Physical Therapy Isn’t Just About Pain Management, It’s About Optimizing Performance to Minimize Injury Risk, Too.

Performance Physical Therapy: Running Edition
Jennifer Aglubat, PT, DPT, OCS

“The most important thing an athlete can do to run faster and accelerate quicker is learn proper mechanics.” 1

If you ask any running coach how to improve your performance, you’re likely to get an earful on the importance of proper mechanics. Proper running mechanics allow us to manage the forces exerted on the body by the ground in order to achieve forward momentum (instead of wasting energy bouncing up and down), while minimizing strain on the joints and soft tissues of the body. It makes sense that, in order to optimize performance and longevity, you’d do well to maximize the efficiency of your movement.

Sounds easy enough, right? After all, most of us have been running on playgrounds, tracks, trails, and pool decks for decades. Why, then, do we sometimes plateau or get injured while training?

As humans, we have mastered the art of locomotion without formal training. Over time, however, our bodies’ adaptations to more sedentary tasks (sitting in traffic, flying cross-country for work, or standing for hours at a time at a sit-to-stand desk) create imbalances in our muscular strength and flexibility that gradually affect the way our bodies experience and respond to the world around us, as well as the activities we do on a day-to-day basis.

Have you ever seen a two-year old squat? How about a 30-year old desk worker? The difference in the quality of the squat between a two-year old and a 30-year old is often chalked up to one simple concept: training specificity. While a toddler may be busy picking up toys from the floor all day, the 30-year old has been training for over two decades to sit at a desk.

The good news here is that bodies are highly adaptable.

It took time for us to lose the hip mobility and trunk control the toddler still possesses. It took time for our quads to overtake our glutes and hamstrings, just as it took time for our six-pack abs and back muscles to dominate over the deep muscles that stabilize the spine. We can get this all back, with work.

The more enlightened athlete knows that training requires work long before the race. They also know that proper training requires proper recovery, and proper recovery requires an informed and well-executed plan. As experts in biomechanics and the evaluation and treatment of movement dysfunction, physical therapists are your best bet to establish a comprehensive training and recovery program.

What are the roadblocks to your ability to execute proper mechanics with running? Heck, what are proper mechanics?

A physical therapist (PT) who specializes in running mechanics and is well-versed in strength training for athletic performance can help you optimize your running game. When you partner with the right PT you learn new ways to organize your training program. Some of the things you might discuss with your PT include:

  • How cadence and stride length impact your level of effort and the amount of force that is transmitted through your joints
  • How your posture can affect the position of the diaphragm, ultimately affecting breathing habits, and how these habits can make or break your success with running
  • Why the time some spend on stretches to address “tight” calves and hamstrings may be better spent making up a grocery shopping list (or virtually anything else)
  • Which exercises will give you the best shot at optimizing your body-machine to earn gains in speed, power, and endurance.

Your physical therapist will give you the tools to ensure mile 13 is looking as good as mile 1. If you have pain that limits your ability to perform, your physical therapist can help with that too!

As founders of the Lake Union 10K, we love to see all of your training updates on social media and we love to feel your energy on race day. Help us support you! Come see us for a FREE 30-minute runner’s screen and get all your questions answered. At 5focus, we have an extensive network of massage therapists, fitness instructors and trainers, chiropractors, and orthopedists who we regularly team with to provide our patients the best care. It starts with you, though, so get moving! Whether you’re looking to kickstart your training or “Turn it up to an 11”, come see us and Experience the Difference.

Register for your FREE Runner’s Screen with a call or text to 206.631.2818!

  1. Billy Johnston. “Most Important Aspects of Running” Coachup.com. March 28, 2017.