Do your quads feel sore after a long or fast run? If so, you’re not alone. It’s not a great feeling to have on a regular basis, and if it goes too far it can affect your knees or low back or even heels, compromising your running.
Sore quads after a hilly run are reasonable, but if yours are regularly sore even when you run on level ground, it’s a sign something needs to change.
Here’s why: the main work your muscles do in running is not, as you might think, propelling you forward. The elastic structures of your body — connective tissue and even bone — actually play a large role in propulsion, storing energy when you land and releasing it again to move you forward.
Instead, your muscles work hardest when the downward force is the greatest, when you’re right over one foot (in midstance), to keep you from crumpling to the ground.
So which muscles get the sorest indicate which are working the most at that moment.
Sore quads indicate that the quads are having to work very hard to keep you from sitting on the ground, just like when you feel your quads working in a squat.
That means your pelvis is behind your foot, in a sitting position, in midstance.
With your body weight that far back, when the elastic energy stored by your landing begins to be released a moment later, you don’t get pushed forward as efficiently as you should. This usually means you’ll bounce up and down too much, and that your legs will reach too far out in front of you, overstriding excessively and creating a harmful braking force at your next footstrike.
All this happening tends to stress the plantar fascia, knees, and low back and can cause pain as you struggle to handle it.
The good news here is that you can use your tendency to have quad soreness as an early warning sign to take action on your running form before pain or injury crop up.
What kind of action to take is a whole other question, and there are a few pitfalls to be wary of. Learn what to avoid here, then we’ll move on to solutions that work!
You may recall I wrote about IT band syndrome last week. By great coincidence my interview with Kari Gormley on The Running Lifestyle podcast was released just a few days later, and in it we talked about Kari’s IT band problems among other things. It was a fun interview for me and covered a lot of ground, so if you’d like a flyover of some of the key elements of running technique — especially the ones no one else is talking about — you can find the episode here.
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Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.