The Physical Performance Show: Rich Willy – Running Researcher & Physical Therapist at University of Montana (Assoc Prof.) (Expert Edition) Part 2

 In Podcast (The Physical Performance Show)

Dr Rich Willy

In episode 132 of The Physical Performance Show Brad Beer has a conversation with Rich Willy – Running Researcher & Physical Therapist at University of Montana (Assoc Prof.) (Expert Edition) Part 2 about all things masters (>40yrs) running.

During this episode, Dr. Rich Willy, Physiotherapist and also Running Researcher based out of the University of Montana, USA answers many questions around ageing well as a runner.

Rich shares around why we slow down as we age, the principles that underpin the changes that we see, why our tendons tend to lose stiffness as we age, what happens to our calves as propulsive elements as we mature as runners. Why strength training is such a critical component of the ageing runners training program. How to structure strength training around the week’s running volume. Rich answers the age old question, is running bad for our knees? Rich explains why a fast walking pace can be correlated with great longevity in life. And Rich touches on the role of footwear and shoe selection for the ageing or master’s runner.

To listen to Episode 132:


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Listen in as we delve into the following:

  • Introduction to Dr. Rich Willy
  • Discussion about Masters Runner/ Masters Athlete
  • Upcoming Projects for Dr. Rich Willy
  • Common injuries of a Masters Runner compared to younger runners
  • Myth about the negative effects of running
  • Effects of running in later years
  • Basic Conceptualisation in Minimising Injuries
  • Key things to know about Strength Training
  • Recovery Time
  • Assisting Calves
  • Running Shoe to help
  • Best Advise
  • Physical Challenge

Show Sponsor Fisiocrem

Thank you to this week’s show sponsor: fisiocrem. fisiocrem is a topical massage cream containing natural plant based ingredients, ideal for the temporary relief of muscular aches and pains. It is clean to use and pleasant smelling. fisiocrem can be found at chemists and health stores Australia-wide, as well as their online shop. fisiocrem have also offered a 20% discount to listeners of The Physical Performance Show using coupon code POGO when you shop at Hurting sucks, and they’ve got your back!

Win a fisiocrem prize pack by entering the competition here.


“Go to the Gym and start doing some calf raises” – Physical Challenge of the Week
“Do strength training and resistance training plus avoid running the same pace every day.” – Best Advice

“Running is such a great way to reduce cardiovascular disease and metabolic issues when we get older.”
“Faster walkers tend to live a little bit longer.”
“Running is better than without running.”
“The faster you can get your foot on the ground the greater leg stiffness you will have.”
“Strength training conditioning is one of the best resistance exercises.”
“There’s a lot more about getting strong than just being strong.”
“Do repetitive exercises 3 seconds up and 3 seconds down.”
“Put your strength training in your hard days.”
“Make your hard days HARD and make your easy days EASY!”
“Keep active, keep walking and keep moving.”

To follow Dr Rich Willy

Twitter:  @rwilly2003
Dr Rich Willy Dr Rich Willy


0:00 Start
2:03 Introduction to Dr. Rich Willy
4:41 Discussion about Masters Runner/ Masters Athlete
8:06 Upcoming projects for Dr. Rich Willy
9:28 Common injuries of a Masters Runner compared to younger runners
15:45 Myth about the negative effects of running
20:29 Effects of running in later years
30:42 Basic Conceptualisation in Minimising Injuries
36:15 Key things to know about Strength Training
46:26 Recovery Time
57:50 Assisting Calves
1:02:00 Running Shoe help
1:05:00 Best Advice
1:09:00 Physical Challenge
1:14:47 Finish

Dr Rich Willy

People Mentioned

Bernard Legat – Elite/Masters Runner
Greg LeMond – American Professional Road Racing Cyclist
Dr. Peter Cavanagh – BioEngineering

For questions and comments about this Episode

Send to the show host @Brad_Beer (Twitter)

