Run Stronger and Healthier Without Injuries: SPARK Blueprint!

Would you like to remain active, get stronger and heal from injuries without being told that you have to stop running? In this blog article, we will lay out the foundational principles that I like to call the “SPARK Blueprint”, which will bring your running to a new level as we head into the new decade! Do you have big goals for 2020? Maybe you’re just starting out or you’ve been running and you’re striving for a new PR!






Are you a runner who’s been frustrated in the past? That either whenever you try to increase your speed or increase your distance or even just start running consistently, you get injured and you get frustrated and you’re not able to run?


Do you feel like your body is getting too old for running?




We’re going to share our blueprint that’s going to allow you to remain active and achieve those new 2020 goals! We’re going to go over 5 TIPS to help you develop that healthy lifestyle for yourself so you can continue doing what you love – running!


We’ve talked about these principles before, but we’ve got it packaged in a way that we haven’t done before! This is going to set the foundation for your running goals and then we’re going get more in depth over the next few weeks! We’re going to take each of these topics, each of these tips and break them down piece by piece, and really get in depth into actionable solutions to your problems that you have as a runner.


Talking about those new goals – some people have health goals which is amazing. Focused on getting healthy which is awesome. At SPARK, we love that some people are taking up running for the first time as part of their new year goals. Keeping this in mind, I want to share with you the thing I’ve learned over the years… you don’t want to run to train, but you need to train in order to run.



So, what do I mean by that? These five principles, these five tips that we’re going to be covering need to be performed if you want to remain active. If you want to run that first half marathon in the spring, if you want to run that 1st 26. 2 next fall, you have to follow these tips. Maybe you’re wondering why? Well these principles I’m going be talking to about are very important because I’ve seen many runners in the past train and they’re only running instead of doing other exercises to actually train themselves and then they get injured. So, we’re going to talk about training in order to actually run.


Our tips are going to follow the SPARK method! Spark is five letters so each letter is going to be a tip (see what we did there?)

Okay, here we go!






“S” is going to stand for something that I find is lacking in a lot of runners training, and that is strengthening. As a runner, you need to strengthen your body, your leg muscles, and specifically the muscles you use when you run. When you run, you activate certain muscles that are contracting and enabling you to actually get down the street. There are five specific muscles you want to make sure you’re targeting in your training: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, pirifomis, quadriceps, and the calf muscles.  Let’s go from top to bottom to really help explain this.


Glute strengthening exercise


Starting up top at the hip, we’re going to talk about the glutes. The glute max one of your biggest and most powerful muscles. You need to be working your glutes as a runner. Muscle number two- the gluteus medius. This is your side hip muscle which is super important for you as a runner because those muscles stabilize your pelvis every time you are running on one leg. Next your hip external rotators are muscles deep in your butt area. The piriformis is the biggest hip rotator muscle. This muscle controls your leg going in or out, and therefore controls over-pronation. Next, you have your front thigh muscle, your quadricep muscle. Another important one to strengthen. Then we have our calf muscle. The endurance of the calf muscles are especially important.

So, that is tip number one…to add in strengthening exercises for your running muscles.




What are plyometrics? “Plyometrics” means jump training. Let’s think about when you run. Every step you take as a runner, when your foot lands on the ground, it springs back up. There’s a muscle contraction that kind of slows your foot down, and then it hits the ground and then springs back up. That is an eccentric contraction and then it changes your muscle contraction to a concentric contraction. That’s what we call a plyometric activity! An eccentric contraction to a concentric contraction!


Running in of itself is plyometric in nature. Your foot’s landing and it’s leaving the ground repetitively over and over again, so this is a plyometric activity.



You need to train your muscles, pl0ymetrically, which means you need to add jump training into your training. You can’t just go out there and expect to run, right? You need to actually train those muscles with different plyometric exercises. By doing so, you’ll be able to land, hit the ground and spring back up efficiently so you don’t have all the forces of your body smashing down into the ground, and then transmitted up through your joints. Plyometric training allows you to spring right back up!



This is an area that’s probably most overlooked! Out of all the runners that I do help, not a lot of people are doing jump training at all, so it kind of makes sense, right? Think about Lebron James. Do you think he just goes out there and plays games, or do you think he actually practices doing free throws in practice? He’s going to practice the specific things he’s going to do in the game. For us as adults runners – we are running, right? That’s our game. So, we need to practice and train our muscles in that specific fashion in order to do that activity, just as Lebron James does.


