4 top tips to avoid calf and hamstring tears

Read why muscle tears happen and Margot’s four top tips to avoid them. 

You are about 5 weeks into the road season training program and likely to have finished a block of STRONG running weeks.   It’s now when you start to feel the effects of improved fitness after the Summer holidays because of your increased speed sessions and long runs.  As you are feeling stronger, you will want to run faster.  However, it is in these moments that you are more vulnerable to injury, in particular calf tears and hamstring tears.  

BE CAREFUL.  

Your running legs are experiencing a higher training load after the offseason and they will be fatigued.  Even though you are feeling good, your muscle fibres are still rebuilding the strength they need to be ready for even more training.  That’s why we classify this in our Runners School as the preparation phase. 

The reason muscle tears can occur now is due to a mistimed muscle contraction during a repetition at speed work while the muscle is more fatigued.  As you become more tired through the session you can lose the strong control of your running form. You may start to flex more at the hips into a seated position and then overstride as you try to maintain your speed.  What you end up with is muscle spasm combined with overstretching of the muscle fibres and ultimately a tear. This is incredibly frustrating!!!

Runners who are new to speedwork, or stepping into higher or different training programs are more prone.  Runners who also have had more time off or inconsistent training regimes over the summer are also more prone.  Simply due to not yet having adequate running strength in your legs. 

What to do if you get a ‘Tweak’…   STOP IMMEDIATELY

Don’t run any further and walk causally (& calmly!) back to your coach and your car.  Let your coach know what has happened, then head on home to ice and rest it.  If this does not resolve quickly, then come and see our podiatry and physiotherapy team at intraining.  We specialise in running injuries – treating, diagnosing and creating management plans to return you to running sooner.

My goal here today is to keep you UNINJURED. 

So here are my FOUR top tips to avoid getting a calf or hamstring tear.

#1  Focus on your running form

Think…  Hips up, steady and even leg cadence, light feet

Listen… You want to be as noiseless as possible when you run

Adjust…  Continually adjust your hip, leg and feet positions.

As you become more tired, you need to become more aware of how you are running and make subtle form adjustments. Our clinic team have a huge focus on this when runners come in to see us.  For you, understanding how you are running and how to make minor form adjustments can be a huge benefit to avoid injury and to be able to run faster for longer. 

#2  Build strength and control your pace

Run slower than you should in this preparation phase of training – even in speedwork. You need to build your strength first before you add more speed.  When we write programs it’s about building the base, consolidating this and then increasing speed.  We spend a lot of time on individualising your pacing strategies based on experience, prior injury and the phase of training you are in.  In all our training groups and Runners School programs we have a huge emphasis on teaching these pacing strategies. 

#3  Don’t Overstride

Overstriding is a very common form fault.  It occurs when your foot lands too far in front of your body.  Runners do this when trying to lengthen their stride when they become fatigued and start sitting as mentioned in tip #1, and finally in pushing that little bit harder when they start to lose power.  Overstriding is the one form strategy you have to always be conscious of not doing.  The best way to NOT overstride is to focus on your propulsion… when you toe-off.  To go faster, push from behind.  When you fatigue and need to lift your hips…. Push from behind.  This is a very simple explanation for a quick tip, but it is a form strategy we teach our runners and we use in our clinic to help overcome injury, and to minimise the risk of calf and hamstring tears. 

#4  Pick the shoes to match your run

Shoes that are too heavy for speedwork, or too light for long runs are a problem.  Both speed and long-running require different levels of coordination and you need to make your shoes match this.  That is why you see so many shoes when you walk into our running store.  Every brand has a range of training shoes, lighter shoes and racing shoes.  Each of these types of shoes has a purpose to work with how your body has to move.  If you try to do speed work in a shoe that is too heavy, your muscles fatigue faster and you’re at great risk of a mistimed contraction.  If this has repeatedly, then you are setting yourself up for a muscle tear. 

Note:  when you come in to try the different shoes, you need to test run them at the speed you expect to be running in them!!

Our entire running team specialise on keeping you running and helping you have really enjoyable running experiences.  Our podiatry and physiotherapy team, Steve Manning, Doug James and myself love exploring all the possibilities to minimise injury risk, causes of injury and improving running biomechanics.  As an athlete, I really enjoy the movement experience of running.  The subtle movement pattern changes you might have to make when tired, when changing speed, navigating crowds and water tables.  When having to navigate those pesky running niggles and when running in different types of running shoes at your different training groups. 

Running is so much more than a session.  It’s an experience. 

If you have pesky niggles or get injured, think of us, at intraining, as your Running Injury Helpline!!

While podiatry and physiotherapy is our specialisation, we are a team of runners who have raced, trained and worked with runners on injuries and running programs for decades. Treating running injuries is more than simply treating the actual injury.  It is understanding what you are going through when you can’t run, and really understanding what it takes to get you back there.  

Put our contacts in your address book so when you need help with your running, you know we’re accessible. 

Phone:   07 33673088

Email:  clinic@intraining.com.au

If you are in the Runners School… click your “Help I’ve got a Niggle” button, and you have a direct line to our team. 

See you all on the road.

Margot Manning

Podiatrist, Running Coach, Running Footwear Specialist, and Runner.