The Physical Performance Show Brad Beer


Brad Beer: Dr. Rich Willy, welcome back to The Physical Performance Show and we last caught up way back for an Expert Edition on Episode 74, and due to popular demand, we thought we better get you back in the booth so to speak to share around your knowledge on all things masters-related running, so welcome back Rich.
Rich Willy: Thanks a lot Brad. It’s wonderful being here and I really appreciate taking the time to chat and I’m excited to talk about some running injuries.
Brad Beer: Rich, let’s start with this big topic. It’s certainly something I see a lot in practise with my day to day and that’s the masters runner. If we can purpose that whole conversation today around the masters runners, firstly, what would you categorise as a masters runner? Is there an age threshold or does it start at a certain point in life?
Rich Willy: Yeah, I think a lot of it depends on what the context is. Some elite level competitions consider the masters athlete to be above the age of 35, but I think for the average runner, I think most of us would consider the masters athlete to be above the age of 40.
Brad Beer: Yeah, I think that’s a good definition there and certainly I abide by. I’m still south of 40, Richard, so I’m happy to be classified as a young runner.
Rich Willy: I’m on the other side. I’m 45 now. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but for me, it has given me some motivation to try to understand running-related injuries, running performance in the masters athlete a little bit, so I can apply it to myself certainly.
Brad Beer: To give some context, Rich, for your day-to-day, you’re still actively, I really like that about your practise and your work, your proponent of what you preach and that’s you’re out there running yourself. Just put us a little bit in perspective of your life at the moment because when we spoke last time, you’ve since transferred universities. What’s life look like for Rich Willy at the moment?
Rich Willy: Yes, I love in Missoula, Montana in The United States and Missoula is I would say an endurance sports mecca for sure. There’s no shortage of endurance runners and cyclists and like ultrarunning is a really big sport here. We have some very high-caliber ultramarathon athletes who live here in town and we got a skyrunning race which is a global series. It’s just kind as it sounds. It’s a little race like ultramarathons that kind of really emphasise high-vertical gain and that’s at a big ski resort a couple of hours from here but a lot of race based out of Missoula and so forth.
There’s a real big following for ultra endurance running here or ultramarathoning, and for me, that’s such a fun group to work with because when those athletes come in and see us, they kind of in my mind are always kind of redefining what I consider to be reasonable or doable across the lifespan and they make it look quite easy. I think the way ultramarathoners kind of train is a good lesson that we can take away as clinicians that if you build up to stop slowly, the human body is really capable of quite a lot of workload.
Brad Beer: Great! Rich, professionally, what are you working on at the moment, paper-wise, research-wise? What are the top projects you’ve got on your desk?
Rich Willy: I have two lines of research. The first one I do is I work a lot with tactical athletes, which I would consider to be members of the military and also wildland firefighters. Here in Missoula, Montana, there’s a big wildland firefighting base that’s based near here. For us, that’s a big focus and it’s a bigger area where I’m trying to pursue some federal funding for support for the research agenda that we have here. The other line I have is looking at running-related injuries. I should say that a lot of injuries that tactical athletes gets, so runners also get those, so stress fractures and overuse injuries to the knee, Achilles tendon injuries as well.
With then running-related injuries, I kind of look a lot at patellofemoral pain. I also look at some Achilles tendon injuries and now that I’m kind of starting to shift some of my research agenda towards looking at the older runner, I’m starting to look at a lot of the injuries that older runners tend to get, which if you look at the literature, they tend to be a little different than what your average 22-year-old college student might get.
Brad Beer: Let’s go there, Rich. That’s a great segue. What injuries do we tend to see for masters runners as opposed to non-masters runners or just go with younger runners?
Rich Willy: For younger runner or the non-masters runner, the typical injuries that you’re going to see with them and a lot of it depends on which paper you might read, they tend to be either patellofemoral pain or anterior knee pain. A lot of people will also call that runner’s knee and shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome. Those seem to be the types of injuries that you see more often with younger runners, but something really interesting happens in the masters athletes and their injuries tend to shift.
If you notice the injuries that younger runners get, they tend to involve bony injuries or articular joint injuries, but the masters runners, they tend to get many more soft tissue injuries and so that would include muscle and tendon and so forth. Their injuries tend to focus more on the calf musculature, the Achilles tendon and the plantar fascia. Plantar fasciopathy, Achilles tendinopathy, calf strains are the injuries that you’re going to see a lot in masters runners. There’s also a little bit of difference in the injury rates too.
Masters runners, they tend to get injured a little bit more, and with any given year, they also tend to experience more multiple injuries than the younger runner and that’s really not too surprising when you think about it because the number one best predictor of whether or not you’re going to get an injury is if you’ve had that injury in the past. If you’re a masters runner, you’re probably going to run more for years and so you’ve kind of collected in your past history a bigger repertoire of previous injuries. I think just by virtue of your running history you’re going to be a little bit more prone to certain injuries.
Brad Beer: Rich, the distribution of injuries does change as you’ve outlined there. There’s a greater risk of injury in a given year and multiple injuries as well. That sort of could paint a fairly depressing landscape I guess for our masters runners listening in, right? However, going back, what are the reasons why people should aim and aspire to continue to run through their decades into the masters years, Rich?
Rich Willy: I mean it’s easy to kind of get focused on the goal and I should say, it’s just a small difference and a greater injury rate in the masters runners. You’re basically looking at on average when you look across studies the younger athlete tends to get. About 45% of all younger runners get injured on an annual basis and that bumps up just a little bit. It just bumps up to about 50% in the masters athletes. I think it’s worth keeping just that change rate in mind, but there are a lot of really good reasons.
I mean running, when you look at the masters athlete and running in particular, a lot of individuals who are scientists who study healthy ageing, they kind of say that the ideal ageing model is the masters runners. Even when you look at like an older runner or masters runner and you compare them to non-runner who is of the same age, the metabolic cost of walking for that masters runner is going to be less than non-runner walking at the same speed. If you’re a runner and or maybe if you’re not a runner and you’re walking with someone who isn’t a runner, if you are that runner and your walking companion is a non-runner, chances are you are walking at a lower metabolic cost.
It does mean it doesn’t take as much energy for you to walk at a certain speed. There are a lot of just regular benefits that carry over to just our overall kind of movement health if you will, and of course, I mean I think that running is such a great way to kind of reduce your risks of cardiovascular disease and some of the other kind of more metabolic issues that tend to pop up as we get a little bit older.
Brad Beer: Yeah, certainly and there’s been literature published that have looked at the reduced rates of cardiovascular incidents for runners versus non-runners, so all things aside, the cardiovascular benefits are enormous.
