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One Secret to Getting Faster With Fewer Injuries: A worthwhile investment for runners of all abilities

If a magic pill existed which promised runners they could be faster with fewer injuries, the person who discovered it would be set for life. This year I discovered something that does exist, producing such results. While it takes more work than popping a pill, the returns are surprising. I wish I had done it sooner. I increased my comfortable running pace as well as my top-end speed. Additionally, I didn’t realize how many nagging injuries I was ignoring during my nearly 30-year-old running career.

The secret was finding a physical therapist practice with physical therapists who are trained specifically to analyze running techniques and helping correct form issues.

Long term investment

Running is a sport with a reputation for injuries. Some of the more common issues for runners happen in the IT (iliotibial) band, knees, Achilles tendon, shins, lower back, and hips. According to a report by Yale Medicine, 50% of all runners get hurt each year. Many injuries occur because of the disproportionate pressures put on the body while running. After a time, these imbalances show up as chronic injury.

A small percentage of runners will go to the doctor for these injuries and may end up going to a physical therapist to address the imbalances. While physical therapists can find the areas that need help, it is important to get to the root cause of the problems through evaluating a runner’s form. Most physical therapists don’t do this level of analysis.

Even better than helping a runner with current injuries is doing the therapy needed before the injury occurs. Most runners have common issues that can be addressed, avoiding injury altogether. The key is to find a physical therapist specializing in running form. It is an investment in the short term that pays off in the long term. The added bonus to improving technique is efficiency, increasing the potential to run faster as well.

The process

Over the past year, I began working with Alex Gometz, PT, DPT, CIC, and Arsen Virobyan, PT, DPT, CRGA from Prehab. I live in San Diego. There is a Prehab location in my area, however, I initially began working with Alex in New York City. We worked together over email and had meetings on Zoom.

The first step with Alex was for him to look at my running technique. My husband took video from four angles of me running. Alex and I scheduled a Zoom meeting and we went over the videos. He pointed out why my form was causing my feet injuries and back pain. He explained the problems with my form and gave me specific exercises to address the weaknesses and poor flexibility that were occurring due to bad habits I picked up over the years.

Afterward, he prescribed exercises and set me up with an account on Medbridge, an app that gives the list of exercises and short video clips demonstrating how to do them. I wrote a more detailed article about my journey with Alex in March.

We met briefly a few weeks later and Alex gave me more exercises via Medbridge. After several months, he asked me to send videos of running again, allowing us to reevaluate how the exercises helped some of the problems with the way I was running. We both saw significant changes.

At this point, I noticed my back stopped hurting after my running workouts. I also started seeing my speed improving, especially in my track sessions.

Once we tackled the major issues with my technique, he assigned more exercises and drills. It took several months, but once we got to the point where I changed the major problems and broke decades-long habits, Alex set up an appointment for me to see Arsen in San Diego, so I could have a more detailed analysis on a specialized treadmill that analyzes the impact running is having on your body and compares you to thousands of elite runners.

In the big picture, the treadmill analysis puts you in general categories as shown below:

Screenshot of Prehab results

In addition to learning about your overall running style, it gives you data on mechanics, running efficiency, and elastic exchange. These are the metrics that help give an edge in your form. More efficiency gives you the opportunity to run faster. Improving your mechanics decreases your chances of injury.

In addition to these measures, the treadmill analysis also compares the following to elite runners: cadence (leg turnover), contact time (amount of time in the air), forward lean, level of overstriding, vertical displacement, braking force, vertical force, and lateral force.

Screenshot of Prehab results

To give you an example of what a full analysis looks like, I’ve provided my final results, after having worked with Arsen over a three-month period. I was tested at various speeds. The results you see compare the result of two separate tests, both at 7:15-minute mile pace. The markers in dark blue were from the initial test and the results on top are the results from the final test.

Screenshot of Prehab results
Screenshot of Prehab results
Screenshot of Prehab results
Screenshot of Prehab results

Looking at these results may make your head spin (like it did mine). Thankfully Arsen was able to help me make sense of it and gave me running tips and exercises so I can continue to improve my technique. In the big picture, I was overstriding and suffering from a hip drop. I had weaknesses in my glute medius and needed to plant my feet differently. Arsen walked me through drills and exercises to improve my strength in these areas.

The exercises and stretches were easy to do. I added some of them to my gym workouts and did some in the evening while watching T.V. It was satisfying to see the results when I went back and did the analysis again. The work paid off. I went from a B to an A+ in efficiency as you can see from the results.

Over the past six months, when I finish running, I am still surprised at how good I feel. I’d spent so many years ignoring nagging injuries from running, I just assumed it was part of the sport. I also thought injury prevention was merely making sure a runner progressed gently, avoiding doing too much too soon. While this is true, injuries can also occur with the pressures put on the body due to imbalances and poor form.

If there is one piece of advice I would give other runners, it would be to have an analysis done. It has been the best investment I’ve made in my running. The injuries in my feet are healing and my lower back is no longer tight the day after a hard session. The best part is that after nearly 30 years of running, I am excited to get out and run, and I feel as though I’ve rediscovered the sport I love.Runner’s Life

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