Friday, July 24, 2015

Dodging the injury bullet




It doesn't have to be this way. 

Last week, one of the link ups I like had a topic "Five Fitness Trends I Won't be Trying". I read all the posts and was stunned-yes stunned--to find that about 90% of the running bloggers mentioned CrossFit as a trend they don't want to try. If you've been following me for any length of time, you know that I work with a coach who is not a running coach, but a CrossFit coach, and that I've had amazing results in both my finish times and my ability to remain injury free this year. While I don't participate in CrossFit classes, Becky does have me do a lot of moves that she uses with her classes. But she also puts me through a strength cycle twice a year. I just wrapped up this one and will begin marathon training fully now.

There's no denying the difference that this training has made in my running. I credit all of that to the change in my training, which is lower mileage and more strength training/interval training. In fact, Becky herself is working on a testimonial about the change CrossFit has made for her. This is her 5 year anniversary doing CrossFit, and you can see from the pictures what a change she has made in her physique, as well as the way she carries herself. Becky is a big believer in CrossFit, but interestingly, when I asked her about CrossFit Endurance, she told me NOT to read the book. So she's not drinking the koolade. It's why I love her. The heavy weight lifting I do with her is not specific to CrossFit.

Becky's transformation
Believe it or not, one of the goals of lifting the heavy weights is to protect me from injury on the road. I'm not saying you have to do CrossFit, but as a runner the benefits of strength training are indisputable. Lifting weights is actually protective for the joints, especially for those of us of a "certain age". Joe Friel, a well known coach and expert on endurance training, advocates weightlifting for the athletes of all ages, but particularly for the older athlete. On his blog, he provides guidance for endurance athletes. With regards to weight training and injury prevention, he recommends lifting heavy loads to increase bone density and testosterone (in men and women) which in turn leads to increased muscle mass. By lifting heavy weights, the body will develop strength in all areas, including areas that are naturally weak, like the joints.

A recent study found that for masters athletes, heavy lifting increased running efficiency. Increasing muscle strength by lifting weight will give you more power and faster muscle contractions.
"When muscles don’t need to work as hard, they also don’t require as much oxygen or circulating blood and therefore will not put as much demand on the heart, which in turn will lower that rate at which it beats. A significant improvement in endurance will be the result. Greater strength does equal greater endurance." -Brendan Brazier, How to Build Strength to Improve Muscle Efficiency
Strength training also improves coordination because lifting heavy weights forces us to be really conscious of our positioning. Being a natural klutz, I was pleased to see that. Practicing the skill of weightlifting over time leads to better form on the road and less repetitive stress injuries as well.

Another comment I hear from runners about weightlifting is that they don't want "to get big". Big bulky muscles would obviously be a detriment on the road. But as runners, we are lifting weights to get stronger, not to bulk up, and our workouts are different than bodybuilders. Have you seen me? I get called skinny (which I don't take as a compliment, by the way). I certainly don't look like a bodybuilder. But Becky has me do a strength cycle twice a year, lifting heavy weights.

Don't think I'll be winning any bodybuilding competitions!
Running is, by nature, a weight bearing activity. Swimmers and cyclists are at more risk for bone density loss than runners. Older athletes lose muscle mass at a much higher rate than younger athletes, and women in particular are at risk for bone density loss. But no matter what sport you participate in, or what age you are, you need muscle mass to support your joints, which is why strength training is so important. And strength training also improves muscle imbalances, which can also lead to injury.

Perpetuating the myth of bad knees...
One thing I hear all the time, when people find out I'm a runner, is "you're going to ruin your knees." The myth that running is bad for the knees is that--simply a myth. A large study, published last year, found that runners have half the incidence of knee osteoarthritis compared to walkers. This is because running has been shown to thicken the cartilage in your knees. Knee pain is more likely to be caused by muscular imbalance than anything structural. Here is where strength training comes in! A recent review has shown that weak hips can lead to knee pain, particularly patellofemoral pain syndrome or so-called "runners' knee". Hips don't lie. Neither do the glutes. Most of us are quad dominant, meaning we rely more on our quadriceps muscles to propel us forward vs the hamstrings and the glutes. In order to prevent injury, we need to balance things out.

