plus busted some myths about scans and radiology findings. In this post we will review the way physiotherapists can treat back pain, plus the lay out the best advice on what you should do at home or work to make your recovery as quick as possible. In Part 3 of this series we’ll review things that you can do to reduce your risk of future pain episodes.
As we have discussed in Part 1 there are three main types of back pain. Getting a correct diagnosis for your back pain is an important because it guides your initial treatment.
Physiotherapy treatment for this type of back pain focuses initially on relieving your pain and restoring your range of motion. We need to get you back to doing your normal daily activities as fast as possible, allow you to sleep normally, and be able to do your usual work duties. We use a combination of hands-on (manual) treatment together with structured exercise to increase your joint mobility, plus release muscles that are tight or in spasm.
As well as prescribing the right exercises for you, your physio will also clearly explain do’s and don’ts for you at home and work so that you help your back pain to settle as fast as possible. It has been extensively proven through research that staying active within your comfort levels, avoiding bedrest, and returning to your normal work and daily activities as quickly as possible is by far the best way for you to help your back pain resolve. Using basic medications like Panadol, Neurofen or Voltaren can also be very helpful at this stage.
Once your pain is resolving well your physiotherapist can guide you through a progressive exercise program to fully restore your strength, ensure you are moving correctly, and get you confident in returning to the gym or your usual sporting activities. Completing a supervised strength program with an accredited exercise physiologist is the gold-standard later-stage management program for low back pain, especially if you have already had several episodes of pain or are lacking confidence in returning to your full normal gym or exercise activities. If you prefer, Pilates is also an excellent way to exercise following low back pain.
The initial focus for physiotherapy treatment for back pain where a nerve is compressed (or pinched) is to relieve the pressure on the nerve. The degree to which the nerve is pinched or irritated can be gauged by the amount of referred pain that travels down your leg, plus the presence of other neurological symptoms including numbness, pains-and-needles or weakness. Hands-on treatment plus specific exercises are used to relieve these neurological symptoms as quickly as possible, plus medication such as Voltaren can be helpful. You will also be given exercises to do at home by your physio to help you relieve your pain and get moving again.
Once the pressure on your nerve is relieved, the physiotherapy management for radicular or nerve-related low back pain is largely the same as for non-specific low back pain. A combination of hands-on therapy plus structured exercise progression will relieve any remaining pain, restore your movement, and then reactivate your muscles. Staying active within your comfort, returning to work and daily activities as soon as you are able, and avoiding bedrest is strongly shown to be beneficial for this type of back pain.
Once your pain has settled then completing a supervised strength program with one of our physio’s or accredited exercise physiologists will get you fully back to your normal sport, exercise, work and daily activities. Pilates can also be very helpful, if you prefer this style of exercise. Any contributing movement problems that may have contributed to your pain can also be corrected to reduce your chance of future problems.
Serious lumbar (low back) pathology is very rare – present in less than 1% of back pain cases. It includes things like spinal fractures (broken bones), tumors, and some types of infections and inflammatory conditions. During your initial assessment your physio uses specific and effective tools to screen for serious pathology, and they are concerned they will explain their concerns to you and provide you with a referral back to your GP for further investigation.
So, now you know the guidelines for how physiotherapists treat the different types of low back pain. A key take-home message for you is that staying active within comfort, avoiding bedrest, and returning to your normal activity as soon as you are able has clearly been shown to be the best way for you to help yourself recover from back pain. Your physio will give you more guidance on this, plus use hands-on techniques and prescribe the most effective exercises for your specific situation to help you recover as fast as possible.
In the next post in this series on how physiotherapists treat low back pain we’ll review things you can do to reduce your risk of future pain episodes. As always, if you have any questions in the mean time please feel free to contact one of our friendly physio’s to see how they can help!
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.
