Proper form can prevent injury and improve your performance. According to physical therapist Bryan Heiderscheit, PT, PhD, increasing your body’s strength may improve your form and control, which can improve your movement patterns and keep you running without injury. Every runner, beginner or advanced, should take these injury-prevention strategies into account:
A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates stretching before exercise does not reduce the risk of injury. Instead, try warming up with a brisk walk or running drills, and then begin the more rigorous parts of your workout as your muscles begin to feel activated. If you’re just starting a running regimen, your routine should include stretching after running. If you’ve already been stretching before running, however, don’t choose race day to switch. Stick with your old routine for the race and gradually shift over between races.
“All runners have inefﬁciencies in their form,” said Heiderscheit. “They may be subtle, but ﬁnding them uncovers opportunities to make the body stronger and more tolerant of rigorous training.” Physical therapists identify these weak points through a Gait Analysis. By ﬁlming you running on a treadmill and examining your alignment with advanced software, they can see where you need to strengthen muscles, adjust form, improve your shoe wear, or reduce impact in order to become a more efficient runner. When runners can see a knee drift inward, they can visualize the correction and activate muscles to offset poor form.
There are a few areas any non-injured runner can target to run more efficiently. Endurance runners may have underdeveloped hamstrings, so targeting the hamstrings with strengthening exercises may help. In addition, a single-leg balance or single-leg squat exercise is a low impact exercise that pushes the body to build strength, balance, and coordination in the muscle groups most used while running.
Starting a new running regimen? Go for it! But be careful because novice runners will have to adjust to the impact on the joints. A beginner shouldn’t start with 5 to 7 runs each week. Instead, replace several of these runs with biking, swimming, or time on the elliptical. Each of these activities builds cardiovascular endurance and strength without stressing the joints too much too soon.
Running shouldn’t be the end of your exercise regimen. Strength training can improve overall strength and ultimately improve your running. Strength in your core and hips, ﬂexibility, and coordination all factor into your performance, so make improving these areas part of training, too. Whether you devote hours each week to running, or run occasionally to maintain a basic level of ﬁtness, a physical therapist can make sure you do so safely.