The Role of Strength and Conditioning
NOTE: this piece was co - Written by Tommy Conway and Andrew o Neill
Andrew O Neill: Andrew is a new member of the TC Physiotherapy team. Andrew has extensive experience in the area of Strength and conditioning as he spent three years as a S&C coach with Munster rugby before deciding to change career and become a chartered physiotherapist. This is an ideal piece for Andrew to share his thoughts and ideas on S&C and running.
The role of strength and conditioning
The role of strength is very important for all athletes. In sports like rugby and GAA strength and conditioning (gym work) has become an essential component in preparing for their sports. This trend has transcended minimally to the running community and I believe it is a key factor in progression for the regular runner.
The dreaded extension posture.
I look at S&C work as a means to train an athlete without bringing them into a dangerous posture or position where they will get injured. The purpose of the S&C is to keep someone in a good position throughout their activity, I don't want someone losing control during the warm up.
The extension posture is the most common way to get injured this is where you have an athlete that has too much of a curve of their lower spine, a rib flare and also an anterior tilted pelvis.
This athlete is predominately using quads, lat muscles and calf muscles to propel them forward. Not only does it place more stress on certain joints, but it also puts your muscles in a less than ideal position to fire. Essentially, in this position your hamstrings are taking on the new role of resisting the forward tilt of the pelvis, the diaphragm can’t perform it’s important role as a core stabilizer due to the rib-cage position, and because this intrinsic core stability is now compromised everything else starts to tighten up to give you a form of ‘pseudo-stability’. This is why the hamstrings are an integral part to keep a neutral pelvis position and a good stride length.
At TC Physiotherapy we follow a simple approach to S&C programmes.
Reposition - Breathing and fixing your specific problems = Warm up
Retrain - Strength based exercises= workout
Reposition: Here are two examples of key repositioning exercises we use in the order of importance.
1. This exercise counteracts a lot of the sitting that people perform everyday.
- Left hamstring with balloon- anterior pelvic tilt fix = This exercise counteracts a lot of the sitting that people perform everyday.
- Place the two heels on a chair with knees bent to 90 degrees
- Place a small bolster or ball in between your knees
- Dig the heels into the chair and flatten your lower back into the ground
- Next lift your pelvis a fist width off the ground try and keep the lower back in contact
- Slide the right knee higher than the left and lift the right heel off
- You should feel your left hamstring contract
- Hold in this position and blow the balloon
- Breath in nose and out mouth and then pause for 5 seconds
- Repeat 5 breaths x 3 sets
2. Lat stretch = Rib flare fix allows for proper abdominal contraction as if the ribs are too high in the air they are not able to fully contract.
Get hamstrings working, they are often an overstretched muscle and are very weak in comparison to the quads. My favourite hamstring exercise to master is the single leg deadlift. I use the wall touch variation as it allows you to put weight on our heels. Too many people do their gym exercises pushing from their toes, toes = quad dominant and heels = hamstrings so push from your heels.
Half kneeling - It's the way to go for upper and lower body
- It's safe simple and you don't need machines
- It keeps you in a good position of hip extension
- It allows you to keep good abdominal engagement throughout every exercise
Rear elevated split squat:
This is an excellent exercise to build strength and stability. A Lot of people avoid these exercises in the gym because they are so difficult. In the picture below you will see the client in the bottom position about to start the exercise. We use a hurdle in front to prevent him from cheating and leaning too far forward.
Reverse slideboard lunge
This exercise is great to get someone to feel their heel and is excellent for hamstring development. Again the hurdle is used to prevent this person from putting too much weight on their toes. If there is too much weight on the toes then it will be a quad dominant exercise and not hamstring and we don't want that.
Shoulder press in half kneeling
A brilliant alternative to shoulder exercises in sitting. This exercise allows for the core to be challenged throughout and will give a lot more stability when running. Also one could do pushing and pulling exercises in this position and it will be similar to the rotation that happens to the upper back when running.
Questions we receive commonly receive at TC Physiotherapy
1: Should I foam roll? Is it any good?
Yes you definitely shouldn't think of foam rolling as a magic fix or even a replacement for a good massage because it's not. What it is hugely effective for is giving you an idea of where you are getting tight or finding a sore spot. So an example of this, you are running at 7pm this evening and when you wake up you feel fine but when you foam roll you feel a very tight spot in your calf. You concentrate on that area for 2 -3 minutes and you stretch the calf all day knowing it's tight, you can now run pain free and prevent an injury all because you foam rolled.
It's not going to fix a problem on your own but it will let you know when you're getting one.
2: What warm up should I do in the gym? Bike or rower?
Neither !! If you're a runner, gaa player or rugby player you can begin with some hard intense cardio to burn fat but not to warm up. This time should be used to foam roll, carry out repositioning exercises/ mobility exercises and ‘activate’ or ‘fire up’ specific muscles such as glutes and hamstrings that will allow you safely carry out safe and an more efficient motor patterns that will get stronger and more explosive in the gym so you can run better. The key components of any S&C programme for runners or athletes.
3: Should I use machines?
Ideally no as there is loads of ways to challenge the body without using a lot of weight. Also, you need to make sure that all of your muscles can work efficiently in 3-dimensions as they will have to in general running and sprinting gait patterns. Machines will only allow us to focus on a single or a specific muscle group at a time. Imagine using a prone hamstring curl machine in the gym, yes, this may improve our hamstring strength but it will not allow our muscles to work and coordinate simultaneously as they would during running and sprinting. The following strength based exercises combined with proper breathing patterns and the previously mention repositioning exercises will go along way to ‘bulletproof’ a runner or athlete from lower limb injuries. Personal favourites at TC physiotherapy include Hip Thrusters and Single Leg RDL (as described above). Research has showed that the hip thrust improves sprinting performance to a greater extent than the squat. This is probably because the gluteus maximus contracts at very short lengths in sprinting, which is where the hip thrust is most effective, and because the hamstrings are recruited fairly well in a hip thrust. These exercises encourage explosive hip extension (important in sprinting) and posterior knee stability as well as eccentrically loading the hamstrings which is very important in the prevention of hamstring tears when sprinting and changing direction at speed.
1. Inhale in the way down to get a good load through the diaphragm, abdominals and glutes.
2. Weight through heels going and moves forward to forefoot when going back up.
3. Note, if you are feeling this in your lower back you are doing it wrong !
4: Should I plank?
I think it's a poor exercise to be honest as most people feel it in their back when doing it. Also it becomes a very much a lat muscle exercise for most people and this is bad as discussed above
Here is an alternative, it's better because by pushing the upper back away from the ground the lats are getting length and also the ribs are closer to the pelvis. It's better because people find it harder to cheat in this position.
Our therapists at TC Physiotherapy will identify and fix any inefficiency or weakness in your running stride permanently. If you are committed to an individualised strength and conditioning program we can ensure you will run with greater efficiency and control while also minimising the risk of injuries. For further information on individual assessments please call: 0858491137