Rich Willy: Yeah, absolutely. I mean for sure and that’s going to reflect also to your preferred walking speed also, so that also will be a little bit higher in endurance runner and that we know as we get older, when I mean older is above the age of 65, your preferred walking speed is coming out as a somewhat strong predictor of mortality. Faster walkers tend to live a little bit longer.
Brad Beer: I think I walk pretty, so I might live forever.
Rich Willy: Yeah, obviously, there’s a finite limit to that and it’s worth saying that that relationship doesn’t seem to really kick until you get above the age of 65, but yeah, I think that’s an easy sell if you ask me for maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. It’s not possible for everyone of course, but if you are running and you’re doing great, fantastic, keep doing it. If you’re getting a little bit older and you’re starting to have some more running niggles, hopefully today, we’re going to talk about some things that you might be able to do to kind of have those off and when to go seek care for a medical practitioner and so forth.
Brad Beer: Absolutely, I think … Listen, a question came up, Rich, around from Shannon O’Hara and I think this is a good time to pop it in. We’ve spoken about the benefits, but there’s typically the naysayers or the people that discourage people to run in to their later years citing concerns around the good old, “Running will wear your joints. It will wear your knees.” What would say from your research perspective to counter that myth?
Rich Willy: Yeah, I haven’t done any work on this area, but others have and there doesn’t seem to be really any relationship between lifelong endurance running and your risks of developing knee osteoarthritis. In fact, you can even take that a little further and that there have been some neuro studies that have come up that are strongly suggesting that runners who participated in a moderate amount of running tend to have a lower risk of knee osteoarthritis than sedentary individuals. I think that makes sense when you think about it because articular cartilage requires kind of systemic, kind of rhythmic loading for nutrition because the way nutrition gets from the joint environment into your articular cartilage is more from a kind of cyclic loading that you’re going to see more so with running.
Cartilage is going to stay healthy when it’s being loaded in that manner and the other things, the other benefits of running are your overall inflammation is going to be lower and your body mass is probably going to be a little bit lower. Your muscular qualities as well as your other connective tissue qualities, tendons and so forth, are going to be healthier. When you put all that stuff together, you’re talking about articular cartilage likes to be used, and when you’re doing something kind of very rhythmic like running, that’s really what it is designed to do. There’s also loading component to it too.
When you compare running with walking, when you look at the amount of knee load per unit of distance, let’s say you go for a run and you’re going to run 1 km and you’re going to walk 1 km, the total amount of load on your knees is pretty much about the same between running 1 km and walking 1 km and that’s because when you’re running, you’re spending a lot of time in the air and your foot is not on the ground as long either whereas with walking your stance time or the amount of time you’re loading, your lower extremities tends to be a little bit longer.
In fact, it’s about two and a half times as long as what it would be during running. The overall load doesn’t seem to be really a whole different when we compare endurance-paced running and just walking. I think when you’re looking at the perceived risk of knee osteoarthritis, the length doesn’t really seem to be there when it comes to running. There are some caveats to that too that I think are worth adding and that’s when we look at the elite runner, we’re talking like very elite and high-volume runner, there seems to be a little higher risk of developing knee osteoarthritis in those individuals, the runners who are running at a very high level, but that doesn’t really start kind of showing up until to later on in life.
Brad Beer: What did you put that increased risk in the elite runner down to, Rich?
Rich Willy: Gosh, that’s a really good question. I think the elite runner is going to I think their work load. I think if you compare that person to like a recreational runner, the elite runner may not have as much control over their workload meaning they might be coached by someone, they might be on a team. They may have to get out there and get it done on days when maybe they’ve got some aches and pains whereas maybe the recreational runner because they’re not held for that kind of that external I guess standard I guess you will that maybe they’re able to kind of be smart and back off when they’re not feeling quite as good.
Like outside of that, I mean it’s really hard to say like what are the reasons, but there does kind of seem to be like this Goldilocks Zone if you will that seems to be that moderate running just seems to be that nice sweet spot and it seems to definitely lower your risks and I would say maybe it’s not necessarily that more is better, but certainly running is better than not running.
Brad Beer: Even if you’re a recreationally competitive runner or an elite runner, yeah, that’s interesting. Rich, if we talk about the effects of ageing beyond injuries as we run into our later years, what are the effects? I mean obviously we all recognise that we tend to get slower, but why is that?
Rich Willy: When you compare the older runner to the younger runner, there are some really distinctive changes in someone’s running gait that’s going to occur and you mentioned already you tend to slow down a little bit, so your running pace tends to decline slightly. Also, your top-end running speed tends to decline as well. There are some really interesting reasons for that. First off, when you look at your VO2 Max which is the max amount of oxygen that you can consume when you’re at your peak workload, that tends to decline linearly with age and that’s a hard thing to kind of turn around.
That’s not really my area background. My area background is more on biomechanics and injuries and so forth, so I’ll talk a little bit more about that, but some things happen that are kind of a regular occurrence with ageing and one of those is that we tend to lose muscle mass and that process is called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is something that happens to all of us. Not only do we lose muscle mass, we tend to get more fatty infiltration into the muscle so the muscle quality is not quite as good. The cross sectional area becomes a little bit less as well.
We also have a reduction in the neural drive. There seems to be a real neural component to the amount of force that muscle can generate as we get older and that’s an important thing to think about too. It’s just not muscle’s fault, the nervous system has a role here even there’s a very tight linkage between the nervous system and our muscles. There’s that aspect and when we look at it where we tend to see the greatest decline in muscle force reduction is in our plantar flexors or calf musculature and that has an important consequence for the way we run because the calf musculature is the largest contributor to the propulsive ground reaction force, so how much we’re pushing off and when we’re trying to push forward.
As a result because our calf musculature is not generating as much muscle force when running, our step length tends to decrease too. We tend to kind of take a little bit more like a shorter step as we age. As a result, we tend to kind of a little bit of a higher cadence in the older runner. They tend not to push off again as much as I mentioned earlier from their calf musculature, from their ankles, and over time, they’ll start to develop a little bit more of a shuffling-type gait pattern. There are some other things that happen too.
A lot of times, we think about stiffness. We think about it as being kind of a bad thing or a layperson made, but really running stiffness is really important or leg stiffness is really important and that basically if you can kind of imagine your lower leg or your whole leg as being just this giant spring and your leg, that leg spring, becomes less tight or less springy as we age as well. Having a nice springy lower extremity is a good thing because that means we’re going to store and release energy a lot more efficiently when we’re running.
