For some, the hardest part about running is staying injury-free. Getting injured is frustrating whether you have a specific running goal or enjoy running for the mental-health boost it gives. An effective strengthening programme has the goal to improve strength, stability, posture, proprioception and motor patterning.
Proprioception is the ability to sense the joints position at any one time and this sense tells you where your limbs are in space. Try closing your eyes as you stand on one leg (maybe have something close by to hold on to just in case). Here you are mainly relying on the proprioceptors in your ankle joint to sense where you are in space without the help of your visual system. Having a strong awareness of your joints position in space is especially important for reducing the risk of injury when running on uneven ground. Runners with good proprioception will be able to make fast, accurate positional changes to their foot position in response to changes in the terrain.
Motor patterning relates to the correct sequencing of muscle activation and affects the quality of the movement. Recent studies have suggested that correcting impaired motor patterns plays an important role in injury prevention. The most common cause of an impaired motor pattern is previous injury. To protect you from further injury the central nervous system rewires itself and creates an alternative pattern of muscle recruitment to avoid stressing the damaged soft tissue. This altered pattern can persist long after the injury itself has healed.
Strength training in the correct areas can both reduce the chance of injury as well as improve your running performance. Often in the clinic I see runners who perform well when healthy but are constantly injured due to weak or poorly recruited gluteal (in your bum) or trunk muscles. I remember a coach telling me that having a poor core is like running over crosscountry terrain (soft and uneven) whilst those with strong trunk and pelvic stabilisers are running on smooth road. Therefore a strengthening programme should be an important part of your training regime to either remain free of injury, decrease your chances of reinjury if you are on the comeback trail or improve your performance.
Feel free to book in with a physiotherapist if you think an effective, well thought-out individualised strengthening program would be beneficial to you.
Kindest regards and happy running,
Stephen Lett BHSc, MHPrac (Rehabilitation)