While reading the New York Times this past week I was drawn to this column talking about how runners slow with age, and how strength training may help restore speed as we age, based on a new study published last month in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.
In approaching age 40, runners begin to lose activation and power in the muscles of their ankles, their stride becomes shorter. This change accelerates past age 50.
When running, and for everyday mobility, everything starts with the ankle as the ankle is the base of the body.
The lead author of this study suggests that to maintain more of our speed as the years pass, we should consider strengthening our calf and ankle flexor muscles.
Through strength training.
With distance runners and indeed among us all as we age, changes we experience in the ankle flexor muscles are due to a decrease in endurance, rather than solely a lack of strength.
Understanding this difference — the need for improved muscle endurance beyond strength alone — offers a better understanding of the onset of conditions elsewhere in your body with this similar category of muscles, such as your back, as well as assisting the runners of our world.
What exactly is the muscle category of which I speak?
Muscles of your foot and the soleus muscles in your ankle are of a specialized type labeled Bracing Muscles.
Bracing muscles are unique in the way our bodies use them, rely on them and, as we age or are injured, compensate for them as they become weak and lose the ability to provide us their bracing, stabilizing function within our bodies.
As the label implies, bracing muscles brace high-performance parts of our bodies to provide stability by not moving when another muscle type, Action Muscles, move around them. Bracing muscles are designed to provide our bodies stability all day; they must possess the endurance to function throughout the length of our day.
This bracing stability is so important that when bracing muscles are not performing at their peak, our bodies make drastic changes attempting to maintain this stability:
Our action muscles compensate for them, our joints tighten to compensate for them, our movement and gait changes to adjust for them.
These drastic changes create even more problems within our bodies. Over time the arch changes, the heel cord tightens and our gait becomes even worse. Perceived solutions such as arch supports, new shoes and stretching before runs spiral into a constant losing battle. Eventually the aging runner suffers knee and hip arthritis, a direct result of the loss of bracing function through the ankle and foot.