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Get Fit to Run, Don’t Run to Get Fit

Get Fit to Run, Don’t Run to Get Fit

It’s a new year and you’ve been thinking about starting a running habit? Not sure where to begin? To really hit the ground running, you may want to start by not running. Listen to the advice of Chris Powers, PT, PhD, FASCM, FAPTA, professor and associate chair at University of Southern California’s Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, who coined the phrase “you don't run to get fit, you get fit to run.” Here’s how to get started.

Why you need to be fit to run

Running is a demanding activity for the body. The average runner’s foot contacts the ground for less than 300 milliseconds each step and will take about 1,400 steps per mile. In that step the runner experiences force up to 2.5 times their body weight. That is A LOT of force going through the body in a very short amount of time! By examining individual muscle groups, researchers have been able to break down the force on specific muscles compared to walking. Major muscle groups in the legs are required to absorb load anywhere from 1.5 to 8 times a runner’s body weight with each step! The muscles subjected to the greatest load include the calves, quadriceps and glutes. 

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What to strengthen

Because of the demand running puts on your body, the average runner should have a baseline fundamental strength prior to starting a running program. Exercises should focus on the calves, quadriceps, glutes and core since these muscles sustain the most load during running. Further, it is important that runners choose single-limb exercises. This helps reduce compensatory patterns and improves symmetry between legs. To test your baseline strength across major muscle groups, try these three example exercises:

Static Lunge: 3 sets of 15 repetitions

Single Leg Bridge: 3 sets of 15 repetitions 

Single Leg Heel Raise: 3 sets of 15 repetitions

Training Errors 

If baseline strength is sufficient, gradual progression into running is key. Running injuries can happen from an acute injury; but most running injuries occur from repetitive overload. Most injuries also occur three to six weeks after a training error. This can be very frustrating because a runner may not realize their mistake until weeks later. Examples of training errors include increasing mileage, speed, elevation or changing surface too quickly. Tracking speed, weekly mileage, elevation gain and surface type is crucial when starting a running routine. It is best to increase baseline mileage prior to adding in speed work or hills. Starting with run-walk intervals can be a very effective way to increase time on the runner’s feet and build up to longer runs. 

If this seems daunting, don't let it be! Running is a great activity that improves cardiovascular fitness, muscular endurance, and overall well-being. Making sure a runner is “fit” prior to starting a running program helps reduce injuries, improve performance, and keeps the runner training longer and faster! 

Injured and not sure how to running without making it worse? Meet with a member of the Agile Running Team!

Meet a member of the running team here at Agile to assess your injury and create an individualized exercise program. You can discuss your running goals with your physical therapist so they can work with towards them!  

Agile Physical therapy now offers group running assessments for your local team as well as individual assessments through our RunSafe program. Begin your training program today and you’ll be ready to hit the trails for a happy and healthy new year in no time at all.

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