When a runner is ageing, we tend to lose that leg stiffness and one of the biggest reasons for that is we tend to have our Achilles tendon particularly becomes less stiff. We also tend to lose not just some muscular qualities, but we also tend to have some loss of tendon stiffness which is generally thought to be a very desirable trait in a tendon, particularly one that’s being asked to store and release energy very efficiently.
Brad Beer: Yeah, I mean they are the very real changes as you mentioned, VO2 max, sarcopenia, less muscle size, dynapenia which is a new term, Rich, that neural drive reduction and then as you’ve countered there reduced stiffness in tendons. The recent La Trobe Running Symposium, you put a beautiful slide, up which with your permission, we might pop up in the show notes which was the slide that plantar flexors take the biggest hit and it was just a nice graphical depiction of the young versus masters runner and that reduced calf size and the bottom of the slide, Rich, is loss of propulsive force minus 13% step length body age at 60, so it’s very real reduction, isn’t it?
Rich Willy: Yeah, definitely and I should say that’s from the age of 35 to the age of 60. We lose about 13% of our step length when we’re running. That’s some really, really data that’s coming out of Stephen Messier and Paul DeVita’s work that was published about a year ago, but yeah, when you look at that, it’s the plantar flexors, the calf musculature that’s really driving all of that and that seems to be that plantar flexor push off, the power is the biggest contributor to that loss of step length for sure. If you’re not taking as long in steps, I mean that’s going to be, unless you’re increasing your cadence more so to take that into account, you’re going to start slowing down.
Brad Beer: Yeah, I think you shared the terminology or the phrase at the Running Symposium around, that’s why, that shuffling gait, you do tend to see the masters runner, the more mature runner tend to almost look like they’ve got some suction cups on their feet as opposed to the 20-year-old runner that is sort of bouncing along down the road.
Rich Willy: Yeah, exactly. Basically running, it’s very similar to single leg hopping, and if you can image kind of single leg hop, just stand in one leg and jumping up and down, so like that, the faster you can get off the ground, the less time you’re going to spend your foot on the ground, the stiffer that leg spring is going to be and that carries over from a conceptual standpoint very well to running. The faster you can get that foot off the ground, the greater leg stiffness you’re going to have and having higher leg stiffness is generally thought to be a very desirable trait and it carries over to some running injuries too, the big one being Achilles tendinopathy.
We do see reduced leg stiffness in individuals who have Achilles tendinopathy and we also see reduced leg stiffness in older runners and not surprisingly the older runner, particular the older male runner, is going to be the person who’s going to be at the greatest risks for developing Achilles tendinopathy and that’s because their plantar flexors and their tendon kind of loses the capacity or not loses the capacity but loses some capacity for high-training loads and typically those training loads are not going to come necessarily from running a lot of volume, but more so from running fast and running uphills in particular.
Brad Beer: You are all listening to Dr. Rich Willy, Sharing Around All Things The Masters Runners on The Expert Edition of The Physical Performance Show. Support for today’s show comes from Fisiocrem. Fisiocrem is a topical massage cream containing natural plant-based ingredients, ideal for the temporary relief of muscular aches and pains. If you’re conscious of what you put on your body, then you’ll be happy to know that Fisiocrem does not contain parabens or hydroxybenzoates. It is clean to use and pleasant smelling with the smell fading away in just minutes.
Its non-greasy formula doesn’t leave any sticky residue behind. Fisiocrem can be found at chemist and health stores Australia wide as well as their online shop. They’ve even offered a 20% discount to listeners of The Physical Performance Show using the coupon code pogo. That’s P-O-G-O simply when you shop at the Fisiocrem store. That’s, spelled F-I-S-I-O-C-R-E-M, dot com, dot au. Hurting sucks and Fisiocrem have your back. Support for today’s show is also lovingly brought to you by POGO Physio. We exist to help you get back to your physical best following an injury.
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To find out more about POGO Physio, jump over to and schedule your one hour initial appointment. For now, let’s jump back with Dr. Rich Willy, sharing around all things, keeping the masters runner running fast and injury free. Rich, before we look at how some of these age-related declines can be minimised or slowed if you like potentially, can we explore this, it’s a bit of lead-in to exploring the running injuries of masters in more details as well, but this concept of a seesaw if you like with regards to running injuries and it’s a nice visual for people that we want to try and balance the seesaw?
My only interpretation of the work that you presented at La Trobe University there was where you got loading on one side and our body’s ability to do with the load on another or the capacity. Can you put a few ideas around that concept? What are we trying to do at a very basic conceptual level to try and minimise running injuries whether a masters athlete or a younger runner?
Rich Willy: I think that when you’re talking about that kind of seesaw, you’re basically talking about load capacity. As you mentioned on one side of that seesaw is going to be like the person’s ability to tolerate training loads and there’s going to be a lot that’s going to go into that. At the very local level, it’s going to be tissue qualities, things like how strong your muscle is and how stiff your tendon is and so forth. Globally, there’s going to be some other things that are going to go into that as well which is going to be how well can you absorb that training load and that’s going to be things like stress and sleep.
Some of the things that maybe as recently as five years ago we didn’t have a lot of appreciation for but I think now from a running research standpoint, we’re starting to really view these things like how much you might have in your life as being pretty important. It’s on one side of the seesaw and the other side of the seesaw is going to be applied training loads. That might be just basically how much you’re running and the overall running training load and there’s a lot that goes into that training load and that maybe how fast you’re running, the running terrain that you’re running on and maybe how frequently you’re running and of course also how far you’re running.
That total sum of applied loads exceeds the tissue quality or the tissue tolerance for that load, we’ve basically exceeded the low tolerance for that structure or for that runner and then an injury might develop. It’s worth saying that none of these things are fixed and so tissue quality or the person’s ability to tolerate training load fluctuates from day to day. Again, life stressors play a major role, how recovered you are from the previous day’s workout. Those things can change and it also changes across the year based on our overall fitness levels.
Basically, the way I kind of look at this is when someone develops an injury, how can we do two different things? First, we want to reduce the overall load slightly in the person, so we can kind of reduce some of those abusive load on the tendon or what have you, so that then we can build this person right back up and get them back to where they need to be and build that muscle up, build the tendon back up and so forth. There are a lot of different ways that we could do that. I would certainly say strength and conditioning is one of the best ways, so progressive resistance exercises and things like plyometrics and things like that can play a super important role.
When we do that, I think when we as clinicians are working with patients, I think historically and I know I’m certainly guilty of this in the past that I’ve tended to underload patients, and when the patient comes in, they’ve got pain. I’ve tended to really reduce him on a load and I told him to kind of lay off running as much and so forth. More so, now that we’re starting to understand a lot more about tissue qualities and how it responds to rest and so forth, we’re starting to know that rest for a lot of these soft tissue injuries in particular are really not a good idea. Stress fractures are different issues altogether of course.
