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Females Should Not Run | Boddicker Performance

Filed under: Running, strength training

Females Should Not Run

by on Jan 20th, 2009

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On Mike Boyle’s StrengthCoach.com, which is an incredible resource for any coach or athlete, he just reposted an article he wrote called “Should Female Athletes Run Distance?”  and his answer is no for a variety of reasons, including training specificity, injury reasons, and the superiority of intervals as a conditioning mode…and he’s right on.  Whoa!  Did I really just say that?  I can hear you all now yelling at me that this is a site dedicated to providing runners with the information necessary to perform better and stave off injury.  How can I agree with a guy who is saying that female athletes shouldn’t run?  Well, the experience and data is there to back up the statement.  However, I am not going to advocate female track and field and cross country athletes quit their sport and find something else.  Nope, I am about finding solutions to help protect the runner while performing at a high level.   For the sake of this post, we’ll only discuss training specificity and the injury reasons and later on we’ll discuss intervals versus continuous aerobic conditioning and it’s importance to the runner.

Now first off, specific training to most readers of this is running (Mike was addressing the idea of basketball players running distance), so the first category can be looked at differently as athletes need to practice their sports to be the best they can.  Thus runners must run to become the best.  The key to doing so without causing undue harm lies, of course, in the training program.  As referenced by Mike, research has shown 60% of females engaged in distance running will at some point become injured, and the chance of injury increases directly with the total running volume (total volume is also directly related to injury in men).  Read that again, especially the first part.  That’s a staggering statistic.  60%.  That’s worse than a coinflip.  Six of ten WILL end up injured.  Now I’m not trying to be a negative Ned and scare you away from the great sport of track and field.  Instead, I’d rather you be aware of the risks and then figure out an intelligent approach to help you avoid contributing to the statistic.

So what steps should be taken to improve our odds of successful running?  Well several things:

Limit training volume, especially in beginning athletes and those who are unfit or overweight. Running is extremely stressful on the body, and running while unfit or overweight will just increase the load on the body and require more strength and decelerative ability, which our unfit and overweight are likely lacking.  The key here is to get fit to run.  Really and truly, running to “get in shape” is a recipe for injury as the repetitive pounding, slow speed of movement, and limited range of motion will only contribute to problems.

Begin each training session with intelligent mobilization and activation techniques. As Mark Verstegen says in his Core Performance and Cressey and Robertson teach in Magnificent Mobility, warmups should be more than just for raising the body temperature using easy running.  Instead, they should include exercises to stimulate the nervous system to mobilize and stabilize at the right places while simultaneously raising body temperature.  These exercises take athletes through dynamic ranges of motion while emphasizing and/or regrooving proper movement patterns.

Spend time learning to decelerate forces (aka: land) before adding running volume. This is accomplished via very general jumping and landing activities.  Athletes should start by leaving two feet and landing (and sticking) on two feet before progressing on to single leg hops in all directions.  Generally, an athlete will also begin hopping to a box or step first (to lessen the eccentric loading) and subsequently progress to jumping/hopping and landing from the ground (hurdle hops and stick, etc), then move onto drop jumps as the athlete reaches higher levels of proficiency.

Utilize Targeted Strength Training.  In female athletes, one of the biggest concerns for injury is the increased Q-Angle, which is the difference in width from the pelvis to knees (V-shaped).  This angle predisposes athletes to injuries through the entire lower body, especially in the knee and IT Band.  As such, strength training should be implemented to help decelerate the internal rotation of the femur.  This requires an emphasis on strengthening the posterior chain with exercises like RDLs, Deadlifts, Extentions, Pull-Throughs, etc.  Improving balance and stability is also important, which means we need to emphasize closed-chain single leg exercises like single leg squatting and single leg RDLs.  Granted, it is unlikely that an athlete will be able initially able to perform the said exercises properly, so progression is essential.

Spend time developing tissue quality and flexibility in the right areas. Time should be dedicated to each training session for foam rolling of the quads, IT bands, adductors, calves and feet.  Flexibility time should be spent on the hip flexors (especially TFL and Rectus Femoris) and calves.  As an aside, stretching the hamstrings should be done under very few circumstances, in my opinion.  Often the hamstrings are not really tight in and of themselves, but are put on stretch by a pelvis in anterior tilt.  Thus a coach must fix the pelvic alignment and the “tightness” will resolve.  Further, static stretching has been shown to reduce the neural innervation of muscle, and anything that stands in the way of strengthening the posterior chain should be generally avoided.  Keep in mind this is a general recommendation based off of the athlete’s I’ve seen.  If your assessment concludes that hamstring flexibility work is necessary, include it on a case by case basis.

There you have it.  A general guideline to training female runners to help prevent injury.  Will this keep you from getting hurt all together?  No, but it will help significantly improve your chances.  Good luck, and work hard.

Train hard, train smart,
Carson Boddicker

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