Another thought-provoking and knowledge-bombing weekend of Running Medicine is complete. For anyone that works with runners, this conference is a must-attend as it brings together the country’s (and often time the world’s) top physical therapists, physicians, sports performance specialists, and more to 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 in an appropriate, systematic way 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, but it pertains to the big movement picture and how it’s important to provide a stimulus to the body to facilitate healing which in turn improves overall function.

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

Just like Goldilocks: not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Frequent presenter Dr. Francis O’Connor provided interesting information about acute and chronic cardiovascular risks associated with endurance exercise. He presented literature that suggests running high weekly mileage and/or faster speeds may be detrimental to cardiovascular function more specifically in those who have an undiagnosed cardiovascular disease compared to a lower weekly mileage or slower speeds. However, the literature also showed too much running/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. His takeaway message besides making me realize I will never know numbers like him, is 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 which 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’s going to benefit your patient/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 targeted verbal cues can have a profound impact on a runner’s gait potentially decreasing pain, improving mechanics, and ultimately improving performance. However, the exact words used for cues make a difference and not only need to be individualized to each runner but also should focus 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 when runners were given positive reinforcement in the form of white lies, their efficiency actually improved. Of course, we should never tell a lie…unless it’s to improve someone’s VO2max?

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.