Runner’s Talk: How to Optimize your Running Performance with Physical Therapy


As they say, “April showers bring May flowers” but what does May also bring?... Nothing but beautiful weather for all you runners out there!
As a casual and competitive runner, I too am lacing up my shoes and getting back out on the roads, trails, and beaches to prep for upcoming races. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a fair share of injuries along my running career including plantar fasciitis and a major knee injury. As a physical therapist, I cannot stress enough how important it is to incorporate a solid strength and mobility program into your training routine to promote longevity with your running career.

Physical therapists serve as a valuable resource to support runners every step of the way. Whether you just signed up for a race or are continuing to run for your wellbeing, we are here to help optimize your running performance and reduce your risk of future injuries. Here’s how Ortho RI’s physical therapy team can help you along your running journey:

Strength and Conditioning: Some physical therapists can take runners through special performance assessments that are uniquely designed to identify outstanding impairments with your strength and mobility. After taking part in these tests, they will create individualized plans to target key muscles to improve your performance with running. Below is a sneak peak of my two favorite exercises I prescribe to runners in the clinic. Please note, these exercises are hyperlinked to our Ortho RI YouTube channel for your viewing. As always, consult your Physical Therapist first to see if these are appropriate for your needs.

Band walks: Place a band at your ankles and sidestep about 10-15 steps. Facing the same direction, sidestep in the opposite direction. You should feel a good burn in your hips. If this is painful, raise the band towards your knees. Repeat one more lap if possible.


Plank Variations: Lie on your stomach and keep your toes pointed towards the ground. Keep your elbows bent. Prop yourself up on your elbows, keeping your body in a straight line while engaging your core. Hold this position for anywhere up to 1 minute. To perform a side plank, lie on your side. Keeping your elbow bent, raise your body, and keep it in a straight line. Again, you can hold this anywhere for up to 1 minute.



Mobility and Tissue Lengthening: A physical therapist may utilize myofascial techniques including soft tissue massage, cupping, instrument assisted soft tissue work, and foam rolling techniques to supplement your treatment. Keeping your tissue lengthened and supple can help reduce future risk of injuries and avoid compensations in your running form. If needed, they can also implement additional techniques, such as dry needling to help improve tissue healing, reduce pain, and promote tissue changes.





Gait Analysis: To assess your running form, physical therapists can perform a treadmill analysis to optimize your technique and improve your efficiency with running. Key areas they may assess include the following:
FOOT STRIKE: It is important to determine whether you are a heel, midfoot, or forefoot striker. Knowing this can help to determine which shoe wear is best for you and how to make subtle changes to your mechanics to reduce pain or future injuries.
SOUND: The next time you hop on a treadmill, take a listen to your feet. The sound you hear can indicate muscle weakness, tightness, or areas that just need some additional work. A physical therapist can provide cues verbally and visually to help improve your form.
CADENCE: This is defined as the number of steps taken per foot in one minute. A physical therapist can calculate and change your cadence to reduce the risk for injury as well as reduce pain.



Shoe Assessment: Let’s be honest, when it comes to choosing, running shoes it can be extremely overwhelming. Physical therapists can help assess your foot mechanics to determine the best type of support for you.
In the shoe world, you will see spec details including “heel-to-toe drop". This indicates how much true cushioning is under your heels and toes. Sounds important, right? Most running shoes have a heel-toe drop of ~ 10 mm but can alter based on brand/style. Knowing your foot strike can help you determine which drop is best for you:
Heel runner: (~ 7+ mm) choose a higher heel drop – this provides more cushioning and places emphasis on the hips and knees. This is helpful for individuals who also have foot/ankle pains when running.
Midfoot/forefoot runner: (~ 0-6 mm) choose a lower heel drop – this provides more stress on the foot and ankle. A lower heel drop can also help runners who have hip and knee pain.


Injury Prevention: Physical therapists are the silent heroes when it comes to helping runners. They not only play a crucial role in getting runners back in the game after an injury, but they are just as important in identifying issues before they even occur. Physical therapists can also help determine overtraining issues and depending on the therapist, they can identify nutritional deficits that can lead to long-term complications.

At Ortho RI, we are here to help you get back to running. Though running is an individual sport, it requires a team effort to keep you healthy. If you have an questions, concerns, or would like to hear more information about how physical therapists can help you, please feel free to reach out to me at I would be more than happy to learn more about your running journey.

Happy running!