Thursday, March 29, 2012

Strength and Flexibility

I have found that to be able to run higher mileage, I need to supplement my running with quite a bit of strengthening and stretching in order to avoid getting injured. I've learned this the hard and frustrating way. For the past few years I have learned a lot and worked hard to turn things around. Aside from avoiding injury, I think it is helping my running directly too, as I feel stronger and more efficient.

I wouldn't have gotten anywhere without finding a therapist that understood how the body works in a connected way, and was able to diagnose me properly and then gradually put me back together again. Her knowledge was combined with a lot of very effective hands-on therapy. She happens to be a physiotherapist, but good healers come with many different labels. The important thing is to find someone who is effective for you, and don't be afraid to move on if it isn't working. I wasted an entire year by not following this advice. It gave me a good (and perhaps needed) rest, but that was it.

I feel that absolute strength and flexibility aren't as important as relative strength and flexibility. Everything in our body is inter-connected, so if imbalances occur it can cause problems, and these problems become exacerbated the more we run. Imbalances can occur along the links of a chain of muscles, a weakness on one side of the body, or even more generally a change in what is normal for you.

For example, the origin of my problems was that my glutes were not doing their share of the work. This led to my lower back, hamstrings and hips having to compensate, and they eventually became unbearably overloaded and injured. (Then later, when my injured hamstring became inflexible from not being able to stretch it, along with tight calves, it led to my plantar fascia being pulled too hard while running, and it became injured.)

Here are some key things that seem to be keeping me healthy.

Clams (progression: with resistance band)

Planks, front and side (progressions: adding leg raises; using bosu. I can't stand just holding static planks, so boring). Also, pushups.

Lunges (progressions: back/side lunges, walking lunges, split lunges, split lunges with bosu) (for excellent form, see Reid/Eric video below)

Bridges and hip thrusts (progressions: Here is a site with info and videos showing everything you need to know.)

Plyometrics - once glute strength increased, I gradually added explosive jumping elements (sometimes with  a bosu). Some examples of this are shown in this amazing video by Reid Coolsaet and Eric Gillis. With the squats-to-jump, another variety is to add quarter-turns, and to do all variations on a bosu. There are endless variations and progressions of this stuff, and it is very fun to keep increasing the challenges.

Wall Sits - Helps inoculate the quads against long and/or steep downhills.

Barefoot/Five-Finger running on grass/dirt - Working up to just 20 minutes, 2x/week keeps my feet happy. Start with super easy jogs and walking, progress to continuous easy running, then add strides or steady running when feet are strong enough. Do it somewhere like a field where, if your feet ever start to hurt, you can stop immediately.

Stretching - Everything/anything that is tight. For variety a few times a week I'll do 5-10 minutes of yoga post-run to cover it.

Long runs aren't as painful now