Pounding The Pavement by Jeffery Lutzer

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Jeffrey Lutzker has been a distance runner for most of his adult life, but during the winter he spends as much time training in the gym as he does jogging.

"Runners tend to neglect strength training, which has a very beneficial effect on your running," the 56-year-old state worker said. "It's also very preventative of injuries, especially in your legs."

Runners can improve their speed with strength training, but experts agree the best benefit of an exercise regimen is that it improves endurance and posture, and can protect runners from injuries that can be caused by a repeated, high-impact activity like running.

"It's a high-impact sport," said Lutzker, coach of the Saratoga Stryder running club. "I always tell them, 'Don't run every day.' Rest is critical to letting your muscles heal."

Experts say runners should not attempt to add bulky muscles, which can add weight and actually cause more wear and tear. Instead, runners should use lighter weights but do more repetitions to increase strength.

Runners can suffer from a variety of foot and leg ailments:

Plantar fascitis is the inflammation of the ligament that connects the heel bone to the toes.

Achilles tendinitis, common in long-distance runners, causes tears and strains in the tendon that connects the calf to the heel.

Neuromas is caused by the thickening of nerve tissue in the base of the toes.

Stress fractures are tiny cracks that appear in foot and leg bones when muscles are overworked and unable to absorb the pounding of regular running.

All four injuries can leave runners laid up and unable to exercise. But preventive strength exercises can spare runners those injuries.

Lutzker said strength training is foreign to many runners, who will spend many hours a week running, expecting that is exercise enough. But strength training at the gym or simple exercises at home can reinforce the muscles and connective tissue in joints that help runners avoid injuries, he said.

Lutzker heads to the gym several times a week, using weights to strengthen his body. But he and other experts say runners can rely on simple exercises at home, including toe lifts to strengthen the foot and calf, abdominal crunches to strengthen the core, and lunges to reinforce back muscles.

When a person walks, the foot absorbs more than 1 times the body's weight with each step. But during the regular pounding of running, the foot absorbs much more weight.

"You put two or three times your body weight on your foot," said Dr. Robert DiCaprio, a local podiatrist who is a member of the American Association of Podiatric Sports Medicine. "Sometimes, all that weight turns up on the ball of your foot."

DiCaprio said the first place to start when trying to avoid injury is to purchase sneakers with proper support, specifically strong arch support -- that, in turn, can ensure that joggers run with proper posture.

Arch support helps align the body when running, he said. "Orthotics helps to not only align the bones in your foot, but the whole lower extremities," he said.

DiCaprio said runners can use a number of strengthening exercises for their muscles and ligaments. Toe lifts, he said, strengthen the calf but also bolster the muscles in the feet.

"You're in turn strengthening the foot," he said.

DiCaprio also suggested jumping rope to help strengthen the feet and legs.

Lutzker recommends that runners replace their sneakers every 300 miles. The soles of the shoes will last far longer, but the interior padding and support breaks down after the foundation of the shoe weakens.

Injury isn't what led Lutzker to strength training.

"I was competitive with road racing. I wanted to get better," he said. Mike Goodwin can be reached at 454-5465 or by e-mail at mgoodwin@timesunion.com

Submitted by DMorgan on Thu, 08/23/2007 - 9:19pm.

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