Running Myths Part 5: Runners Should do Multi-Joint, “Functional” Exercises

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Runners Should do "Functional" Exercises

This series focuses on a number of myths we often hear at Sycamore Health relating to physiotherapy and exercise. Our goal is not that you become discouraged from exercising, but rather that you train safely, effectively and often!

There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to heavy strength training and running. We know there’s strong evidence that resistance training has a myriad of health benefits and reduces the risk of overuse injury in athletes by approximately 50% (Lauersen et al., 2014). Despite strong evidence of strength trainings utility for runners, many simply avoid lifting heavy things and instead just run more! 

In general, there are two schools of thought when it comes to training for sport in the weights room. The first school sees a gym environment as a place to train capacities that a person may utilise in a sports-specific context. The second school of thought sees a gym environment as a place to mimic the movement patterns of their chosen sport in an attempt to be “representative” of their needs and/or be more “functional”.

We're in the first camp. The gym environment is best used to increase capacities, and sport-specific training and performance can utilise those capacities. When it comes to training for running, doing multi-joint, “functional” exercises that mimic the movement patterns of running does not seem to transfer to running (more info here) (4).

Moreover, single joint exercises can be superior for achieving running-relevant levels of muscle forces. A good example of this can be seen with single leg squats. These are a great exercise to strengthen the hip and thigh muscles. However, a squat minimally loads the calf complex (3) and minimally moves the ankle through ranges that mimic those utilised in running. Therefore, a single leg calf raise could be used to isolate the calf musculature (2) and enable the runner to work through a full range of motion at the ankle. As the Achilles tendon can be exposed to forces 6-8x bodyweight (1, 5), heavy resistance exercises here seems appropriate.

To summarise, a good heavy resistance training program that utilises both multi-joint and single-joint exercises seems appropriate to ensure suitable adaptations in the muscles and tendons.

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1. Almonroeder, T., Willson, J. D., & Kernozek, T. W. (2013). The Effect of Foot Strike Pattern on Achilles Tendon Load During Running. Annals of Biomedical Engineering, 41(8), 1758-1766. doi: 10.1007/s10439-013-0819-1
2. Andrew, R., Keith, D., Thomas, W. K., Naghmeh, G., & Christina, O. (2017). Achilles Tendon Loading During Heel-Raising and -Lowering Exercises. Journal of Athletic Training, 52(2), 89-96. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-52.1.04
3. Kulas, A. S., Hortobágyi, T., & DeVita, P. (2012). Trunk position modulates anterior cruciate ligament forces and strains during a single-leg squat. Clinical Biomechanics, 27(1), 16-21. doi: 10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2011.07.009
4. Richard, W. W., & Irene, S. D. (2011). The Effect of a Hip-Strengthening Program on Mechanics During Running and During a Single-Leg Squat. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 41(9), 625-632. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2011.3470
5. Richard, W. W., Lisa, H., Andrew, H., Holly, J., & John, D. W. (2016). Patellofemoral Joint and Achilles Tendon Loads During Overground and Treadmill Running. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 46(8), 664-672. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2016.6494

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