Training progressions, stabilization, and running health

I’m learning a borderline unfathomable amount of information from my Personal Trainer course, and a lot of it applies just as well to running as it does to general strength training.

It’s hard to get into much of what I’m learning right now, especially given I’m studying for new material through the accelerated program and I need to focus on processing all that information on top of still trying to ingrain the previous information.

One thing that sits with me is the NASM structure to training progression known as the OPT model. The basic premise is that, before you should work on maximizing strength and athleticism, you first need to work on and improve the stabilization of your existing muscle systems.

The idea is that your muscles have some natural imbalances, and jumping right into swolework or athletic drills not only can risk injury but also further solidify and thus complicate those imbalances.

Someone with an incredible amount of strength or athletic development might actually be surprisingly weak in a key core muscle group, and if this person has recurring injury or performance problems that weakness could be a key factor in their problems. It may seem like a step back to work solely on stabilization basics, but in reality improvement here avoids bigger, longer setbacks in more serious situations.

Going back to running… even prior to this training, I could watch someone run for a few moments and immediately point out what kind of injury problems they either have dealt with or will deal with. I could see mechanically what was limiting them.

Part of why I entered this program was to develop knowledge so I could seriously help and address these limitations. Most running coaches have little more than a rudimentary knowledge of strength training and preventative exercise or stretching. They know a set of exercises you should do, and make a point to do them at least a couple times a week, or maybe after every run. But that’s it.

I’m still developing the ability to fully train athletes, but now I can tie postural and movement imbalances back to specific muscles, whether they are not engaged or they are over-engaged and should be stretched or rolled. I can now go find specific stabilization exercises that can help improve the key weaker muscles, and help restore basic balance that will lead to athletic balance.

Best of all, and another reason I wanted to train, is that I can use these principles on myself. I have assembled a list of key over/under-active muscles in my own body, and am now developing a stabilization program of stretching and strength training for all of those muscles to gradually work out those imbalances. I’d like to think it’ll help my performance in Victoria this fall (it may be a bit late to have a substantial effect on Vancouver in May).


Believe it or not, I got a bit away from the point of writing this.

Most people who strength train dive right into weightlifting, even though in a model like NASM’s OPT, that’s a 2nd or 3rd stage of a training program and effectively skipping an important initial step. It’s little surprise then that a lot of trainees get injured or hit a wall and get discouraged. Even if their imbalances don’t injure them, their imbalances permanently limit them until those imbalances are eliminated. And merely training through them not only won’t eliminate the imbalances, but it might even exaggerate and enhance those imbalances.

Likewise, and a lot of runners won’t like this, but a lot of people who want to run a race might be better suited going to a gym and working on stabilization. They might want to find and work out their imbalances before trying to seriously run on a regular basis. Hindsight being 20/20, it would have been nice for me had I known 3-5 years ago that I should do this first. But, never minding the general population’s itch and impatience to get out there, it’s too counter-intuitive to expect many to know this.

Being 4-5 weeks into Vancouver training, it’s something I’ll have to simultaneously work on while running 5 days a week. But alas, one hidden gem for runners in a model like OPT is that the first stabilization stage of training always includes cardiovascular work. So it turns out trainees, if they suitably can and they want to, are encouraged to run as part of their training!

So, if anything, the only real change to my training in the short run would be to add a series of stretches and exercises to the beginning and end of my runs. The key is to add the right exercises/stretches, and perform them correctly. So this allows me to be my own case study, and in working with myself see what is easier or more difficult to communicate or coach.

All this is to say that if you want to run your best… well, don’t necessarily study and pay to become a certified personal trainer. That’s not cheap, not easy, and I have my own reasons for doing it beyond being a better runner.

But you should do some research on postural and movement imbalances, what muscles are affected and how, and exercises that actively work on those affected muscles. You not only will help yourself run better, but you’ll help yourself avoid injury, and have a positive effect on the rest of your life in turn.

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