Another thought-provoking and knowledge-bombing weekend of Running Medicine is complete. For anyone who works with runners, this conference is a must-attend, as it bringsRunners Training in a Green Field Together, the country’s (and often times the world’s) top physical therapists, physicians, sports performance specialists, and more promote healthy high-level running for the novice to the elite. Here are my top 5 takeaways from this year’s Running Medicine conference out of Charlottesville, VA.

1. Movement Is Repair

Exercise won big time this weekend. Keynote speaker Dr. Karim Khan out of British Columbia, who is also the editor of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, discussed mechanotherapy as how loading tissues of the body aids in repair: cue applause and fist bumps from all the physical therapists in the audience. When applied appropriately and systematically, movement is key to repairing injured tissues and returning function to the body. The majority of this is related to what’s happening on a cellular level. Still, it pertains to the big movement picture and how it’s important to provide a stimulus to the body to facilitate healing, improving overall function.

2. Too Much Can Be Just as Bad as Too Little

Just like Goldilocks: not too hot or cold, but just right. Frequent presenter Dr. Francis O’Connor provided exciting information about acute and chronic cardiovascular risks associated with endurance exercise. He presented literature suggesting that running high weekly mileage and faster speeds may be detrimental to cardiovascular function, specifically in those with undiagnosed cardiovascular disease, compared to a lower weekly mileage or slower speeds. However, the literature also shows that too much running or exercise still trumps a sedentary lifestyle, so runners can keep lacing up their shoes and run fast, slow, long, short, and everything in between until science proves otherwise.

3. You Don’t Need Fancy Things to Get Results

Jay Dicharry, a familiar face as one of the directors and annual presenters at Running Medicine, spoke on the use of technology for the running clinician. Besides making me realize I will never know numbers like him, his takeaway message is that you don’t need the most expensive equipment to help your runners perform well and stay healthy. There are so many options out there now that are only going to get better and more plentiful, so the more important thing is finding what works for you as a clinician and what will benefit your patient and client population. But don’t worry; if you want to develop a gait lab as state of the art as his, it’s only “11,000-55,000 easy payments of $19.99.” Feel free to do those calculations.

4. Choose Your Words Wisely

Dr. Eric Magrum, also one of the directors and annual presenters, brought a great perspective on the power of words in his lecture “Motor Learning Principles to Improve Gait Retraining.” The literature he presented suggests that targeted verbal cues can profoundly impact a runner’s gait, potentially decreasing pain, improving mechanics, and improving performance. However, the exact words used for cues make a difference and need to be individualized to each runner, focusing more on external factors rather than internal ones. For example, instead of saying, “Keep your knees from going over your toes,” when a runner is performing a squat, it may be more effective to cue, “Imagine sitting in a chair.” The goal is to help runners improve the big picture movement rather than drowning in the details, which may cause them to ultimately lose the forest through the trees.

5. Positive Reinforcement Works

This was just too funny not to include in my highlights of the weekend. Eric included a study showing that their efficiency improved when runners were given positive reinforcement through white lies. Of course, we should never lie…unless it’s to improve someone’s VO2 max.

Dr. Ivy L. Jordan, PT, DPT, CSCS                                  

Performance Physical Therapist / Running Performance Specialist

Dr. Jordan received her Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science from the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota in 2008. While at the University of Mary she competed in cross country and track and field for four years specializing in the steeplechase and distance events. Dr. Jordan then went on to complete her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from The George Washington University in Washington, DC in 2011. She currently is a performance physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist at SPARK Physiotherapy in Alexandria, VA with a focus on running and athletic performance enhancement. Dr. Jordan is also a high school cross country and track and field coach specializing in distance events.