As the snow melts and we catch a glimpse of spring around the corner (hopefully), it’s time to get serious about our health goals. Whether it’s a 5k, a marathon, or just shedding some winter weight, running can be a great way to get and stay in shape and feel good about yourself. Unfortunately, running can also be tough on your body, especially for a beginner. From rolled ankles to shin splints, the injuries can pile up and sideline us from the sport. We’ll go over some tips to keep you healthy and on pace to reach your health goals.
Avoid the Terrible Too’s of Training: Too Much, Too Hard, Too Fast
When runners first begin to see results and progress, it’s only natural to push the envelope. While this is a great way to challenge your mind and body, it is essential to understand that your body has thresholds. Exceeding these thresholds or not allowing for proper recovery is the quickest way to develop injuries.
New runners will want to keep a log to track both your daily and weekly mileage. There are apps and devices out there like Map My Run or Fitbit step counters that can help. Begin slow and steady; this is a marathon, not a sprint (pun intended).
The running community typically abides by The Rule of 10% – do not increase your mileage by more than 10% per week. This rule means if last week you ran 10 miles, don’t attempt to run more than 11 miles this week. While you may be able to handle the extra mileage mentally, the rule of 10 establishes guidelines so that your tissues a chance to accommodate the additional physical stresses. Adding on too much distance too quickly will very likely result as an injury.
Where to begin? There are some excellent Couch to 5k programs out there, which are geared to introduce running to someone who is just starting slowly. Be reasonable with your goals and training. If you haven’t run in years, don’t expect to be competing in a marathon within a few months. The body needs time to accommodate to the stress you’re putting on it. Gradually increase your mileage while allowing adequate rest between.
No Pain, No Gain?
Most runners understand that there is some physical (and mental) pain that comes with the sport. Soreness in the legs or feet after a long run can =be expected, but significant levels of pain while running should be an immediate red flag to take a break. While “pushing through the pain” may be tempting, a severe injury may be waiting for you down the road. That knee pain may progress into more severe and longer-lasting knee pain, or even hip or foot pain. Listen to your body.
Remember to give your body time to heal. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a training outline that recommends long run after long run. A typical schedule will have several short routes building up to a long run at the end of the week. That week is then followed up by a few shorter runs before repeating with another long run. This regimen is a purposeful design to prevent severe injuries from incurring.
Cadence – Stride Length
New runners may not focus on anything more than putting one foot in front of the other. But as your running career lengthens, you may begin to notice pains in the shins or recurring injuries to other parts of the body. New research suggests that the longer your stride length, the more impact your legs absorb from the ground. This increase in forces will create micro traumas that can eventually build up to more significant injuries. The solution? Shorten your stride and increase your steps.
Current recommendations suggest that runners should land on the forefoot (the prominent area of your foot just before your toes) or midfoot. This landing pattern will naturally cause you to take shorter, quicker steps, instead of long strides that pull your body forward. The shorter steps will exert less energy while propelling the runner forward. We understand everyone is different, and there is a wide variety of strides, but studies suggest a pace of about 180 steps/minute is ideal.
Current running research flies in the face of the conventional way many of us learned how to run. “Heel striking” or landing on the hindfoot, is a relatively new running approach (new as in compared to the timeline of humankind). While this form of impact is natural while walking, it can be troublesome for a runner. Our foot has evolved to form a powerful arch that spans across the bottom of the foot. That dome is unique in that it absorbs the majority of impact while running (think of the shocks in your car’s suspension). However, heel striking doesn’t allow this tissue to absorb the shock, and instead transmits the forces further up the kinetic chain (i/e the knee or hip). “Running shoes” reinforce this idea by making taller and more cushioned heel pads.
To further emphasize the point of how we should run, think about being barefoot as a child in the backyard. If you needed to walk across the yard casually, heel striking is a natural gait we’d select. However, if you were required to sprint across the yard to tag a friend, we’d change our mechanics to landing on the forefoot or toes. This change allows quicker acceleration, a faster pace, all the while limiting the for forceful impact through the ankles, knees, and hips.
- Stay hydrated! This tip may sound like a no-brainer, but your body requires even more water when you’re training regularly.
- Fuel your body with nutrients. Regular running can burn a significant number of calories. Make sure you’re replacing this energy with a diet of healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, and protein to aid in your recovery.
- Don’t waste energy. Pay attention to your hands and arms when running. Some of us may unknowingly clench our fists while running. Closed fist running is wasting energy and blood flow to parts of the body that could use it during a run. Instead, keep your hands loose and slightly open. The analogy I’ve always heard is to pretend as if you’re holding two small birds in your palms.
- Cross-train. Diversity in your workout plan is a primary key to avoiding injury and burnout. Running every single day allows your body to reinforce the movement of running, but nothing else. The rhythmic swinging of your arms and legs can create chronically tight muscles in the body. Instead, incorporate different movements on your off days. Try activities like swimming, weight training, yoga, etc.
- Don’t forget to REST. As we discussed earlier, not biting off too much mileage too quickly is vital to avoiding injury. But also allow these muscles that you’ve been aggressively training the opportunity to heal.
- Bounce back from the injury bug. Our next blog will dive into a little bit more of the specific injuries that runners can face and things to do to avoid them.
- Get an expert’s opinion. If you’ve followed the above directions but a nagging pain is limiting you from reaching your potential, set up an appointment with our office so that we can help you out. We specialize in analyzing and correcting the body’s biomechanics.
- **Most Importantly** – Have Fun! Running is a journey, not a destination. There is no endpoint, but instead a rewarding path of learning about your body and mind. The release of endorphins (‘feel-good’ hormone) during running is like nothing else. What may have began as a New Year’s Resolution may evolve into the highlight of your day.