Your Engine Must Match Your Body

I'm in great shape, coach! Why do I keep getting hurt?

I've written about underlying issues in the past like poor fundamental movement patterns, but this week let's look at another really common issue – mismatched automotive parts.

Thanks to some genetic luck, you have an amazing cardiovascular system that can process oxygen brilliantly. You gain fitness quickly and without much dedicated training you can run pretty well and usually beat most of your peers in a race.

Us running geeks call this “talent” and most competitive runners would love to be in your shoes.

But is this a blessing or a curse?

Or perhaps you've been cycling or swimming all your life and now you've decided to run. You've built a highly efficient aerobic system and you arrive at the starting line of your first run incredibly prepared to run for miles.

Or are you equally unprepared at the same time?

Well, it really can be both. I like to think of this as the Ferrari Engine - Ford Body Syndrome.  You've got a V-12 under the hood, but are likely to breakdown along side the road a few miles later.  Simply put, your muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones may not be strong enough to sufficiently tax your amazing cardio-respiratory system.  

What inevitably happens is that you go out for a run and you feel great. You're attuned to your exertion level and maybe you're even aware of your personal heart rate training zones. You're doing everything by the book. Yet, you continue to break down with an injury every 8-12 weeks!

Even if you're not the winner of the genetic lottery and the Ferrari engine, listen up.

You have to realize there are MANY systems of the body that are stressed when you run. You're only as strong as your SLOWEST adapting system.

What system is that? The skeletal system. Bones take around 6 months to fully adapt to a repeated stress.

This is why all of the low-mileage would-be marathoners are hobbling around in a boot a month before the race. Too much stress and not enough time to remodel bone = stress fracture.

The next slowest would be ligaments and tendons. Shin splits, anyone?

This is one reason why all of the “seasonal” runners get hurt as they ramp up for a big race like the Broad Street Run. I hope you got in, but don't get hurt training, by the way! ;-)

So my take-home advice for the person who has great cardio conditioning is to beware. Tread lightly. Think of running as not only a means to stress your aerobic system or burn some calories, but appreciate all of the other systems as well.

Stay at one mileage total for 3-4 weeks, adapt, then bump it up 20%. Hang out there for another month before running even more if you desire. (PS: I'm over the old 10% per week rule. Maybe I'll write about that later!)

And run SLOWLY.  Remember, you're stressing bone, ligament, tendon, etc.  Those tissues aren't used to this sort of abuse.  Give them a chance!  Slow running (heart rate 60-70% of max and you can run while nose-breathing only) reduces mechanical stress on the body so it's your best bet.

So, sure, it will take some patience to match your body to your engine, but don't all good things?