That’s a pretty complicated injury, but when we’re looking at soft tissue injuries or even something like patellofemoral pain, those are injuries that don’t do very well with absolute rest. We really want to try to keep loading these individuals. If there’s any way that we can kind of keep this person running, that’s great, absolutely. There are lots of different tricks that we as clinicians have that can help a runner continue running. Also if someone is having some pain and discomfort when they’re doing their exercises, it was used to be thought that that was kind of a bad thing, but I think if we can with a runner so that they can kind of understand that that is not necessarily a bad thing and ways that they can kind of apply more loads to themselves, I think the better off our runners are going to be.
Brad Beer: The seesaw, we want to overall as runners apply more load at all times because we’re trying to run further and go faster, so we’re putting emphasis on that side. We’re all pretty good at doing that. However, Rich, strength training is one if not the leading way to increase capacity or tissue tolerance or tissue quality as you termed it on the other side of the seesaw. For our masters runners tuning in, what are the key things that they need to know around strength training, Rich, and it can be a daunting prospect and many pushbacks when it comes to the idea of incorporating that into a training week?
Can you take to why it is important? Obviously, you’ve already touched on the fact that we’re trying to increase their capacity to do with that running loads, but why is it important? How do we actually get started and start to integrate it?
Rich Willy: For clinicians and runners alike, I think one of the best concepts that people can get behind is that there’s a lot more about getting strong than just being strong. Just because someone is a strong individual doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t benefit from strength training, so much so that I would almost see and say that strength training is probably not even really the best term. The reason for that is when we load tissues there is this really unique that is called mechanotherapy that occurs and that’s that when you load muscle, you’re going to get muscular hypertrophy, but when you load bone, you’re going to get bone remodelling.
When you load tendon, you’re going to get collagen synthesis, ligament, you’re going to get collagen synthesis too. You load articular cartilage, the quality of that articular cartilage is also going to improve. Strength training is such a great way to accomplish a lot of those things. I know that a lot of runners maybe thinking, “Well, I’ll just run,” but the interesting thing about running is that while it’s really great activity for cardiovascular conditioning and so forth, it seems to be too high of a repetition activity and to really generate or simulate the nice changes in tendon quality and connective tissue qualities that we see with strength training.
A large part of that is that when you contract a muscle or you load a structure when you’re running, that structure is actually not loaded for very long at all. It’s kind of your muscle contracts and then it relaxes whereas when you strength train and you go into the gym and let’s say you’re doing a nice slow knee extension machine in your extension exercise, the knee extension machine and you’re raising the weight for three seconds and then you’re lowering that weight back down for another three seconds, you’ve created an environment for that muscle, the quadriceps and the quadriceps tendon, the patellar tendon, your patella which in your articular cartilage is associated with that and everything else in that area and the bone those tendons are connected to where that those structures are under tension for six whole seconds and for six straight seconds and that’s the kind of stimulus that our connective tissues seem to respond to the best.
Brad Beer: That’s doing repetitions of exercises, three seconds up, three seconds down.
Rich Willy: Exactly, yeah. If you think about that, it’s going to take you so many … Your foot is on the ground for about a quarter second when you’re running of which your quadriceps, you only really get to your peak quadriceps contraction for just a very, very small portion of that 250 milliseconds, so probably about 20% of that stance cycle. When you add up, it’s going to you a lot of foot strikes to get the same amount of total tension or total time under tension as you would from just doing one repetition on the knee extension machine.
It’s just more efficient way to load our extremities. It seems that our connective tissues really like that kind of loading. They respond really well to it. I think when you’re looking at the athlete who is trying to recover from a soft tissue injury, particularly tendon injuries, there’s really no better way to do it than kind of this idea of slowly loading these structures with heavy weight.
Brad Beer: You referenced in Episode 74, and if you’ve missed that one, jump back and listen to that one where, Rich, you took us through the concept isolated exercises, single leg, it doesn’t need to be fancy, the dynamic, clean and jerk-type exercise is this can be as simple as seated leg extension, calf raise work, hamstring curls. Rich, in terms of getting into the gym, we need to lift heavy as you’ve referenced, but it’s okay isn’t it to start with a few weeks a month or there about longer with some slightly lesser loads in terms of weight and greater reps initially. What would you suggest there for the runner that has never set foot inside a gym?
Rich Willy: Yeah, if you’re new to weightlifting, first and foremost, I think you probably get hooked up with a personal trainer or someone who really knows their way around the gym who can help you out with learning how to lift properly and use the machines appropriately and so forth. If you have an old injury, I think one that is particularly problematic like a kind of a persistent lumbar, some low back pain or something like that, that individual can really help you kind of design a strength training programme that will kind of maybe help that but hopefully will at least not aggravate it.
With that said, I think if you’re good to go and you’re wanting to start strength training programme, I think a good way to do it is to start off with fairly high repetitions. We’re talking like two sets of 15 repetitions a couple of times a week. I think that’s a great way to do it because when you’re doing that, you’re just going through the motion and there’s a lot of nice things that are still occurring. This should be a pretty easy 15 repetitions when you’re doing that, but once you get past that initial month or so of doing that and just kind of this accommodating to that new training programme, just like anything whether it be running or strength training, you’d start off kind of slow.
Your goal should be to start getting down to fewer and fewer repetitions while you’re increasing the amount of weight that you’re lifting. Ideally, you kind of want to start getting yourself down to maybe start off in week one, two and three, doing 15 repetitions and maybe by week four, you want to start getting yourself down to around 10 repetitions with a higher weight. Then after that, you kind of really want to change gear as you want to really start looking at getting down to maybe four sets of eight repetitions for the next couple of weeks and then down to four sets of six repetitions with some higher weight even more so.
That probably seems very counter intuitive because I think a lot of runners and a lot of clinicians often prescribe like a high-repetition strength training programme, but when you look at the evidence, unless you’re getting down, unless you’re lifting weight that is difficult to lift for no more than 10 repetitions that you can do with that weight, if you’re lifting weight that is higher than that or that is easier than that, you’re getting higher reps than 10 repetitions, what happens is that it doesn’t seem to be enough load to trigger some of the desired changes that we like to see in connective tissue and tendon in particular.
We don’t see the increase in tendon stiffness. When we’re starting to lift with greater than 10 repetitions per set, we really only start to see those nice changes in tendon as we get a little bit lower repetitions. Six to eight repetitions is where it seems like the evidence is really pointing us toward.
Brad Beer: To the runner that would be concerned that we’re going to bulk up, what would you say to the runner with that concern?
