Thursday, March 4, 2010

Runners: Always Wanting More

As runners, we always seem to be looking to run faster, longer, with better posture, more efficiently, just better, in general. There are books, magazines, websites, blogs, teams, newspaper articles, tv shows, classes, lecutres and more to teach us these things and much more. The New York Road Runners produces a learning series each year that is free to members and just $5 for non-members. I think there are usually 4 or so events throughout the year, all on different topics important to runners. Last year I attended one not long before the marathon focused on nutrition. Last night was "Run Strong, Run Long."

The lecture was led by Brett Cohen and Ashley Bernard of Integrated Training Systems. It was a pretty interesting lecture, although a bit disjointed and they didn't have it timed out very well. They talked a lot about the fact that as runners, a lot of us have trouble with injuries and spoke about why that is. We learned the difference between discomfort and pain is that discomfort is felt at the end of an intense workout and may last for a few days (delayed onset muscle soreness) while pain is felt at the begining, during or at the end of a run and can alter your stride. If you are in pain while running, you need to stop. (I, unfortuantely, am very bad at following this rule).

Most produce signals including aches, soreness, and persistent pain. Common non-contact injuries result from: poor biomechanics and/or overuse.
Those at highest risk include: women, those running 40+ miles per week, and people who lead otherwise relatively sedentary lives (sitting at a desk most of the day).

Cohen cited a recent Runners World Poll (some of you may have participated in it) that found 46% of runners are plagued by nagging injuries. Another found that 66% of respondants had suffered an injury in the past year. I (unfortunately) can easily answer 'yes' to both polls and that's not good for any of us. We're out there to be healthy and have fun, not to get injured!

While some (running industry companies) say that all you need to start running are good shoes, good apparel, a running program and gear (iPod, watch, etc), what we really need is to be physically ready to run in order to run without getting injured. Sure, shoes are definitely important, but we also need to have strong body that moves symmetrically (without extra emphasis placed on one side) while running. Depending on the specific joint, they need to move fluidly or give us the stability we need to perform effectively.

Cohen and Bernard promote the idea that all runners should get a functional movement screening to determine if they are predisposed to any particular injuries so that the biomechanical problems can be addressed and overcome in order to prevent those possible injuries. As a person who has dealt with stress fractures and stressed joints in my feet over the past year, I can definitely see the benefits of this. The screening requires the runner to perform several movements while being observed by the practitioner (I guess that's the best title for the person overseeing the screening) to determine where the strengths and weaknesses are. They are then referred to a specialist if any issues are observed. This screening is probably good for any athlete, actually. While the vast majority of people in the audience had never heard of this screening, one woman who has a personal trainer at Equinox had done the screening there, so perhaps it is being used more often now, however it does require the practitioner to intently study movements - both correct and incorrect - in order to make accurate assessments.

They had to wrap up the lecture before the end because they had some audience members demonstrate some of the screening moves, but they had these four tips for improving performance.
1. start workouts with muscle activation movements - to activate stabilizers and lubricate muscles. Movements include modified planks (side and normal with knees bent).
2. rather than warming up by jogging or static stretching, do a dynamic warm-up. Stretches that 'flow.' According to Cohen, this is the most important part to remember.
3. then, finish a workout static stretching.
4. strength training is also very important in order to increase joint stability, range of motion, bone density and create stronger connective tissue.

One thing that stuck with me is that contrary to what I believed (or had convinced myself) is that effective cross training does not include cycling, spinning, the elliptical or swimming. Strength training, active recovery (using a foam roller) and rest, are the most effective forms of cross training according to Cohen and Bernard. They really stressed the use of foam rollers to help muscles recover and stay pliable.

While running makes you a better runner, remember not to over train because that can easily cause overuse injuries. So, many people can effectively train for a marathon with only 3 days of running per week (plus cross training). Five running days per week should be the maximum. A lot of us love running and may have a difficult time taking a day (or two or three) off each week, but it will probably be best for you in the long run and help to ensure you'll have a long running career!

Question: Have you had a functional movement screening? If yes, has it helped? If no, what do you think about the idea?


Robyn said...

Thanks for posting, this is all interesting stuff. I've still yet to sign up for Road Runners.

Katie @ Health for the Whole Self said...

The functional movement screening sounds interesting! I just got into running about 6 months ago and have yet to experience any kind of pain or injuries...I'm hoping it remains that way! I'd be interested in know if I'm pre-disposed to any kind of injury.

Good reminder about the strength training stuff. It seems like the more time I spend running, the more likely I am to flake out on my strength routine...I need to remember that building up lean muscle is still important!

TKW said...

My body does not run. But I am in complete admiration of people who have bodies that do!

Amanda - RunToTheFinish said...

I love hearing speakers who have great things to say! I completely agree with the points you wrote..I haven't ever tried any functional movement testing