Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Lessons for the Start of Cross Country Season

Cross country season is nearly upon us.  Unfortunately, for many of the exuberant scholastic runners out there now enjoying the sense of renewal during preseason training camp, the competitive season will end prematurely in September or October due to injury.  Instead of chalking up injuries as inevitable attrition in the sport, we as coaches and athletes must take a proactive approach toward injury prevention.  Here are four lessons I wish I had known during my career as an athlete and during the years when I coached the team at Johns Hopkins.  

1. Assess posture and movement.  Figure out what your runners’ movement patterns are and where the runners are at risk.  We do a great job of assessing fitness through time trials, intervals, and races, but there is much room for improvement in assessing risk factors for injury.  A great assessment tool is the Functional Movement Screen.  The Functional Movement web site includes a listing of certified Functional Movement Screens specialists in your area. If you don’t know how to assess posture and movement, find someone who does!  Which leads me to…

2. Coaches demand their athletes work as a team but they try to do everything themselves!  Most coaches never talk to medical or strength and conditioning until they have injured athletes on their hands. Establish working relationships with these professionals from day one.  If your school does not have an athletic trainer or strength and conditioning coach reach out to a local physical therapist.  Many are endurance athletes themselves and would be glad to help with injury prevention.  

3. Don’t rehab, prehab. Rehab means runners are missing running time. Make sure your runners are using foam rollers for massage and are getting in an ice bath a couple times a week if the facilities are available.

4. Teach runners how to land! Every single stride a runner is landing from being airborne. In cross country runners are landing on unstable surfaces with a pack of other runners around them.  We spend a lot of time working on propulsion and analyze will shoes to death (which are the first thing to contact the ground), but most runners are never coached in landing skills. 

5.  Develop athletes; not runners.  This doesn’t mean train the team as a junior varsity soccer squad, but it does mean we need to develop multiplanar movement skills to facilitate the type of hip and ankle mobility necessary to protect the stability of our runners’ feet, knees, and lower backs.    


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