Rich Willy: It doesn’t seem that really kind of shakes out when you look at the literature. It seems like this idea of lower repetitions, there’s a lot of stuff that makes us strong than us just adding on muscle bulk. There’s a very important neural component to strength, so how our nerves are recruiting muscle fibres and so forth is also a large part of how we gain strengths, but the other part of it too is if you’re participating in regular endurance training at the same time that you’re doing weight training, there’s seems to be a bit of this interference effect that somewhat prevents us or doesn’t entirely prevent us from gaining muscle mass, but it seems to kind of ward off a large part of that.
Our overall body mass tends to stay about the same or even reduced with the strength training programme, but we do get some increased and localised muscle mass with strength, of course it’s not as much of also endurance running, but those are changes that you want to see. I mean those are things that are really important and I think when you look at elite athletes too, I think that’s a really big change that you see in middle distance athletes and triathletes and so forth is that now it’s just a triathlete they do force sports. Weight training is one of them and I think two decades ago, that really wasn’t the case at all.
There’s a big important reason why these elite athletes are doing the strength training and that’s because it does really improve performance, but it also seems to reduce ones overall risk of developing an overused injury.
Brad Beer: Yeah, great! Before we move off strength training, Rich, just a couple of really practical questions. If you’re in the gym, you’re doing seated leg extensions, slow reps, three seconds up, three seconds down, over time pushing solid loads there, what’s the recovery time? Is it okay just to do the right side and then go back to the left? Do you specify a specific recovery time?
Rich Willy: Yeah, I think generally you should be doing two to three minutes of rest. When you look at the literature that’s like where we’re seeing the greatest gains and muscle strength and so forth, it seems that two to three minutes of rest in between each set is going to be ideal and performing these exercises two to three times a week is also ideal. I think when your training loads are very high, so like in the competitive season and so forth, I think a lot of athletes will drop down to doing more of a maintenance programme of maybe once per week, but when you’re overall running loads or running training loads are kind of in the low side, like an offseason or preseason that’s a good time to be hitting the gym three times per week for sure.
That’s one other thing. You asked the question really I didn’t kind of quite around to answering and that was, should you be doing isolated joint exercises or should you be doing multi-joint exercises and so forth? I would say they’re both important, but understand that if you’re on a single joint machine like a knee extension machine, you’re going to be able to load that quadriceps and load that patellar tendon and load that articular cartilage with greater weight with a knee extension machine than if you’re doing a single leg squat with weights.
If you’re trying to do, well a lot of folks would consider to be a functional-type exercise, doing a single leg squat, basically what you’re doing is you’re splitting that workload between your ankle, your knee and your hip. Also on top of that, because you’re doing in a single leg, you haven’t also worked on your balance, and because you’re also trying to maintain your balance, you’re going to be able to lift as much. Being on a machine that just takes all that load and focuses on one muscle group where we don’t have to worry about falling over, you’re going to be able to deliver a lot more resistant stimulus to that joint and associated muscle with greater efficiency on the machine or the single joint exercise.
Brad Beer: Great! Rich, where should a masters runner incorporate their running around their gym sessions? We’ve adopted the idea that we need to strength train until death do us part, but where to fit it? Do we run after a gym training session or a resistance session? Do we have the day off after gym training? What would be suggestions?
Rich Willy: Rich Blagrove, he’s from The UK, has done some really neat work in this work and kind of synthesised a lot of literature. It seems like there are some ideal ways to do that you should have a couple of hours in between your running session, before you strength train or vice versa. There are some ideal ways to do this from a timing standpoint. Generally speaking though, I think a lot of the runners that I end up working with, they only get one crack at it. They maybe need to do strength training and then go for a run or whatever. I think the emphasis should be like as far as timing throughout the day, what’s going to work the best for you?
For me, the last thing that I want to do when I come back from a run is do some strength training, and so as a result, I’ll do my strength training maybe before I go for a run. Now with that said, the other thing that to really keep in mind too is that when we’re looking across a week I think it’s really important for runners to make sure that, even though we’re getting a little bit older or what have you or maybe you’re not even training for a race, it still so important to maintain an easy-hard, easy-hard kind of cycle throughout the week and strength training also plays a really important on that too.
If let’s say you run easy on a Monday after your long run on a Sunday and then you go to a track workout on a Tuesday and then Wednesday, you hit the gym and you lift really heavy in the gym, then you placed two hard days back to back, the Tuesday day was the track day and Wednesday was the heavy day on the gym and then let’s say then on top of that you do a temple run on Thursday or have you or maybe another whole repeat, then you’ve got three hard days in a row where you’re basically applying a maximal or near maximal stimulus to your musculature and to your connective tissues on a back to back to back kind of schedule.
That doesn’t make a lot of sense when you realise it. We get stronger, our muscles grow stronger and our tendons grow stronger when we’re resting, and when you look at the recommendations that a lot of tendon experts are currently making and so forth and now we definitely adhere to this too is that put your strength training on one of your hard days, so that your hard days are hard and your easy days are really easy. What I mean by hard days, that’s maybe the day that you do your track workout. Maybe that ideally look like you’re going to strength train in the morning and then do your track workout in the evening or something like that.
Maybe just from a practically standpoint those two sessions need to be closer together, but then your next day should be super easy, just light jogging or something like that. You give everybody, all your structures, this chance to recover from that applied workload.
Brad Beer: I mean I’ve been thinking about this and implementing changes to my practise since you presented on this La Trobe Running Symposium and even with the masters runners or non-masters runners recovering from tendinopathies or bony injuries, compounded their running their resistance stays together or in many cases giving them a complete rest day the next day or something very light and easy if they need to be out there and I think overall it’s probably a positive change in some of those runners’ outcomes that are rehabilitating injuries.
Rich Willy: Yeah, that’s awesome! Yeah, for me, it’s the same thing. I think about where I really kind of started latching onto this when I started looking at how I was doing my return-to-run programme with a runner who was injured and I had this runner who maybe had a Achilles tendinopathy or something like enough that I really talked them out of running for a while and then I was having them return to running, walk-run programmes where they’re maybe doing a walk-run session on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Even though the overall workload is low, it’s actually relatively high for that individual at that given point.
