Have you ever run downhill and wondered why your knees hurt? Do you constantly find yourself stretching your tight hip flexors?
Did you say yes? Then this article is for you!
Whether you are a marathon runner or just a weekend warrior your muscles get put to the test when you tie up your joggers and pound the pavement and here is why and what you can do to help.
Our skeletal muscles contracts in 3 main ways when running; No change in muscle length (isometric), shorten (concentric) or lengthen (eccentric). The focus for this article is the eccentric contraction, and primarily the role it plays in the dissipation of mechanical energy during body deceleration. Simply put, when dealing with the load produced in running the muscle performs a braking mechanism that accepts and distributes the load in order to protect the joints. This is predominantly seen in the quadriceps and calf muscles when running. Current research highlights the huge peak forces these muscles have to deal with (running at 12km/h);
- Calf (Soleus) 6.7 x Bodyweight (BW)
- Quadriceps 4.7 x BW
When the muscle is not capable of dealing with the load, the joint and surrounding soft tissue have to deal with higher forces and this is where pain/injury can occur. Common injuries are Patellofemoral pain syndrome (Knee pain)/Achilles tendinopathy/ calf strains.
So, I just keep lifting as per usual in the gym?
Not quite, eccentric contractions can produce greater force than concentric contractions! Therefore, we need to program our exercise program accordingly to ensure we challenge and overload the muscles in a lengthening position.
Okay, so how do I challenge the eccentric part of my exercises?
There are 2 ways you can do this, and we recommend incorporating both into your routine. Firstly, you can add a tempo. A tempo is the speed at which you complete each repetition, it is broken up into 4 main parts,
- Eccentric/ lowering phase
- Pause at the bottom
- Concentric or lifting phase
- Pause at the top or rest period
The tempo should include a longer time period in the eccentric phase of the exercise. e.g. squat down for 4 seconds, pause for 1 second and stand up in 1 second and repeat (Tempo 4110).
The second is doing an exercise that only requires an eccentric component. This will require working with higher than normal loads in an attempt to challenge and overload the muscle while it lengthens! It is important to stress appropriately so that the muscle adapts and responds with improved strength, size and length.
So how does this help reduce my need to stretch?
Literature suggests the best form of stretching is through an eccentric contraction. Putting large forces through the muscle when lengthening has shown to improve muscle length over time!
Here’s Mitch’s go-to eccentric quadriceps exercise for strength and mobility and some ways to progress!
Step 1: Start with the band working on range @ 3×10
Step 2: Body weight @ 3×8
Step 3: Add weight, start with 5kg @ 3×6
*** Disclaimer: Eccentric exercises can elicit high levels of muscle soreness post exercise for up to 72 hours (DOMS)! ENJOY
SquareOne Performance is a Physio led Clinical Strength and Conditioning program that is outcome focussed and goal orientated. It is specific to your needs, your sport or activity and considers your musculoskeletal or injury history. We will guide you through your journey on our Pain to Performance pathway using the latest evidence-based strength and conditioning principles to allow you to perform at your best. If you have been injured previously or have become frustrated with lack of progress, then this is the program for you.
If you want to know how Mitch can help you with these types of progressions, book an appointment with him now.
Mitch Lockley BHM MPhysio APAM