Middle school runners get fit to run with RunStrong
It’s a Tuesday night at 5 p.m. and LMH Health West Therapy is starting to fill up with middle school runners from the Lawrence community. Their goal: get fit to run! These area athletes have engaged the expertise of the LMH Health RunStrong team to get stronger and work on their running technique to improve performance, decrease risk for injury, and ultimately enjoy the sport of running.
“This is a great age to start teaching athletes how to move, plus the importance of taking care of their bodies, especially in the seasons between sports,” says Nami Stone, physical therapist and member of the RunStrong program. “This is the second off-season that we have offered this type of training and we were excited to expand the program to include middle school athletes.”
Class sizes are capped at 12 to meet social distancing guidelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, athletes are required to wear a mask for the duration of their training. Stone said that it’s because of the compliance and diligence of each runner to follow these guidelines and clean all equipment between uses that LMH Health has been able to provide this training during such a challenging time.
Abbie Veeder, Addy Tenbrink and Landry Koester perform kettlebell swings
“I wanted Landry to get whole body strengthening, conditioning, and increased body awareness,” said Corey Koester, physical therapist and parent to Landry, a seventh-grader at West Middle School. Landry ran cross country in the fall and plans to run track in the spring. She signed up for the RunStrong training classes after hearing about it from her dad, who works for LMH Health Therapy. “You don’t just need to run to get better at running,” according to Landry.
Classes start with each runner warming up with exercises that they have been taught to complete on their own, followed by a dynamic warm-up as a group led by one of the coaches. The athletes then go through a set of movement skills designed to promote proper mechanics of running. Movement would not be complete without adding plyometric (jump) training to promote power. Lastly, class participants complete a set of strengthening exercises ending with stretching.
Corey has already noticed changes in Landry’s muscle mass and her motivation for exercises. Landry herself has enjoyed learning new exercises and being able to work with kids her own age.
“I like the wide variety of activities, but especially appreciate body-weight activities that don’t require equipment,” Corey said.
In return, the RunStrong team gets the added benefit of getting to know these runners on more than just a physical level.
“It’s been an enjoyable experience to hear more about these athletes’ lives,” says Jacob Loucks, physical therapist and RunStrong team member. “We talk about things like how school is going, what they did for the holidays. It really gives us the opportunity to develop the whole coach-athlete relationship; helping us to better connect with them.”
One of the other aspects has been seeing the athlete’s progress in such a short amount of time. “A lot of these movements are technical, and some of the kiddos really struggled with grasping the movements,” Loucks says. “Now, we can just tell them the sets and reps and they are able to rock through it with appropriate form, which has allowed for the weight to steadily progress.”
Javi Grosko and Brady Johnson perform single-leg squats
Maria Grosko, mother to seventh grade Southwest Middle School runner Javi, is seeing the benefits of the program carry over to other activities Javi is involved in.
“We think this class is good for any kid out there playing any sport,” she said. “It teaches them not just to work out properly, but to listen, follow instructions, work well with others and challenge yourself in a safe way. My son loves it and he’s learning a lot!”
Javi first got excited about the sport after going running with his dad. He ran cross country and “loved it and can’t wait to run track.”
The RunStrong team also can’t wait to cheer on these athletes as they compete for their area high school and middle schools. “It’s an opportunity for us to watch these runners compete and have fun as they grow with what they have learned in our programs,” says Stone, who is also the mother to local high school and middle school runners and plans to be in attendance wherever fans are allowed.
RunStrong training classes for both high school and middle school runners will continue through February, then resume in June after the athletes have completed their track seasons. When asked if he would recommend the class to friends, Javi says, “It is hard but it will help (you) get stronger and make (you) a better runner. I for sure recommend this class to a friend.”
Story by Nami Stone
Nami Stone is a physical therapist with LMH Health Therapy Services.