Winter in the Northern Rockies is synonymous with snow, ice, and abundant recreational opportunities. Whether you are a die-hard winter runner, or spend your free time skiing or snowboarding, strength training should be included in your winter training routine. But what are the best exercises to build the strength runners need to perform and avoid injuries? Are squats and clamshells all I need to do to stay strong for running?

Improper technique will significantly reduce the effectiveness of any strength training program. Rather than surfing the web for the best 4-5 strengthening exercises for runners, focus on isolating the proper muscle(s) without compensations. It is important to strengthen the primary muscle responsible for proper joint stability and movement rather than the muscle(s) responsible for a compensatory movement pattern. Our body moves through a series of movement patterns which we learn at a young age when our muscular and nervous systems are malleable. Factors such as deconditioning, repetitive motion, injury, illness, & excessive sitting contribute to the formation of altered movement patterns. These altered movement patterns are not noticeable until muscle tightness and/or pain results. The key to effectively treating overuse injuries lies in addressing the altered movement pattern in question.

For example, the importance of the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius muscles in efficient running and injury prevention is well known to runners. Isolating the gluteal muscles during a simple quadruped (on hands and knees) hip extension exercise can be very challenging. The altered movement pattern which interferes with proper gluteal-driven hip extension include the lumbar erector spinae muscle (low back), the hamstring, muscle, and the adductor muscle (inner thigh). For example, true hip extension should be initiated by the gluteus maximus, with secondary assistance from the erector spinae and hamstring. Postural compensations due to weak lower abdominals and tight hip flexors (often synonymous with excessive sitting), exacerbate the altered movement pattern associated with hip extension. A trained physical therapist will explain how your body may be compensating for an underlying weakness in order to make your strength training workouts an effective and efficient use of your time.

Understanding the function of the muscle you are trying to strengthen and possible compensatory movement patterns will increase the effectiveness of your strengthening exercise routine. Contact the functional movement specialists at Sapphire Physical Therapy for a movement analysis to find underlying compensations which may hinder strengthening. A physical therapist will develop a strength training program to your individual goals during the running off season.

John Fiore, PT

Sapphire Physical Therapy