Spring is finally upon us and what better time to start taking your fitness outside. For many of us, this will most likely include some participation in running. And why not when you consider the many benefits?
- Increased cardiovascular endurance.
- More muscle definition.
- Increased metabolism.
- Improved leg strength and endurance.
- Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Enjoyment of the great outdoors.
While the benefits of a running program are great, there are always risks of injury. Common injuries include knee pain, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, low back pain and even stress fractures. This is mostly due to the repetitive nature of the sport. The average runner takes 2,000 steps per mile with loads as high as three times his or her body weight per step! With that said, taking extra time to prep your body and training smart are essential for running pain-free.
TIP 1: SELF-MYOFASCIAL RELEASE (SMR)
The repetitive nature of running often can lead to muscle tightness, adhesion buildup and altered joint mechanics. An effective method for managing these effects is self-myofascial release (SMR). SMR can feel like a deep-tissue massage and, like massage therapy, has numerous benefits such as improved flexibility, fewer muscle knots/adhesions and improved joint mechanics, to name a few. SMR is usually facilitated with the use of a bio-foam roller. SMR is highly recommended before a run and can be implemented as part of your cool-down as well.
Guidelines for SMR
- Begin by applying the desired muscle onto the foam roller.
- Slowly begin rolling along the muscle. Once you roll over a tight area, stop and rest on the "hot spot" for 2030 seconds. You should experience a decrease in discomfort or feel the muscle release.
- Continue farther along the muscle until you find the next hot spot. This usually doesn't take long for the first-time user.
- Hold only to the point of tolerance; you should not experience sharp pain. Slight discomfort is what you are shooting for, similar to a deep-tissue massage. Many manufacturers offer foam rollers with different densities depending on your pain threshold.
- Remember to breathe, maintain good posture and engage your core muscles.
- Repeat 13 times per side.
Where to apply SMR
IT band: Lie on your right side, supported by your right elbow; keep your head in neutral and ears aligned with your shoulders. Place the roller under your right thigh and place your left leg over and in front of the right leg. Roll just below the hip joint down to the lateral thigh to the knee.
Piriformis/glutes: Sit on the full roller and cross your right ankle over your left knee. Roll on the right hip area while pulling the right knee toward the opposite shoulder to increase the stretch. To massage the glutes, sit on the roller with your feet and hands in front. Push the roller backward with your buttocks.
Quadriceps: Lie on your belly with the foam roller above your knees and elbows bent with forearms touching the floor. Pull the abdominals in and tighten your glutes to help prevent the back from sagging. Roll from your pelvic bone to the knee emphasizing the front.
Calves: Position the foam roller just above your Achilles tendon while taking one leg on top of the other. Slowly roll upward along your calf. Focus on rolling the outer, middle and inner portion of the calf muscle.
TIP 2: CORE AND STABILIZER EXERCISES
Activating your core and stabilizer muscles is key to preventing overuse injuries associated with running. Doing so will lead to better load absorption throughout your body and minimize stress on the joints during your run. Implement 1-2 sets of the following exercises before your run.
Halo V-Sit: Sit upright while holding a 3- to 5-lb. medicine ball or dumbbell at your chest. Recline a few inches while maintaining good posture by supporting your body weight on your sitting bones while keeping your chest out and abdominals contracted. Slowly rotate the medicine ball around your head as if you were drawing a halo around your head. Continue holding an upright posture and repeat for 10-15 repetitions. Rest and repeat the halo in the opposite direction.
Prone Cobra: Lie face down on a mat with your arms at your sides and palms facing down. Slowly raise your chest and arms off the mat, rolling your shoulders back and pinching your shoulder blades together. Hold the position for a count of 2 to 4, then slowly lower your body back down to the mat. Do 1520 repetitions.
Lateral Tubewalking: Place an exercuff around your legs just above the ankles. Stand slightly outside a hip-width stance with your knees slightly bent and toes pointing straight ahead. Take a sideways step with your right leg so you are stretching the band. Keep your feet pointed straight and pick up your left leg. Slowly move it toward your right leg until your legs are back to the hip-width stance. Repeat this move for 15-20 repetitions before switching directions.
Foot Taps: Place your right foot on a step. Keep your heel planted and raise the ball of your foot off the step and tap down. Repeat for a total of 50 taps before switching feet.
TIP 3: STRETCH AFTER YOUR RUN
I know this one seems obvious, but it is still the most neglected part of any training regimen. Taking the time to stretch after a run will help alleviate muscle tension, prevent the development of muscle imbalances and help to restore the natural length of your muscle. Do the following stretches:
Hamstrings: Lie on your back. Place your hands behind your left knee and pull your leg in toward your chest. Slowly straighten your left leg until you feel a stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.
Calves: Stand near a wall or sturdy object. Bring your left leg forward for support and use your upper body to lean against the wall. Keep your right leg behind you with your foot straight ahead and heel on the ground. Shift your weight forward toward your front leg until a stretch is felt in your right calf. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.
Hip Flexor: Start in a kneeling split-stance position with your right leg forward and left leg back. Place your hands on your right thigh and slowly shift your weight forward until you feel a stretch in your left hip flexor. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.
Hip and Back Stretch: Lie on your back. Lift your left leg straight up and place your right hand on the outside of your knee. Using your arm, cross your left leg over the right side of your body toward the ground while keeping your left arm on the ground reaching away from you. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.
BONUS TIP: FIND THE RIGHT PAIR OF SHOES
Don't overlook the importance of shoes. Of course there are many different schools of thought when it comes to running shoes. The old rule of thumb is wearing running shoes that provide a lot of support. However, some research suggests that less support may actually result in fewer injuries. The bottom line? Everyone is different and you should find a pair of shoes that is right for you! There are many running specialty stores in the Treasure Valley that will analyze your gait and determine which pair is right for you. Check out any of these great locations:
Jason Wanlass, the owner of Champion Fitness Training in Meridian, has more than 15 years experience in the fitness industry. Contact him at email@example.com or www.championfit.net.