Why are you constantly injured or in pain while training for your next race?

Are Your Shoulders Giving You Neck Pain and Headaches?
December 17, 2015

Why are you constantly injured or in pain while training for your next race?

***For today’s post I’ve asked strength trainer, gym owner, and good friend Mark Roberts to share some key components of running programs that are often overlooked or under-emphasized but are vital for staying healthy and injury free throughout training.


Injury Equation

Most injuries suffered while training running events can be categorized as overuse injuries and are or repetitive stress to the body.  Running grooves pattern of movement that requires a small range of motion and therefore and a limited function of the large muscles that propel you.  Muscles  start to break down as they become weak, and compensation patterns arise, leading to stress points and eventual pain and injury.   Training and performance then suffers. That’s why I think a bigger emphasis needs to beplaced on the non-running components of training like sleep quality, nutrient consumption, recovery, and strength training.

I treat overuse injuries daily in my office.  Along with reducing pain, I primarily focus on 2 things with these patients; 1.) Correcting a weak or dysfunctional movement pattern and 2.) Shifting their approach to the actual training.  Dysfunctional patterns aren’t always painful, but the more you use them the more they become exposed.  A simple movement screen and gait analysis will bring to light any potential problems you have today, and can save you the pain and frustration of injury in the future.  Contact us today at 724-220-4246 or [email protected] to make sure you are training smart and not just training hard!

For more information or a free consultation on strength and cross training programs for runners, contact Mark at 724-719-2644 or [email protected]



The current state of beginner training for a long distance race

I love running. I love the endurance runs and the runs that really force you out of your comfort zone and into a state of mind where you’re battling an urge to slow down or give up. The mental and physical battle during those long runs truly grow a person and you’re always a more mature person for it after every run.

However, the mental and physical battles can really manifest into long term issues and unnecessary injuries when not balanced with a complete training and preparation plan.

What injuries am I talking about?

  • IT Band issues
  • Shin Splints
  • Muscle strains
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Stress fractures
  • Knee pain
  • Low back pain
  • Meniscus tears or abrasions

Not only are these injuries documented in over 70% of runners each year, but also because I was one of those runners who ran all of the time in preparation of my first couple long races. I had shin splints, IT band issues, and knee pain. And I finished my first marathon with micro-tears in my meniscus that left me on crutches for a few days to allow healing.

Can you run without the constant pain of shin splints or IT band issues?

Absolutely. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to grit your teeth and muscle your way through months of chronic issues leading up to a half marathon. Don’t wear the badge of IT Band pain just because everyone else is experiencing it and doesn’t know how to fix it. That’s not normal.

What to do about it?

If you’re currently training or getting ready to train for a 5k, 10k, half marathon, or even a marathon, you have the fortune of preparing for a race and getting ahead of any future issues you may have by shifting the focus off of “run all the time” to “strengthen your weak areas and practice your long runs.”

Current running plans, like Hal Higdon’s novice running plan or Jeff Galloway’s training for runners and walkers, ask you to run 4 times a week. Typically, the runs are broken into two short runs, a medium distance run, and a long distance run. Hal Higdon also throws in 30 minutes of “Cross Training” and a “Stretch and Strength” day. Jeff plans 3 days off and alternates the long runs with some intermediate length intervals.

The problem with these plans

  • Although you are running in preparation for a running event, all you are doing is running. Aka you are only strengthening a very singular pattern of moving. The pattern of moving isn’t even through a great range of motion.
  • The “Strength” activities or “Cross Training” that Hal recommends you do isn’t explained at all, so most runners won’t do it. They’ll just run more. Or maybe they’ll get on a bike or go swimming, which is a nice change of pace.
  • The volume of running isn’t too bad, but for most novices, their running technique leaves much to be desired and running every single day enforces this poor technique. They don’t have any coach or feedback during their training plan either, so it’ll never get better.

How to fix this

Cut the running plan to two days a week of dedicated running. Focus on the long run on the weekend that helps you practice your endurance and being on your feet for more than an hour. Include the medium distance run of 45 minutes to an hour in the middle of the week. Cut out the short runs that are designed to get you out of the house. This will reduce your running volume by 30% but not sacrifice the quality time spent increasing your long runs every week.

