One of the most common stereotypes that's attached to running is bad knees. You always hear different people saying that the high-impact movement of running wreaks havoc on your joints. How much truth is in that claim, though? POPSUGAR spoke to Michael Olzinski, Purplepatch endurance coach, Equinox run coach, and ultramarathoner, who said, "I really don't like the stigma that running is bad for your knees. There is plenty of evidence on both sides of the fence — that it is corrosive, and that it is beneficial and it strengthens your knees and quads."
"Running can actually provide healthy stress to your knees that strengthen the connective tissue and cartilage."
Mike gave us some insight that would be useful to any runner out there, whether you're just starting out or you're a marathoner yourself.
"Here's the reality: anything is bad for your knees if your standard movement patterns are imbalanced," he explained. "Running can be bad for your knees, but so can cycling, rowing, the elliptical, boxing, you name it. The idea is that if you simply engage in running without the proper form, too much training too soon, or without any other supporting forms of exercise, then the chances of injury in your knees are very high."
"However, if you train smart, strength train, rest, and eat properly, running can actually provide healthy stress to your knees that strengthen the connective tissue and cartilage," Mike continued. This kind of strengthening will actually make your knees less susceptible to injury in the long run. It all depends on how you train and how you run.
According to Mike, there are some very easy ways to prevent knee injury when running. The first thing to think about — and this will come as a surprise — is your glutes. Mike insists that your glutes can save your knees, because "the stronger your hips are, the more they will accept and absorb the forces of running that should simply be translating through your knees." Mike told POPSUGAR, "When your glutes are not active or not strong enough, then your quads and ankles will compensate for the hips, and this will put pressure into your knees that can lead to injury."
So next time you're in the gym, set aside some time to do a booty circuit. Exercises like hip thrusts, squats, step-ups, and lunges will prepare your glutes and hips for the impact of running. "Training the hips will add the strength and mobility that your system will require while you are running," Mike said. Aim to do strength training like this two or three times a week.
"In my opinion, any knee pain is too much and should be seen by a specialist, or simply needs some rest."
"Second, train your balance!" Mike instructed. "People with poor balance experience a lot of extraneous movement at the knee and ankle while they are running, and these little micro-movements for countless steps will add up over time and then explode into a very painful joint issue."
If you have great balance, that means your ankle, shin bone, and femur all work in great synchronization while moving in a common direction. "Injuries happen when multiple bones move in a different direction," Mike said. "So improving your balance can have a tremendous effect on how well your larger, more powerful muscle groups can absorb the impact from running."
Do more yoga, practice stabilizing movements, and even try some dance classes. Developing a strong sense of balance will only be a positive benefit for you in your running game.
Finally, Mike described what kind of knee pain should never be ignored. "In my opinion, any knee pain is too much and should be seen by a specialist, or simply needs some rest," he said. "Joint pain is always a no-no in running. Muscle pain or fatigue is a much different feeling, and that can be acceptable during hard workouts or very technical runs."
"The pain at a joint, where two bones meet, is not a type of stress that leads to growth," he concluded. "I am always looking for stress between the joints, in the muscle — that is what leads to growth."
So if you're struggling with some stubborn knee pain, the first thing to do is rest. Don't run, don't lift weights. Take a few days off and see how you feel. If the pain persists, go see a professional.
Image Source: Franz Steiner Photography
Model Credit: @ashleyguarrasi