Ok, so I've established the benefits of strength training and injury prevention. Oh, and by the way, you don't need to do a lot of strength training. Once or twice a week is sufficient. When Becky and I are doing a heavy lifting cycle, we work together once a week, for 30 minutes. That is all that is needed to make a difference. Believe it or not.

As a runner, what exercises should we be doing to prevent injuries?

Deadlifts and squats.
Wearing my weightlifting socks! With the heavy weights, my Gel Nimbus were too cushioned and unstable. Seriously!
At heavy weights. And low reps. Maybe even only 1!

Because these 2 exercises impact large muscle groups which support your joints. These exercises will strengthen your glutes and hamstrings, and will give you power. Trust me on this one. Hill repeats? Who needs them after this? Squatting and deadlifting heavy will also provide stability to your joints. The articles below also have pictures and descriptions of strength training for runners.

And there is that whole bone density thing...

Who's got time for a fracture? Not this old timer.

Keep in mind that every activity we do has the risk of injury. A few weeks ago, when doing my deadlifts at 95% max, I felt something tug in my right hamstring. Tug is putting it mildly, actually. It hurt. And I dropped the set. I was scared! Luckily, by the next day, I was fine, just sore. But as much as this heavy lifting seems fraught with injury, running by nature is repetitive. The more we run, the more likely we are to aggravate something. By mixing it up, by strengthening the muscles, we can protect those joints and bones. We may not even need to run as much because we've increased our running economy.

And by the way, I've never thrown up from a CrossFit workout.

Be smart, and be strong.

Do you strength train?

I did my homework for this one! Lots of Sources:
http://running.competitor.com/2014/02/training/should-distance-runners-lift-heavy_67606
http://running.competitor.com/2014/03/training/heavy-lifting-for-better-running_67162
http://breakingmuscle.com/running/heavy-lifting-improves-running-economy-in-masters-athletes
http://breakingmuscle.com/running/how-to-build-strength-to-improve-running-efficiency
http://breakingmuscle.com/running/weight-training-basics-for-runners
http://www.runnersworld.com/race-training/strength-training-misconceptions-for-runners
http://www.runnersworld.com/newswire/running-might-protect-against-knee-osteoarthritis
http://www.runnersworld.com/injury-prevention-recovery/5-things-runners-should-know-about-knees
http://www.runnersworld.com/injury-prevention-recovery/inside-doctors-office-dr-jordan-metzl-runners-knee
http://www.runnersworld.com/workouts/body-shop-strong-in-the-knees
http://www.runnersworld.com/sweat-science/hip-weakness-and-knee-pain
http://www.details.com/blogs/daily-details/2014/12/health-myth-running-is-bad-for-your-knees.html
http://www.athletico.com/2014/04/12/3-solutions-quad-dominance-known-injury-risk-factor/
http://www.higher-faster-sports.com/noglutes.html

I'm linking this post with Jill Conyers for Fitness Friday! Check out what everyone else is saying.




56 comments :

  1. I don't take CF but I may be changing that soon. I am a religious Body Pumper though and I feel so much better when I take it consistently. My goal this marathon training is to keep it up once a week. I feel much stronger in my hips, glutes and legs. Also, I'm getting a core workout the whole class because I have to engage it to stay in proper form. Also, I feel like a bada$$ when I can do some power presses and overhead presses with a full bar. :)

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    1. That whole feeling like a bada** thing is another benefit that I didn't even talk about! Pushing through a tough weight lifting workout has definite mental benefits for sure!

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  2. I know many runners don't like to weight train. They just like to run. I'm with you (although not necessarily on Crossfit) & I do strength train regularly.

    And wouldn't you know my knee is bothering me out of the blue this week & I actually have a feeling it's due to the weights? Doesn't mean I'll stop lifting forever, but I won't be lifting heavy today. Some light weights & yoga.

    Since I don't belong to a gym I'm kind of stuck on the heavy weights thing - the heaviest weight I have is 20 lbs.

