Cross country runners using Sanford Knee Injury Prevention Program

By Lisa MacFadden, PhD, Sanford Sports Science Institute

Overuse injuries are a common factor reducing participation and performance in long distance runners, specifically high school aged females. Though injuries are sometimes unavoidable, it is possible to reduce the risk of overuse injuries by improving training regimens. While the use of strength training for sprinters has become commonplace, strength training for long distance runners has come against  resistance due to the idea that it increases bulkiness which is perceived to be detrimental over longer distances. Strength training, however, is beneficial for all runners and studies have proven improvement in running economy and performance.

MacFadden_Lisa_WEB160x200Researchers at the Sanford Sports Science Institute and Sanford Sports Physical Therapy have been conducting research to better understand the effects of strength and conditioning on long distance runners. They believe that through the development of targeted strength and conditioning programs that they can reduce overuse injuries in long distance runners. A preliminary research study was conducted to determine whether a resistance program targeting hip musculature resulted in improved strength of those muscle groups over the course of a high school cross country season. Twenty-six high schools cross country runners (ages 14-18) from a local high school underwent a strength program (the Sanford Knee Injury Prevention Program) during pre-season and full cross country season. This particular program targets the hip musculature and it was hypothesized that subjects would demonstrate improvement in hip strength throughout the program. All runners performed the program under the direct supervision of trained instructors for 6 weeks, spanning their entire pre-season and the first few weeks of their competitive season alongside their normal training regimen. Athletes were tested to measure their hip and knee strength before and after this six week period. Following this period, the athletes were left to implement the program on their own for the following six weeks which comprised the remainder of the competitive season and then were tested a third and final time.

Preliminary results showed significant changes in hip abduction and hip extension for all participants. Improvements were greater when the strength program was conducted under the direct supervision of trained instructors compared with when athletes implemented the training program on their own. These results demonstrate that the Sanford Knee Injury Prevention program develops strength in the muscles that are targeted by the exercises, gluteus maximus and medius. Additionally, supervision by a trained instructor may provide greater improvements in strength than when done independently. The Sanford team has plans to look at how these strength improvements may influence running mechanics, and reduce overuse injuries in long distance runners.