Saturday 24 February 2018

#My1000Hours: Run your life with Mark McCabe

Key to healthy hamstrings and calves

The fresher you feel on the day, the faster you go
The fresher you feel on the day, the faster you go

Mark McCabe

It is common to see runners looking for advice regarding muscle pain/strains ranging from niggles to painful injuries which are preventing them from running completely. The 'posterior chain' muscles of the lower limb (Gluteals, hamstrings, calf) are the ones that present most frequently.

This group of muscles are responsible for the propulsion phase during running as the hip, knee and ankle extend to push off. In the final phase of training for racing the combination of long runs, race pace effort sessions and speed work can lead to overloading on these muscles and cause strain injuries.

Muscles act like springs so that when the foot hits the ground the posterior chain muscles compress just like the suspension in a car before rebounding to propel you forward on your way. The stronger and more elastic your muscles the faster you can go. Sudden increases in volume, intensity or both, can lead to inadequate recovery of these muscles and impair their function as springs.

Commonly the hips may lose hip extension mobility and impair the gluteus maximus' ability to generate force to extend the hip.

So now instead of three springs propelling you along (hip/knee/ankle) you are down to two (knee / ankle).

If you try to keep your training the same without restoring normal functional mobility/strength to the hip region you will be forced to dramatically increase the workload on the hamstring and calf muscles and set up an ideal scenario for muscle strain and pain. Runners who lose hip mobility will commonly have a shuffling gait and have difficulty running with good trunk posture. Their arm action will add little to their running because hip extension does not occur. Runners with these gaits generally will also have tight hamstrings.

Hamstrings cross both the hip and knee joint and as such can work to extend the hip during the propulsion phase of running. Runners with reduced hip extension strength/mobility will be forced to increase the workload on the hamstrings to propel them forward. This will lead to increased tension in the hamstrings needed to continue the act of running or walking.

Stretching will only temporarily reduce this tension unless the real cause of the tight hamstrings is addressed by regaining both hip extension mobility and strength.

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