Running done properly is a great form of exercise. If looked at in terms of how good of a workout you can get in a limited time with limited resources, few activities get you better bang for the buck, and recent research has shown that if your knees are in good shape to begin with, the long term effects of running on joints like your knees are not as bad as previously thought and might be outweighed by the benefits.
Like everything else that we preach, there is a right way to run, and considering a long distance run like a marathon is nothing more than the same body motion repeated over and over again, proper technique is key. Think of it this way: when you run a marathon, you are repeating the same movement tens of thousands of times. How important do you think it is to get that one movement right?
Enter the science of gait analysis, a field growing in popularity that is helping many people diagnose and overcome pain and injuries associated with long distance running. What many of these experts will tell you is in order to maintain the proper gait, a certain amount of muscle strength is needed, especially in your upper legs and hips. That sort of strength development is best accomplished with specific kinds of resistance training and will not come from your regular runs. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, a condition often referred to as runners knee, can result from a weakness in your hip girdle that lead to your knees wobbling during each stride and receiving a force while out of alignment. Other problems like over-striding can occur if you have a weak core and bend over too much during each stride.
While working on your stabilizers, you also want to focus on the muscles that actually propel you forward or catch your weight during each stride, like the quads and hamstrings. By strengthening these muscles not only do you protect your joints but you also make the muscles themselves more resistant to the regular wear and tear of a long distance run, thus reducing the usual pain and soreness.
Many of our personal training clients who are also long distance athletes have reported better run or bike times after our work with them in the gym, so you might want to consult your fitness professional on a proper strengthening routine. In a follow-up post we will share some of our favorite exercises for endurance athletes.