They’re really stressing themselves, but what I was making a mistake of them doing their strength training because I still want them to be doing resistance training and exercises as they continue throughout their progression and so forth. I want them to continue doing the strength training even once they’re done with me. I was having to do strength training on the non-running days and I just felt like when I made that change like what we’ve just described, add the strength training on the same day that they’re doing the running on these return-to-run programmes, it made a world of difference for the runner as far as their ability to tolerate and try to get back to their running in a relatively seamless manner.
Brad Beer: The role of walking, Rich, that can be quite underestimated but quite useful.
Rich Willy: Yeah, absolutely. I think that runners, they really like to run and I think a lot of runners I know have a tendency to undervalue the importance of walking, and as I mentioned earlier, the knee joint load, the amount of like the cumulative load that’s been applied to like the patellofemoral joint or your tibiofemoral joint when you’re walking over a given distance, the cumulative load is really not a whole lot different than running. Let’s say you’re a runner who’s injured and you can’t tolerate running, but the most important thing for you to probably do is keep active, keep moving, keep walking and I highly recommend using a step counter.
Think about running not so much when you’re recovering from an injury is like how far you’ve run from a distance and for how long you’ve run for a minute or a duration standpoint, but think about it more in a load cycle and load cycle means steps. How many steps are you taking? When you look at the average return-to-run programme that’s out there and ours being one of them, on day one of that return-to-run programme, they’re doing one minute of walking and three minutes of running or some version of that and they’re doing like six or seven repetitions of that.
Those don’t sound like a lot because they’re only really running for seven or eight minutes total over the course of a 30-minute session.
Brad Beer: Yeah.
Rich Willy: But when you add up the number of steps that you take, it ends up being about 4,000. If that runner has been doing nothing but kind of getting through their days and maybe getting 4,000 steps in and then suddenly they start doing this return-to-run programme, they’ve just doubled the number of loading cycles on their lower extremities on day one of that return-to-run programme, so really running is great, but walking is the foundation and basis for really all of our movement patterns.
Brad Beer: As you say, runners, we like to run. Therefore, when the partner wants to go for a walk, it might not be such a bad thing after all.
Rich Willy: No, yeah, absolutely. I think it’s great. One of the places here, I live in Missoula where I live in the mountains and one of the things I’ve really learned to appreciate is that there are a lot of runs I go where I got to do some walking and because it’s just the inclines are so much, and as a runner, you think, “Gosh, I can’t stop running. I got to keep running up this hill,” but the reality is is that walking is just as a fast on some of the trails that I run on and there’s really no shame in walking. In fact, if you look at some of the fastest true runners in my area, they spend a lot of time getting really good at walking.
Brad Beer: You’re listening to Dr. Rich Willy on this, An Expert Edition of The Physical Performance Show, Sharing Around All Things The Masters Runner. If you missed last week’s episode, Episode 131 of The Physical Performance Show featuring five times, that’s right, five times Australian Winter Olympian and 2010 Olympic Aerial Skiing Champion, Lydia Lassila, then here’s a little bit of Lydia’s sharing around highs and lows and learnings.
Lydia Lassila: I think that period of being really injured was definitely my low, being this up and down cycle of injury, knowing that I could be better, but having this kind of excuses, physical injury being there and that was really a frustrating period for me, knowing that I could be better, but I always injured.
Brad Beer: To tune in to the full episode featuring Lydia Lassila, then jump over to iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud or wherever it is that you enjoy your podcast from and check out the full episode, and while you’re there, why don’t you take a lot around the archives and enjoy some of the other episodes. For now, let’s jump back with Dr. Rich Willy on this, An Expert Edition of The Physical Performance Show, Sharing Around All Things The Masters Runner. Rich, the fight against the reduction in calf musculature strength and propulsion, you’ve cited before that 50% of propulsion tends to come from below the knee, so we’re trying to combat that as we mature as runners.
Just very practically in the gym environment, what would be a go-to exercises there and is there any benefit? Just for whatever reason, Rich, someone’s on the road, they can’t get into a gym, what would you suggest they could be doing at home to help their calves?
Rich Willy: I think just to reiterate that point, the calf musculature is so important to the older runner and it’s really important for all runners because it really consumes about 50% of our total support moment when you compare it to the knee and your hip musculature, but really if you’re asking me like what’s the one exercise that the masters runner should do is would be a single leg calf raise or maybe they’re holding on to like a door frame for balance and doing some heavy weight, so holding a big dumbbell.
If you’re on the road, just throw some weight into a backpack and do some single leg calf raises, try to make sure that if you haven’t done it before that you’re starting off with 15 repetitions a couple of sets, but once you’re able to tolerate it, look at adding enough weight in that backpack, it is a struggle for you to get more than eight repetition per set and that you’re doing at three to four sets of that a couple of times a week.
Brad Beer: Yeah, great! There is some utility, and if you’re not in the gym, you can do something to help at home.
Rich Willy: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t even belong to a gym. I’ve got some adjustable weights at home and some dumbbells that I use that I can kind of get it done there. I don’t think you need anything really special and you can go to like a secondhand store or like a garage sale or something like that and pick up a pair of dumbbells pretty cheap. That’s kind of really all that you’re going to need.
Brad Beer: In terms of eyesight and things like quadriceps, can you achieve that well at home or is that where you really do need to get into the gym and do a leg extension, etcetera?
Rich Willy: Yeah, that’s going to be a little bit tougher to do for sure I think. The knee extension machine is really the best way to do it, but you still can really load your quadriceps. You can really kind of target them well by doing like a step-down exercise. If you’ve got a step and you’re stepping down, you’re coming down at the other leg and just kind of tapping your heel on the ground and then bringing yourself back up while you’re holding onto a weight, that’s going to really load your quadriceps in a very high manner and it doesn’t use your hip extensors very much, as long as you keep your trunk upright.
If you start to learn forward, that’s going to start engaging your hip extensors a little bit more, but doing that single leg step down is a great way at home to really load your quadriceps. You’re going to get some calf contributions there too, and yeah, it’s not as good as being on a knee extension machine for sure, but it’s certainly a good way to get it done.
Brad Beer: That’s something. With the calves, it’s important to incorporate straight leg work and bent leg work, Rich, to target the deeper part, the soleus which is often the forgotten cousin.
Rich Willy: Yeah, absolutely. I mean you think about your gastrocnemius musculature and the nice kind of sexy-looking calf muscles, but the reality of it is is that the soleus that’s underneath it really represents about 68%-70% of the total muscle mass of the calf musculature and so you’ve got this giant muscle down there that we often don’t think about and because it doesn’t cross your knee joint, the best way to isolate that muscle is to do calf raises with a bent knee. It seems like if you can bend your knee about 60 degrees or so or more, you’re really going to be able to isolate, so like a seated calf machine or seated soleus machine at the gym is really the best way to get it done.
At home, you can do a little bit. You can kind of do that single leg calf raise with a bent knee. You’re still going to get some gastrocnemius contributions there because you can’t bend your knee to 60 degrees typically when you’re doing a single leg heel raise, but if you bend you knee, you’re going to shift more and more load over to that soleus muscle and that’s really what you want to kind of focus on.
