Over the past few years, strength training has grown in popularity with the running community and more runners have FINALLY resigned themselves to getting the gym and getting stronger. Strength training not only improves power, speed, and overall performance, but also builds tissue resilience and load capacity. When our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones are primed to handle increased loads, we are injured less frequently and experience less pain.
The stronger we are, the more force we put into the ground with each step. More force=running faster. However, if we are unable to “control” our force, or use it efficiently, we fatigue more swiftly, our running economy suffers, and we again become primed for injury. This is where “stability” training comes into play.
In fact, the USA Track & Field defines stability as “The stability of an object is its degree of resistance to toppling over.” Every time our foot makes contact with the ground while running, we transfer force into the ground, and the ground in turn applies an equal force into our foot, and up our leg. Stability is our ability to control these “ground reaction forces” and keep ourselves upright as we continue propelling ourselves forwards.
Thus our “ship” can be strong and fast, but we must be able to “captain” and control our ship & strength to prevent injury and improve our “fuel” economy.
When we think about stability training as it relates to running, we predominantly need to govern rotary and frontal plane forces. We have to manage these forces at our foot (pronation and supination), our lower leg (rotating in vs rotating out), at our knee (knee collapsing towards midline), at our upper leg (thigh rotating inward vs outward), at our hip (the dreaded “hip drop”) and at our core (excessive rotation or side to side movement through our trunk).
Control of these ground reaction forces starts at our foot, as this is the first part of our body to make contact with the ground when running. Thus, if we are “unstable” or unable to handle these forces at our foot, we may experience altered force transmission and thus altered mechanics up the chain into our knee, hip and back. Injury often occurs when these forces are improperly managed as certain tissues become overloaded and sensitized under these repetitive stresses.
Why Do We Loose Control of Our Ship?
Our stability can become impaired if we’ve suffered an injury to the lower leg, or if we experience pain. Pain can inhibit the muscles in that area from firing or engaging normally. Unfortunately muscle inhibition secondary to pain commonly affects our “stability” or postural muscles. For instance, individuals with low back pain may have difficulty recruiting or “turning on” their gluteus muscles. If the gluteus muscles aren’t active, the infamous hip drop boards the ship, and can cause knee valgus, and foot pronation which are often implicated in lower extremity injuries.
And then there is the often forgotten about ankle sprain that seemed so insignificant at the time of injury, but in hindsight, may have been the impetus for dysfunction, pain and further injury. Ankle sprains are infamous for altering our proprioceptive or “balance” system (aka our stability) locally in the lower leg. However research has shown that ankle sprains not only wreak havoc locally, but also inhibit the gluteus muscles, specifically the gluteus medius (that outer hip muscle that is so crucial for hip stability & the one your PT is always trying to get you to use). As mentioned above, an inhibited gluteus muscle can cause a lot of trouble down the line.
So, how do we improve stability and regain control of our ship? Be on the lookout for the next blog in this series entitled “How To Steer Your Ship” for runner specific stability exercises!
Dr. Melissa Kolazyk PT, CMTPT