Overcoming ACL Surgery and Running Faster Than Ever
Last January, I had surgery for a tear of my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in my left knee. In December 2016, a skiing accident left me dead in my tracks. As a life long runner, I was just about to jump start my training for the Publix Half Marathon in March 2017. This would have been my 6th Half Marathon so the training itself was no big deal. I would follow my usual training routine of short runs during the week and longer runs on the weekends. I had my weekly running group to motivate me along and I’d probably finish the race at an average pace just under a 10-minute mile.
As I lay in pain on the ski slope that December afternoon, my world as a runner came crashing down. I knew I tore my ACL and I also knew the statistics. It is estimated that approximately 100,000 ACL reconstruction surgeries are performed annually. Many people think the surgery is a minor setback, and that the athlete will return to their prior level of play in about 6 months. However, many studies out there paint a different picture. One out of 3 people will never play their sport at the same level prior to their ACL surgery.
I returned home from my ski trip ready to overcome the ensuing surgery and rehabilitation ahead. I was determined to not become part of the above statistic. I diligently completed my physical therapy which included strength training, Peloton cycling, Redcord Neurac, and Pilates reformer workouts. This was the first time I added strength training, cross training, and active recovery into my workouts. Like most runners, as the mileage increased my ability to cross train decreased. Also as a busy mother, my time was limited so running fit the bill of burning lots of calories in a short amount of time. But with that came chronic shin splints and hip pain that I just ran through because I didn’t want to stop.
After 5 months of physical therapy, I felt ready to up my training and joined Orange Theory Fitness (OTF). I knew the 60-minute interval workouts that combined cardio and strength-training would prepare me for outdoor running. Although it’s a kick butt workout, I loved the strength I felt in my legs and the speed I was achieving with the interval run/row workouts. By August, I started running outdoors again and to my surprise my time was better than it had ever been. I had dropped my time by a full one and a half minutes and this was after ACL reconstruction! With 20+ years of running, this was the first time I could feel the power in my hip muscles. I could efficiently use my body to run a distance at a faster cadence and speed and was pain free.
Upon returning to my running group, they asked “How did you get so fast?”. I believe the combination of strength training, cross training and interval running made that happen. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that a lack of strength training would cause my ACL tear. I wasn’t strong enough to tackle the steeper slopes. Next time I will train before I ski and continue to cross train for better running performance.
I credit my improved running speed to my OTF workouts and here are my top reasons why:
Strength Training: We all know that strength training reduces the risk of injury by strengthening weak muscles. However, most people don’t know what type of exercises they should be doing. OTF makes that easy for you by providing set strength workouts and trainers that can assist with proper form.
Interval Running: OTF breaks up their workouts into Strength, Endurance, or Power. Strength days involve more incline runs. Endurance days focus on maintaining a high speed over a lower duration. Power days are periods of short, intense speed workouts. Many runners tend to run at the same pace for most of their runs and don’t see significant changes in their running performance. OTF incorporates the interval running for you giving faster results.
Low Impact Cross Training: Running is a high impact sport so it’s important to balance that with low impact alternatives that still give a good cardiovascular workout. OTF adds rowing into the routine to train both leg and arm muscles necessary for efficient running.
Variability: We all tend to get tired of thinking up new workout routines, or we get bored and stop doing it. OTF changes it up for you. No workout is the same and new muscle groups are consistently being challenged. They also add rotation or lateral movements which gets us moving outside of the forward/backward plane of motion specific to running.
Motivation: We feel more comfortable when everybody knows your name. OTF makes it a point to call all members by their first name. That way the trainers can individually encourage you or assist you on proper form. And the positive spirit of those around you help cheer you on and keep you motivated during the workout.
If you are a runner that wants to improve performance or if you want to become a runner, come see us! The team at Functionize works with runners all of levels and performs running assessments to determine whether you are running most efficiently. We will give you the tools you need to keep running and stay injury free while doing it. Give us a call at 404-907-4196 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading,
-Lauren Sok, Physical Therapist
Lauren Sok, Founder of Functionize Health & Physical Therapy, brings 18 years of physical therapy practice and expertise in treating orthopedic and sports medicine related injuries. She incorporates a functional medicine approach in treating the whole person to find the root cause of a problem, rather than treating one body part at a time. Lauren holds a Master of Physical Therapy and Bachelor of Science in Health Science from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. She is a Certified Stott Pilates Instructor, a Clinical Instructor at the Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program, Emory University, and is trained in Redcord Neurac and Trigger Point Dry Needling. Lauren’s email is email@example.com. More information can be found at www.functionizehealth.com.