Low back pain is one of the world’s most common conditions and is a leading causes of disability and work absence worldwide. It affects over 80% of the world population and can result in a significant personal, social and financial burden.1 Low back pain usually settles down within 4-6 weeks but has an 80% chance of reoccurring within 12 months of the initial injury. Exercise therapy is the most common form of treatment for low back pain. It is low cost, easy to access, has a positive biological affect on the body and is recommended in most clinical practice guidelines.2
The Pilates method aims to improve posture and body awareness while building strength. The six basic principle of Pilates includes tightening the ‘powerhouse’ (trunk and gluteal muscles), concentration (cognitive attention), control (postural management), precision (accuracy), flow (smooth transition) and breathing while performing a range of exercises.2
It is a great way to get people moving in a smooth and controlled way. At Central Performance we use the reformer, wunda chair and mat-based exercises in a circuit style approach so that the exercises are varied and fun. These exercises use springs and body weight as resistance and can be adjusted to your ability. Our initial assessment involves a history of your injury and a physical examination to determine your exercise program. Than we get started! Starting on four 1-on-1 sessions to get used to the various exercises on your program. From there the choice is yours. Continue with 1-on-1 sessions or move to our group classes (max 4 people).
But how does this help with low back pain?
Just move! Our backs love movement. The worst thing to do when you have low back pain is to stop moving and stop exercising. Pilates allows you to move and exercise in a nice controlled and monitored way without using heavy weights. It can be a way of progressing your exercise tolerance or to transitions back into gym-based exercise.
I need a stronger core to get rid of my back pain!
This is often a very common perception in today’s society. We are often told to strengthen our core to prevent low back pain. However, if you have had ongoing or episodic low back pain than you may already bracing and overusing your core subconsciously to help ‘protect’ your back. Before strengthening your core it is important to regain normal relaxed movement of the spine. This relaxed spinal movement can fundamentally change the way your back behaves day to day. Pilates is a good way of starting off this process, using controlled movement of the spine before progressing to more progressive strengthening exercises, whether it be at the gym or harder Pilates exercises.
For all the jazz around foam-rolling these days it may be surprising to know that the underlying mechanisms are still not well understood and there is a paucity of high-quality and well-designed studies available.
Some of the proposed mechanisms of effect may include:
1. Reflex neural inhibition
2. Increased stretch tolerance
3. Mediating pain-modulatory systems
What we do know is that foam-rolling appears to be effective for producing short-term gains in flexibility without reducing performance. And while the benefits to muscle function have not yet been established, there does seem to be a demonstrable reduction in post-exercise muscle soreness as a result of post-exercise rolling.
So, from the research that we do have, it’s safe to say that foam-rolling is perhaps not the miracle saviour for poor exercises choices or not moving enough that we once thought it was.
1. A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Foam Rolling on Performance and Recovery. Wiewelhove, et al. 2019
2. The Science and Physiology of Flexibility and Stretching : Implications and Applications in Sport Performance and Health. Behm, 2018.
We’re often asked about the benefits of going through a full range of motion with your strength exercises. Here is why we recommend that you do and what it means for your training.
1. You get a more complete stimulus and development across the full length of the muscle. We know that muscle fibres don’t always run the entire muscle length from origin to insertion. We also know through the specificity principle that strength gains are specific to the joint angles that are trained so it is important to cover as much of the movement arc as you can. A full range of motion allows greater activation of as many fibres as possible and better strength and hypertrophy gains.
2. Technique standardisation. When you go through the same, top to bottom range for each and every rep, you can be sure when you are progressing and not simply changing form to accommodate the load.
3. Length and strength in long positions. Research has been piling high with the benefits of loading in long muscle lengths (such as in the bottom position of a squat or stiff-legged deadlift, pull up, or bench press where you feel the greatest stretch). This enables strength gains specifically in those ‘stretch’ positions where typically we are not able to produce as much force. Loading into lengthening (eccentric loading) also allows greater overload as well as flexibility improvements.
4. Less injury risk. There is a greater dispersal of stress across more joint systems and larger excursions of motion mean that less load is needed to provide an overload. This greatly reduces the likelihood of a training-related injury.
There certainly are circumstances were you might consider reducing range, such as:
1. To provide a greater overload in a particular joint position thereby effecting a specific muscle or group of muscles. Less range means more weight can be used so caution is advised here. This is to be used sparingly and mostly for the advanced lifter only.
2. Specific sport application – half squats have been shown to have carry-over to running and sprinting activities.
For the most part, the bulk of your training should emphasise taking the joint through as much pain-free range as is controllable and the muscle through full stretch to full contraction. It might mean you’re using a little less load however the benefits hugely outway the risks:
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!
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.
”Every training element has a point of diminishing returns. Our job (the coach’s job) is to find it shift emphasis and cycle back at the optimal point in time.” ~ Derek Hansen