An open letter to amateur runners: You terrify me.

To my 7 faithful readers:

I apologize for my long absence from the blog world. I hope you haven’t forgotten about me!

Today I wanted to write about an issue that gets me fired up (So much so that I may even sprinkle in a few swear words), RUNNERS.

Lets start with a case example:

Vicky Flupper, is between 24 and 40 and wants to be more active. She has a history of playing a ton of sports, and prides herself on her fitness, but has been having trouble keeping her activity level up. Then one day, on her walk to the local Sobey’s (where 1000s of items have been reduced in price), Vicky sees a group of similarly aged adults with fluorescent vests, fanny packs, cell phone holders on their arms, and skin tight clothing. “What are these people up to!?” Vicky wonders and soon realizes she has come across a group of runners! Hallelujah! She has found a way to keep fit!

Vicky quickly purchases a $240 pair of shoes, a $60 fanny pack, and a bunch of well branded reflective clothing and decides that she is now ready to run. She does a quick warm up and runs for 5km every second day until all of a sudden she gets a strange knee pain. It prevents her from going up and down stairs, but she is generally able to function. She continues to run and slowly it gets worse and worse until she is walking with a lump most of the time. Vicky, a very wise woman, decides it is better to be safe than sorry, and books an appointment with a physiotherapist who has a very well received blog. Because the physiotherapist understands motor control, strength, and lower chain mechanics, Vicky gets a few exercises to make her a better runner and help her knee pain. She has to take a few weeks off but she is back running in no time!

So now that we have that lovely story, lets get into the thick of the blog post. This is my beef with running

  • The vast majority of individuals like Vicky who decide to run without any physical preparation are TIME BOMBS FOR INJURY.

Let me break this down for ya. To run you have to repeatedly stand on one leg, and propel yourself forward, landing on your opposite leg. It is literally a series of small jumps and single leg squats. Our bodies, in theory, are designed to do this in a perfect sequence. In practice, I can tell you that the vast majority of people I assess are NOT equipped to be running.

To understand my argument more fully, we are going to discuss motor control. Motor control is the idea that your body turns on a specific muscle, at the appropriate time, to accomplish a function. It is not the same as strength, though they are linked concepts. I can isolate a single muscle and test its strength, but motor control is your body’s ability to fire that muscle when it needs to be fired in functional positions. Think of motor control as your body’s ability to unleash the strength it possesses.

Now lets talk a bit about functional anatomy. The gluteus maximus, your biggest bum muscle, is designed to drive your leg, from the hip, backwards. The gluteus medius muscle is designed to keep your pelvis from flopping around when you stand on one leg. The glut max and the glut med are SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT muscles for runners. They propel your body forwards while keeping your pelvis stable. Lets keep that in mind as we go forward.

Back to Vicky, sweet sweet misinformed Vicky. When Vicky’s super awesome physiotherapist assesses her glut max and glut med strength laying on the table they are great! Full marks. 5/5. Vicky feels strong like bull. Then the therapist asks Vicky to do a single leg squat and her pelvis flops all over the place, while her knee collapses inward. Interesting, her glut med was not doing its job. So next they try to do a reverse lunge, an exercise that should clearly get glut max to unleash its awesome strength. Hmm. Bum muscle did not fire at all. Interesting. So Vicky has no ability to fire her gluts in functional positions. Lets watch her run. OH LOOK, her bum is not driving her running pattern it’s just along for the ride. And her pelvis is flopping left and right with every step. Vicky has no motor control.

So whether Vicky gets a bout of PFPS, blows her ACL, has hamstring tendinitis, calf strains, or rolled ankles, the underlying cause is often the same: Vicky is not using the muscles designed to help her run, she is compensating. Now, what she is using to compensate can be an entirely new blog post but my point is this:

  • Running is harder on the body than we give it credit for.
  • Motor control, specifically in the gluteal group, is absolutely essential to running.
  • Many new runners have little to no motor control.
  • These runners get injured.

Now, Mr/Mrs Runner, I know what you’re thinking right now reading this post: “That’s not me. My gluts are impeccable. This guy is an idiot, he promised me swear words and I didn’t even get that much!” But lets keep in mind: many runners (in my observation) spend hundreds of dollars on equipment before they run. Would it not be worth it to spend $75 on a rehab professional to assess if you are safe?

I suppose I shouldn’t only pick on runners. This group of people with poor glut control can include anyone. Fact of the matter is, if you are deciding to start running or take on a new sport that includes running, it is much easier to get a quick assessment of motor control and get equipped with practical warm up tools, than it is to repair a blown ligament.

Thanks for reading! I welcome comments/questions and if you aren’t comfortable posting them feel free to email me at mgoertzenpt@gmail.com!