If you’re curious about my level 1 jump training exercises for runners click HERE!




ANOTHER common thing that I find is not included in a lot of runner’s training is adding in single leg exercises. Every time you run as a runner, you’re always on one leg.



When you’re running, you never, ever have two legs on the ground. At the same time, you’re always on one leg, which means your muscles are contracting with you standing on one. So, wouldn’t it make sense to train those muscles to be efficient and condition those muscles on one leg? Exercises such as single leg squats, lunges, step downs – where you’re standing on one leg are going to be super beneficial and actually train those running specific muscles that you need for your one leg stance.


Let’s say you’re doing strength training. Are you a person who’s just doing the machines in the gym? You know who you are… you do the hip abductor and adductor machines for the inner and outer thighs – or you sit in the machine and kick your leg up for your quad strengthening and sit in the machine next to it in the gym and curl your legs down… Is that how you want to be training to run?


Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with doing isolation exercises, but in order to translate that muscle conditioning and strengthening that we’re looking to get, as in tip number one, we need to do it in a matter that’s consistent with the activity. As we’re performing running, we’re standing on one leg, which means we should train our muscles on one leg.


To see an example of a great strengthening exercise targeting multiple muscles covered in tip #1, watch the YouTube video below taken straight from the SPARK runner playlist @sparkyourtraining





Principle four is going to focus on routine self-mobility care or soft tissue care. What I mean by this is that when you’re running, you’re using your muscles over and over again. Taking thousands of steps. You’re using those muscles repetitively… What happens if you constantly use your muscles and never stretch?  Click the video below to hear the in depth live training I did on this topic.





Most of us are familiar with the concept of stretching. Don’t feel terrible or bad if you haven’t been stretching as much as you should be because stretching is only one component of your training program.


I find that it’s often over utilized, and hence why this was not the first principle that I covered and strengthening was!  Strengthening is actually more important to keep you healthy as a runner but stretching is taking care of those soft tissues that allow you run. What happens if you continually contract them and never treat the soft tissue, then your muscles are going to get tighter and your muscle length is going to decrease, which could create problems down the road. For example, your calf muscle gets super tight because you’re using your calves a lot, right? You’re contracting them over and over again and eventually they have a tendency to get tight… Are you that person who’s gotten cramps in your calves, charley horses? Been there, done that. One of those moments where your calf just locks up and you’re seized up and you’re like, what do I DO?!



At this point, you want to do some self -mobility works of soft tissue care! Some things that you can do for yourself include foam rolling or using a lacrosse ball or tennis ball on the specific muscles that are tightening up.


We can do so certain things, such as dry needling to relax the muscle. We can also do what we call instrument assisted soft tissue massage – where we can use stainless steel instruments that loosen up some of those muscles to improve some of their muscle length.


You can click the following links below to learn how to foam roll your running muscles with self mobility exercises!


CLICK HERE for Hamstrings!




CLICK HERE for Piriformis!




Keep consistent with your running and train smart with proper training progression. Perhaps you made some resolutions or you set some goals for the new year. Now I really want to talk about being consistent, which is key and honestly can be applied to anything you want to crush in life!


Being consistent is going to be key. Then the more important thing is to train smart with proper training progression. We will dive down deeper into this topic in a future blog post.


It’s really about training smart, being consistent and not adding in all variables at once, such as increasing your distance or increasing speed work, or adding hill training at the same time because that is a recipe for disaster.


And that is a recipe for you getting injured. Almost all of the running related injuries that I see, usually relate to one of those training errors that puts them in that situation.


There could be some underlying flexibility or strength issues. They might have a weak hip because hip surgery at some point or maybe they had knee surgery and their quads never really got back to how they were pre-surgery. So, maybe there’s some muscle imbalances that can play a role in getting hurt. But, it’s the training error that really brings out those muscle imbalances. Staying consistent and training the proper way will prevent the likelihood of these injuries!


Those are five tips!


We’ve got our five principles. This is going to set the stage for you being active, healthy, hitting those 2020 running goals.


You need to train with strengthening exercises. You’re going to be training specific muscles we talked about and then we need to train adding in plyometric or jump training.


