by Scott Masson
Before I became a runner, I was pretty much at the polar opposite of the fitness spectrum: I was a powerlifter. However, far from being completely redundant, some of the skills and techniques I learned by chucking massive weights around have actually been invaluable for running.
The fact is, running is an extremely punishing sport as far as your joints and connective tissues are concerned. As a result, with the notable exception of genetically blessed freaks, every runner can expect to get injured at some point in their running career, no matter how careful they are. Therefore, knowing how to rehabilitate and prevent injury is paramount if you don’t want your training regime to get derailed every time you hurt yourself.
Instead of covering generic injury advice that you can find on any running blog, this article is going to look at what unorthodox but effective lessons we can learn from powerlifters!
#1 Tendons Forged with Iron
The reason powerlifters can lift such enormous weights isn’t just due to their bulky muscles. In fact, it isn’t even mostly to do with their muscles! The single most important aspect of powerlifting is developing strong tendons, ligaments and connective tissues.
The most effective way powerlifters do this is with something they call “partials”. Partials are essentially weight-lifting exercises with a very limited range of movement. By only completing about `1/4 of the lift, it is the tendons and connective tissues that do most of the work, as opposed to the muscles.
Therefore, if runners were to do partial squats, they’d dramatically strengthen the tendons in their knees, ankles, the lower back and shins – all areas which are commonly injured by runners. The best part is, since your muscles don’t really get engaged much when doing partials, you won’t put on muscle mass, so you’ll stay lean.
By increasing the strength and thickness of your tendons and connective tissues, you will be at far less risk of developing tendonitis or tearing any connective tissues. As well as this, you will improve overall joint health, which will prolong your running career and improve performance.
I can’t recommend partial squats enough for runners, especially if used sensibly as part of a rehabilitation programme after an injury.
How to Partial Squat
Bodyweight partials by themselves are good for rehabbing existing injuries, but if you are particularly susceptible to joint issues, you’ll need to start adding extra weight.
If you don’t belong to a gym, or have no access to free weights, I highly recommend getting your hands on a core bag. They are much safer than a heavy barbell, and are much easier to store away when not in use. You can usually find a second hand core bag online for around $30 / £20, but you can also pick them up at a heavy discount here.
#2 Essential Supplements
As a runner, you probably already have your diet on lock down, having learned exactly what your body needs to operate at its best.
However, one dietary aspect most runners neglect is the micronutrients your joints need to repair themselves, particularly following an injury. Since you’re putting more stress on your body than an average person, your diet alone, no matter how good it is, is unlikely to provide you with the nutrients your joints need to adequately recover.
Powerlifters, and weight lifters in general, take supplements extremely seriously. Glucosamine and chondroitin have been medically shown to speed up injury recovery, and are instrumental in maintaining healthy joints during intense bouts of training. Lifters also take MSM as well as vitamin C and magnesium for optimum joint nutrition.
Vitamin C and magnesium can be obtained through your diet and boosted with a daily multivitamin, but glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM should be supplemented.
I encourage you to do your own research and find your own preferred supplement, as different brands have very different blends of the active ingredient. I personally take an all-in-one MSM, Glucosamine and Chondroitin pill.
#3 Switch up Your Training
Let’s be honest – sometimes your training regime gets a tad boring, doesn’t it? Well, luckily for you, one of the best things you can do for your running performance is swap out your run for a different workout!
By ditching your run for a cycle, a swim or, best of all, some light-weight resistance work you will help fix any muscular imbalances caused by running. Lots of common running injuries, such as shin splints, patella femoral issues, hamstring tendonitis and hip problems are caused by muscular imbalances. By throwing in different forms of training, you can work out these neglected muscles, thereby creating a more balanced musculature, which in turn will support your joints and improve your posture and gait.
Powerlifters know that muscles work in tandem, so they put a lot of time and effort into developing a balanced musculature by even exercising muscles which don’t directly contribute to their performance.
Best of all, by choosing low impact exercises like swimming, cycling or weightlifting, you will be giving your knees, ankles and shins a much deserved break!
An essential fact that many runners either don’t know (or don’t pay enough attention to) is the difference in healing times between muscles and tendons. Due to the restricted bloodflow they receive, tendons take much, much longer to repair and adapt than your muscles do.
Therefore, it is essential that you give your tendons the rest they need. However, it’s hard to give your tendons adequate rest while still pushing yourself hard enough to improve!
One strategy that lifters put to good use is deload weeks. In a deload week, athletes lower the volume of training they do, so that their joints have an opportunity to rest and recover, but their muscles and cardiovascular system still get enough of a workout to maintain fitness levels.
Runners are often loathe to drop their weekly and monthly averages, but in the long run deload weeks will do far more good for your body, and your performance, than relentlessly training your way towards an overuse injury.
Top Tip – cut mileage by 50%
As a general rule of thumb, in a deload week you should reduce your mileage by around 50%, so if you run a 40 mile week, just run 20 miles. The frequency of deload weeks differs from person to person and sport to sport. Back when I was powerlifting, I would take a deload week every 4 weeks, but for runners a couple spaced out over a year should be sufficient.
The most important thing is to listen to your body; when you start to feel fatigued, unmotivated and you begin to get niggling injuries, that’s your body’s way of telling you to take a bit of a break.
“Effect of glucosamine chondroitine sulphate on repaired tenotomized rat Achilles tendons” by Ozer H, Eklem Hastalik Cerrahisi. 2011 Aug;22(2):100-6.