As runners and triathletes come hobbling into my office on a daily basis, I am increasingly adamant about one issue: If you’re an endurance athlete, you have to take care of your kinetic chain, the muscle-tendon layer that supports all your bones and ligaments.
When you land while running, the force is approximately six times the force of walking. This loading force comes up through the foot, across the knee and into the hips and the back. The kinetic chain lessens the load on the skeleton. The stronger the chain, the less the skeletal load. Several studies have shown significant reduction in joint- and bone-loading force based on kinetic chain strength.
Remember that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Almost every injury, from plantar fasciitis to hip stress fractures, has been proven to occur less often in the setting of a strong kinetic chain.
You can decrease your chances of injury by building your kinetic chain strength this off-season. Here’s how:
Commit to a 45–60-minute, full-body functional strength-training session twice per week in the off-season, once per week during the season. Functional strength means strengthening multiple muscle groups simultaneously, best done in a circuit or “boot camp” style. This should be the main workout of the day.
Do yoga and Pilates, which deliver dynamic, movement-based flexibility for your whole body.
Add intervals. Based on your current fitness level, add in a few speed pick-ups (even 10 seconds on, 20 seconds off) to swim, bike or run workouts to maintain fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Commit to strengthening your kinetic chain and you’ll spend more time doing what you love and out of the doctor’s office.
Jordan D. Metzl, M.D. is a nationally recognized sports medicine specialist in New York City. He’s a 29-time marathon runner and 10-time Ironman finisher. His new book, The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies, includes several full-body kinetic chain workouts.