Create a strength plan of 3 days a week that includes:

  • Posterior chain exercises like deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, and single leg deadlifts. If you can work up to it, GHD Raises are incredible.
  • Full Range of motion exercises for the legs like front squats, lunges, Bulgarian split squats, and step ups with weight
  • Being able to brace your core/trunk is integral – so adding in planks, flutter kicks, dead bugs / hollow rocks, and mountain climbers (amongst others) will help you be able to squeeze your butt and abs. Skip the sit ups.
  • Finally, you need to run with an upright posture. Make sure you have a strong shoulder girdle with exercises like band pull aparts, strict press, push ups, and pull ups.

As an endurance athlete, you’re not concerned with lifting a 1 RM, so if you’re 12 weeks out from a program, start with sets of 8. 8 weeks out, transition to sets of 12. 4 weeks out, transition to sets of 15. Longer time under tension will allow you to grow your strength, muscular endurance, as well as the cross sectional area of the muscle.

Practice running as a skill

Running just to run isn’t going to cut it as a method of improving your technique. You must practice proper running form to solidify strong motor patterns and grooves. Typically, I would focus on two things when I’m practicing my running:

  • Taking more steps per minute so that my feet stay under my body. This will reduce the chance for heelstriking
  • Driving my heel to my butt as I run so I use my big hamstrings to move the body rather than the hip flexors.

There are other techniques and cues to use, but for runners who have issues with shin splints and IT band issues. Heel striking is a problem that can be fixed and allow for many of the issues you experience to fix themselves.  You can practice these cues with running in place drills amongst others.

Keeping limber during your training

Everyone knows how to warm up and go for a run, but who knows how to down regulate the body?  Do you know how to relax and calm yourself? Are you mobilizing your tight muscle and allowing for rest and growth to happen?

I would recommend adding magnesium to your diet before you go to bed. A simple magnesium supplement will allow for your muscles to relax and you’ll get a deeper sleep. I’d strongly recommend seeing a chiropractor like Dr. Jaicks who focuses on movement quality and addresses any areas of concern to make sure you are minimizing the stress you’re putting on muscles and joints. Doing some yoga and some self-myofascial release before bed and after a workout is crucial. If you have the motivation, I would recommend investing in the online yin yoga program ROMWOD.com. Daily videos that average 20-30 minutes of passive yoga to help put some traction on your muscles and ligaments.

Eating for performance

This is starting to turn into a thesis about running, but no fitness program is complete without discussing food intake and body recomposition. Far too many people begin running to lose weight and end up being heavier come race day than they had ever anticipated. Mostly because they thought they were burning so many calories they justified eating whatever they wanted; the caloric intake was too much for their frame and actual activity level they gained weight even though they adopted an active lifestyle.

To keep it simple, here are my basic guidelines for figuring out how to eat. Determine your goal for the training duration – do you want to lose weight? Maintain weight? Gain weight?

There are many ways of determining your base caloric needs, but you can multiply your weight by 11 and then add 300 calories for the running activities you do. That is your daily caloric intake. If you’re trying to lose weight, then set your goal for 0.5-2 lbs of weight lost each week. Weight loss too fast usually means you’re sacrificing muscle if it’s sustained over a significant period of time. So, subtract 500 calories from your total daily goal to account for the weight loss goal. A deficit of 3500 calories each week means you’ll lose 1 lb a week. Track your weight every day or every week. If you’re losing weight too fast, add 250 calories. This will slow your weight loss by 1/2 lb.

The next step once you find your basic caloric intake is to adjust your macronutrients to shift your body recomposition. For runners, you need to prioritize the muscle on your body by aiming for .8 – 1 gm of protein per pound of lean mass. Your carbohydrate intake varies, but a starting point could be around 2 g of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. The fat is the “flex” macronutrient that will take up the rest of the calories of your diet. To determine your fat macro grams, protein grams are 4 calories each and carbohydrates are 4 calories per gram. Fat grams are 9 calories.

(Total calories – 4*protein grams – 4*carbohydrate grams)/9 = fat grams

Most of you will find you’ve been eating too many carbohydrates, not enough protein and maybe enough fat. Most importantly, the caloric total will be too much and you’ll gain weight even though you’re running.