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    1. Most of the research I read says that light weights and high reps don't do much for strengthening. I wouldn't consider 20# light tho...

      I hope your knee settles down with some rest.

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  3. As my former fitness instructor always says, to bulk up like a body builder, you'd need to make weight lifting a full time job.
    You look fabulous, not bulky, not skinny, just right.


    "Aren't myths wonderful?" she asked sarcastically.

    As usual, a marvelous, thoughtful, informative article.
    You're the best.

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    1. Thank you Connie! I was asked to write about this by someone who reads my blog, and with the start of marathon training, it seemed like perfect timing. Glad you found it informative. I'm no expert, but I was happy to see that there was plenty of information out there. And lots of solid research to back up the claims. The scientist in me likes that...

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  4. You look so strong! I think that crossfit is getting a bad rep because people are doing it wrong and too much too soon.

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    1. Just like anything, there are bad CrossFit coaches too. Becky and I talk about this a lot.

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  5. I've never been interested in cross fit, but I do weight train. I really need the strength and balance in my body.

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    1. I think we all need to strength train. No matter how you do it.

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  6. This has really worked for you! You look great too. I wish I could do a little strength training, but seriously - my elbow is BAD. Like, I need surgery BAD. Like, I can't lift my toothbrush BAD. I'm trying to hold off until winter.

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    1. I do. It's different--I ski with that hand upside down. So, my bicep takes the brunt of it. (I also try to use my other arm more.) My elbow issue is the outside bone. I'm SURE it's not helping.

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  7. You look pretty terrific. I would need the motivation of a trainer which I can't afford. I go to a small gym so I am starting to do some strength training.

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  8. I love strength training. It changed the way I ate, changed my body comp, and made me a faster runner. It even motivated me to become a personal trainer and now I love designing workouts for myself based on science and not just crap I read on the internet. I wish more runners strength trained only because I know how much it would help them! I am glad you enjoy strength training and that it has made you stronger and healthier.

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    1. Didn't it also change the way you see your body? There's that whole mental benefit too! I'm with you, I wish everyone would try it and see the benefits on the road.

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    2. For sure, and mainly because of all the studying I had to do.

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  9. I was shocked to see most everyone say Crossfit during that 5 things (I was one too)... & I get the amazing things it can do - but with injuries I ALREADY have, I know it wouldn't work for me... I give kudos to those can do it though.
    That video is HILARIOUS!!!!!!

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    1. The classes probably wouldn't work with me because I'm so uncoordinated. Having a coach and one on one instruction makes it safe and a win for me.

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  10. I love this! I'm a runner converted to CrossFit and I can't believe how many runners snub any of my posts about CrossFit. I also think it gets a bad reputation for injury but I had more injuries when I wasn't lifting than while I am. I suppose it's all about comfort and knowledge level. Thanks for the good read, defintily going to pass it on to runner friends.

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    1. I had a feeling you'd like this post! I'm tired of people dissing CF, telling me that it's "dangerous". Of course it is--if you do stupid things! So is running 7 days a week. It's all about training smart and listening to your body.

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  11. LOVE LOVE LOVE this post!! I've seen a HUGE improvement in my running from pairing my training with CrossFit. I think bad boxes and coaches that focus on heavy weights and speed over form give the sport a bad rep, but my coaches always make sure my form is on point before I up weights or go too quickly through a WOD.

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    1. It's too bad that a few bad apples have to spoil the whole CrossFit thing...I totally agree with you that a good coach is the key!

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  12. I love weight training. I believe in lifting heavy weights to improve strength. It's ridiculous that women are taught to lift brightly colored 2# dumbbells. I've been strength training consistently for about a year and I have noticed a huge improvement in my running.

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    1. I see women walking on the path doing bicep curls with those 2# weights and I want to ask them what they think they're doing...I don't tho...none of my business, right?

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  13. Interesting! It sounds like you have definitely found a coach that knows what she is doing and knows what is best for you. She and you do look amazing! I do love strength training and it totally has changed my body as well.

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    1. She.is.amazing. I feel so lucky to have found her! What a difference she's made for me.