Brad Beer: Yeah, don’t forget the bent knee version. Rich, I just want to ask you around the masters runners. I’ve observed a real proclivity in many runners to gravitate towards such a big area shoes that are maximalist designed, your Hoka One Ones or the more recent additions to the running shoe marketplace. This is something that I know you paid great attention to in your research. Is there in a masters runner going and picking up one of these maximalist shoes as opposed to a more traditional type of shoe?
Rich Willy: When you’re talking about shoes, I guess we can kind of divide them up into three different types of shoes. You got your standard running shoe that you’re going to see in a running shoe store and then you have your minimalist shoe which is just like it sounds and your maximalist shoe which has got a lot of more cushioning to it and so forth. There’s more difference between the standard shoe and the minimalist shoe than there is in the standard shoe and these Hoka shoes or other maximalist kind of shoe that you’re looking at.
There’s not as much difference there. For the runner to make that transition to running in a maximalist shoe is not going to be much of a change for them. A lot of older runners that I work with really kind of swear by these maximalist shoes and I don’t think we really understand how they change loading on the lower extremity, but I do know that a lot of older runners, then they get some … The fat pad that’s on your heel tends to atrophy a little bit as we get older and also the cushioning that you have on the bottom of your foot, the fat cushioning you have there tends to also reduce a little bit too.
A lot of these runners really like these Hoka shoes because they tend to kind of reduce some of the loading that’s right on the plantar surface and if that’s going to keep that person running, for me, I don’t have a big problem with that. Where I think like maybe you can go a little bit wrong is if you’re an older runner and you’re running in a standard shoe and then you decided to run in a minimalist shoe. You have to be ready for the change in the calf loads that are going to occur and I think that’s a much bigger jump for the older runner to make than to run, move to a standard shoe to these maximalist or highly-cushioned shoes.
Brad Beer: Yeah, I believe so. The take home point for footwear selection for the masters runners is just be cautious if you’re going towards the minimalist. Otherwise, you’re pretty safe.
Rich Willy: Yeah, I think so. I mean I think a good way to look at it I was like an early adapter of the Nike Free when it came first come out, the Nike Free 3.0, way back I think like it’s in 2005 when they first came out and it came with an instruction manual. That instruction manual told me like how to ease into the shoe and had a nice schedule and all that stuff that I think was like eight to 10 weeks long and how to ease into running in to the shoe and you still see that in some of those minimalist shoes. They’ll give you guidelines on how to do that, but when you buy like a maximally cushioned shoe, they come with a sort of an instruction manual and there’s a reason for that and that’s I think runners aren’t getting themselves in trouble in these types of shoes.
Brad Beer: Yeah, so interesting. Rich, we’re approaching the end of our time today, but I think let me ask you this, what would you say if you have to boil everything down which is impractical and impossible, but I’m still going to throw it to you to one piece of advice if you can only give one piece to the masters runner, what would it be to help them stay up there and enjoying their running, injury-free, performing at their best?
Rich Willy: One piece, actually it’s a good question. I would say strength training, actually resistance training for sure and get in the gym and do it regularly. I think the overall health benefits extend far beyond running and I think those things are hard to deny, but the fact that strength training also will head off some of the musculature changes that we see with ageing and so forth, I think you need to do it. I think for sure. If I can get one other piece of advice that I would give, I would say with you running, avoid running the pace every day.
If you can ease into of course, be very slowly, but still even if you’re not targeting a race, pick one day a week to make a pretty intense session where you’re doing some speed work or you’re doing some hill repeats, something that’s going to challenge from a running standpoint, challenge your plantar flexors when you’re running outside of the weight room and so something on top of that, I think those two things and I know I’m kind of cheating you by giving two things, but I think those things are going to be the most important things that you can do.
Brad Beer: Mixing them up and adding intensity is really critical for helping to reduce some of that age-related decline in strength and stiffness of the tendons, etcetera.
Rich Willy: Yeah, absolutely. Max Paquette at University of Memphis has done some really neat work with this. He finds that runners who tend to run a little more with a little more intensity, they tend not to demonstrate some of these sane declines that we see in step lengths and reduced ankle power during running. That’s a hard thing for me to say that that’s not important. Yeah, maintaining some intensity on an occasional basis once a week at least is I think a good way to do.
Brad Beer: Which is great because there can be real eversion for the masters runner towards speed and getting stuck in that middle cruisy pace I guess which is relative for all of us and I even heard you referenced mixing up your running routes, don’t run the same route all the time which at the moment I’m guilty of.
Rich Willy: Oh, yeah. Me too. I mean I’ve got no time.  I tend to jump into a run that I know exactly to the minute how long it’s going to take, so yeah for sure.
Brad Beer: Fantastic, Rich, we didn’t ask, I didn’t ask you sorry, back on Episode 74 the Personality Question Experts Editions. Everyone likes to know a little bit about the personality behind the expert. Three people at a dinner table for Rich Willy, living or passed, who would be at your table and why, Rich?
Rich Willy: Yeah, I guess the low-hanging fruit would be Bernard Lagat. I know you had him on your show a while ago, but I think he’s just a fascinating athlete. He’s a masters track runner. How he’s been able to kind of keep it together and still remain just at the top of his game is amazing. I’m a cyclist at heart, so Greg LeMond I think who is a childhood hero of mine, so Greg LeMond would be pretty cool too and then Peter Cavanagh. He is the grandfather of running biomechanical research. My PhD advisor, Irene Davis, actually got her PhD under Peter Cavanagh, but I love to sit down and chat with him at some point. Yeah, those would be the three individuals for sure.
Brad Beer: That’s a fascinating table and we had Bernard Lagat only a few episodes after your last appearance on the show, Rich, with your Expert Edition and one of the things that I love about Bernard’s approach was as you referenced he’s such an inspiration for so many with what can be achieved with running across the lifespan, but he just refused he said to ever contemplate the idea that any of his performances was due to his age, that he’s old. He just doesn’t have it in his vocabulary. I think there’s so much to take from that in terms of our mindset and perspective around our activity levels as we mature, all of us.
Rich Willy: Yeah, I agree with that. I think there’s the chicken or the egg thing. Do we start running like an old person because we have to or vice versa? I think he’s a real inspiration for sure.
Brad Beer: Yeah. Fantastic, Rich, finally the physical challenge for the week, let’s make this specific for the masters runner. What’s Dr. Rich Willy’s physical challenge to the masters runner for the week going to be?
Rich Willy: Go to gym and start doing some calf raises.
Brad Beer: Awesome! Rich, thank you for your time. It’s evening time there. In the town of the University of Montana or Missoula. Thank you for your time and there is so much more. I think we might have to make you an annual fixture on The Physical Performance Show With An Expert.
Rich Willy: Thanks Brad. I know it has been a pleasure. I really enjoy being on the show.


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