Random musings on quads, squatting, and running

This is the first in an installment of random answers to questions that any member of our team has addressed.  They may be useful, totally useless, funny, dull, timely, or so specific as to be completely worthless to anybody other than the asker, but hopefully at least they’ll lend some insight into our thought process.

Today’s question was from a lifter in regards to lift selection while running- essentially, what squat variant should be done to minimize the work being done on the quads, since excessive quad fatigue seems to be an issue when combining lifting and distance running.  The response:

So, answering this I do want to start with observations- running isn’t necessarily a quad dominant movement- many runners ARE quad dominant (just watch them squat), but based on gait, distance they run, or terrain, they all have different tendencies.  Road distance runners tend to be weak in the hamstrings but strong in the glutes and quads, though the fastest don’t fit this so neatly.  Sprinters are very powerful in the posterior chain, and have extremely powerful quads when the knee is extended, but far less so in flexion, etc etc.

Lifters turned runners have one major issue that is both cause and symptom- APT.  Anterior pelvic tilt that lifters have doesn’t necessarily stem from weak hamstrings or glutes, but from a generally higher level of lower back tonus combined with comparatively weak abdominals (strong TA, weak RA and I/E obliques), and strong quads/hip flexors.  APT is responsible for the heavy impact that many running lifters find on their quads- given the forward tilt of the body and high impact/footstrike forward of the hips (that APT dictates to stay under or in front of COG), lifters/weight trainers find their quads both fatigued from running/chewed up from running, and heavily impacted by squatting/weight training.

A few other factors contribute to APT- first is scapular protraction/strong pressing muscles combined with weaker scapular retraction, which forces even more lower back arch to keep the torso more or less upright and head over the hips.  The other is tight calves, which prevents a full relaxed drive/hip extension, and disengages the posterior chain prematurely- lifters often push off excessively with their toes, rather than “scraping” the ground with their heels.

So this is basically to say- the “save the quads” issue is a bit of a moot point- I don’t think I’ve ever had a runner of any distance do box squats to spare their quads or focus on posterior chain- if they have a weak posterior chain, I address that more specifically.  I prefer to focus on the running form and activation itself via running drills- diaphragmatic breathing drills to prevent excessive chest rise (which worsens lower back arching), elevated hand position with low elbows and minimal crossover to facilitate scapular protraction, and shortened strides/cadence drills to prevent overstriding.  These alone are often enough, (when combined with pre-running preparation which can include flat back breathing exercises to relax the lower back tension) to fix running stride enough that the quads are no longer taking a constant beating from massive eccentric load on every footstrike.

That being said- beyond this, prescriptions are so individual.  Compensatory patterns in lifting may mean that each individual’s relative muscle engagement on each type of squat is so different that few generalizations can be made.  All things considered, these points can often cancel out- low bar squatting to a box may spare the quads, but worsen the tendency towards lower back hyperextension, so addressing this via exercise selection can simply make things worse.

tl;dr- it depends.

1 Comment

  1. Samson on January 30, 2018 at 6:23 am

    i like this, I’ve never heard of someone knowledgeable of weight training and long distance running.

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