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  14. Sounds like you have a great plan. I've been following the strength workouts in The New Rules of Weight Lifting for Women and it focuses on heavy weights and things like squats, deadlifts, lunges and some upper body work. I definitely notice an improvement in my running when I'm doing strength training!

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  15. I would love to try CF honestly, but I just don't think that I have it in my budget. It looks like an awesome workout and I'm sure that I would love it. As a runner, I agree that strength training is really important.

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    1. I just pay for my coaching sessions, it's a sacrifice I made--I hated the idea of getting older and weaker. In my 20 years of running, I never had a coach until now.

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  16. I'm one of the people who don't want to do CrossFit, but I do strength train and agree that it is so important for runners!

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  17. You DID do your homework for this..... interesting that so many people don't want to try cross-fit... I've actually been curious about it, but I hate strength training and so usually I'm just either doing a strength DVD once a week...or doing squats and lunges and pushups, etc when I rarely watch TV.... I just don't want to make the time commitment to going to a class for cross fit.... I'd call your body "strong skinny"....lean but muscular....

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    1. I didn't want to strength train either, but having a coach push me has been the catalyst I needed!

      Just like practicing evidence based medicine...I practice evidence based training! :P

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  18. Lots of great info here, Wendy! I think the scary thing about CrossFit is that it's easy to get injured if you don't have a great coach. Luckily you have Becky, but I've known a few people who aren't as lucky as you and got injured because their form wasn't right. I do think it's really funny when women say they don't want to lift because they don't want to bulk up. The vast majority of women just don't have the genetics to be able to put on that much muscle mass.

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    1. It's genetics but it's also the way you train--certainly once or twice a week of lifting isn't going to bulk anyone up!

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  19. Wow! Those are some massive weights. And I thought doing body pump a few times a wk was a work out. However, I continue to up my weights to become stronger. Because like you said it will help w your running.

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  20. I don't have any interest in CF, but I do know I need to lift weights and that lifting heavy has some definite benefits. I just wish I enjoyed weight training as much as I do running. I can always seem to fit in running, but struggle to find time to lift.

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    1. I'm with you--I can't say I enjoy lifting and wouldn't be motivated to do it by myself. The rewards are motivating tho!

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  21. Yes, yes, and YES! I've dabbled in CrossFit a bit, and while I don't agree with a lot of the practices I see in certain boxes, I know training in that style, when done properly, could totally be beneficial for runners.

    I work with a lot of runners and actually teach a group fitness class that's geared specifically at runners. We do a lot of strength and cardio intervals and I try to get them running less to make up for the extra activity. The results? They're getting faster, are getting injured less, and are having more FUN, all due to the reasons you mentioned.

    Keep up the good work and keep spreading the good word!!!

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    1. I love that you're teaching that interval class! My coach does that with me when we're not lifting weights. What a difference it makes on the road!

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  22. Love love this Wendy! Part of what I've been studying for the NASM exam is on this exact thing. Not only heavy lifting but strength training in general. Love it even more since you did your research :) Have an awesome weekend!

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    1. I just couldn't put it out there without something to back me up--I kept hearing the the naysayers in my head!

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  23. I strongly believe in weight training and I too think it has kept me injury free. I also do upper body work becauseI like to have sexy arms !

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  24. I totally think that taking gym classes has helped my running and my body get stronger. I want to try CrossFit now!!! Thanks for the info!!

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    1. Just make sure it's a reputable box! I don't want you to get hurt.

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  25. Great post! I absolutely believe strength training is good for a runner and that Crossfit is not necessarily bad unless you get caught up in the hype and try to do more than you are capable of. I am glad you found a trainer that has helped you!

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    1. 100% agree! But isn't that how it is with anything?

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  26. I think CF gets a bad rap because they don't monitor the class size and people just do it wrong and think they have to be there every day. The bootcamp class I go to is limited in size and the coach monitors each participant for form. I am looking forward to my OTF class to open!

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  27. I am also a crossfit fan! It's really helped me during my pregnancy as well because my muscles and tendons are so much stronger.

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    1. I bet it would be good for pregnancy fitness. I didn't run during my pregnancies (I had zero energy) but I did lift!

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