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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Weird Ways to Run Faster Without Pain

Developing an adequate strength base is essential to meeting the demands of any sport, especially running.
Some runners are hesitant to strength train, believing –incorrectly– that strength training will harm their running performance.  On the contrary, proper strength training has been scientifically proven to improve performance in runners and any athlete who repeatedly engages in knee bending.
Researchers discovered that runners who will suffer injury move differently than those who don't become injured, and that most injuries are related to poor running mechanics. Recent studies show that injured runners have poor alignment of the foot, knee and hip, as opposed to healthy runners, who are able to keep their joints in a neutral position.
While you may think your leg muscles are to blame for altered mechanics and poor running performance, it's really the core muscle groups that are responsible for proper joint alignment. Unfortunately, although they are essential to healthy running, core muscles don't get trained when you run. In fact, it's just the opposite: the limited range of motion involved in running tends to weaken all the core muscles surrounding your legs and hips.  Running just involves back-and-forth motion in one dimension, not really any lateral side-to-side movement, so the core muscles that work to stabilize your trunk get weaker literally with each mile…
If you look at other competitive sports such as basketball, football, baseball, soccer, and pretty much any other sport you can think of, you see that athletes perform sport specific exercises in the off season to get stronger, increase their power, improve core strength, and cure common sports injuries. Strength training allows athletes to perform at a higher level.
So, let's repeat so we can really drill this in: core muscles don't get trained when you run, but they are essential to healthy running.
The healthy and successful runner needs to understand that pain-free, fast running is as much about the strength of your core as it is about your legs.
What I've seen over and over again is runners who like to just run.  Strengthening is seen to be a distraction or annoyance and not an essential part of running.  This is especially the case for recreational runners who often are trying to 'squeeze in' a run before or after work.  Or, many runners are motivated to run to keep weight under control and think that strengthening leads to bulking up.
What you must realize is that strengthening your core muscles does not translate into getting 'bigger' or regaining weight.  Simply, it's a critical part of running that is about upgrading the muscles among runners that inevitably get long and weak — the muscles you rarely use in running — into strong muscles that can stabilize your pelvis and allow explosive power from your limbs.
In short, a strong core is as important as getting comfortable sneakers — it is a TOOL of healthy, pain-free running.  You have to think of strengthening as an integral prerequisite of running, not as something that's tangential or as a bonus when you have extra time. In fact, your schedule needs to allocate specific times during the week for a set number of must-do strengthening exercises. If not, you're inevitably going to get injured (almost all runners do) and lose even more time by having to completely stop running.
Runners often think that running more is the only way to increase their performance.  It turns out the best way for runners to improve performance and prevent injury is to increase strength and the stabilization that results from a strong core.

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