Then we want to add single leg exercises into our training. Fourth point is, we need to do some routine self- mobility care or soft tissue care.


So, it’s foam rolling, some lacrosse ball stretching, maybe some active dynamic stretching before your runs; then static, long duration stretching after your runs! Then our fifth and final point is to be consistent, keep being consistent and train smart.




Before we finish up, we have a big announcement. I’m happy to announce the “Healthy Runner Podcast” coming to you available in the iTunes store. We’ll be dropping the podcast because I don’t know about you guys, but I love listening to a podcast during my long runs or my easy runs, either way, it just helps take my mind off the running. I like to learn a lot of information. I’ve learned a ton from podcasts, so I want to be able to help other runners be able to listen during their runs! Keep an eye out for the podcast launch in 2020!




We hope the SPARK Blueprint and those five tips will help you start off and continue into 2020 with the best version of yourself!



The SPARK Physical Therapy Commitment


No long waits or multiple trips to providers’ offices every week. We see you either onsite in a gym setting when it is convenient with your schedule (either before or after work).


One on one for a full hour with your doctor of physical therapy, every visit. We provide you with a customized plan specifically designed for you, based off your unique injury and goals.


Full transparency in what you pay. You will never get a bill from us a couple of months after your visit.


Access and availability to you! Have a question about your pain or exercise program? Get an answer from your therapist directly.




If you’re in the greater Hamden, CT area and are a runner that has been dealing with injuries we can help. We’d love to chat for a few minutes and see if you are a good fit for what we do. Fill in this CONTACT REQUEST LINK  and we’ll set up a free 20-minute phone consultation with a doctor of physical therapy.


Thank you for taking the time to read,



– Duane Scotti, PT, DPT, PhD, OCS


A special thanks goes out to Allie Eldridge, SPT for her contributions to this article

Allie and Duane


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“I struggled to get back into running after being diagnosed with Osteoarthritis in my left knee. A friend of mine suggested I check out the Healthy Runner podcast and I’m glad I did! I was lucky to grab a spot in the Healthy Runner Coaching Program and I have gained so much from miles away. I’ve gained tools to be a lifelong runner through the run and strength plan. I’m constantly gaining more mobility and look forward to my future of running. Duane is a great coach that gives you personalized assistance and helps you understand any questions you have! I’m definitely getting my spark back!”


Theresa L.

Theresa L.

Working with Duane has been a game-changer for my running. I’ve been in an endless cycle of injuries for the past five years and needed to make a change.

I connected with Duane through his Healthy Runner Facebook group, and then we began our virtual physical therapy visits. Virtual sessions work great for me because I’m constantly traveling and can access care wherever I reside. Even though I’m not in the clinic, I still receive the same quality of experience!

The best part is Duane is a physical therapist, runner, and coach, so he understands how important running is for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being! If you want to become a stronger, healthier, and faster runner, look no further!

Jenn H.

In April, I was diagnosed with proximal hamstring tendinopathy, or PHT. If you haven’t heard of it or experienced it, let me tell you…it’s a real pain in the BUTT! Not only did it derail my training (I’m a runner/cyclist), simply sitting for more than 10 minutes at a time was unbearable. There’s very little research out there on this injury and finding credible information on how to effectively treat was difficult. The initial advice I got from my ortho was to stop running, rest, and stretch. This did absolutely nothing to improve my symptoms or help me get back to running. In fact, stretching made it worse! I also tried massage, dry needling, shockwave therapy…nada. In September, I stumbled on a podcast with Duane where he spoke in depth about his own experience with PHT and how he beat it, and how he helped others overcome this stubborn injury. I was also intrigued by his philosophy of not having to give up the sport you love while recovering from injury. I contacted Duane for a consult and have been working with him on a customized, structured program focused on progressive loading of the hamstring tendon and supporting muscles WITHOUT giving up running! Gradually, my pain began to lessen and my strength has continued to increase. I am now running four days a week and am closer than at any point in the past 8 months to putting this injury in the rearview mirror for good. I’m looking forward to getting back to structured training and racing again in 2021…an unimaginable goal two months ago. Duane is awesome! His techniques and approach to injury rehab and prevention work. If you’re an athlete who has struggled with injuries that constantly disrupt your training, Duane is your guy!

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