BY ANNA BOAL, DPT – Physical Therapist at NRPT
The sunny weather has finally arrived! Time to fire up the BBQ, uncover the boat and trade our sweaters for short sleeves. For many of us, that also means finding a way to get back into shape after a few months of “fitness hibernation.” Whether you’re planning to ramp up your running routine so you can finally do that 5K or just finding a way to get fit, there are a few things you should consider.
Although running is a great way to increase your cardiovascular and overall fitness, too much of a good thing is not always a good thing. In fact, about 80% of running injuries are related to overuse or too much stress on the body too quickly.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a first time runner or pulling out last year’s muddy shoes, it can be difficult to know the best way to start a running routine. Here are some tips that may help you prevent injury and improve your performance.
Warm Up and Cool Down Before you start running, walk for 5 minutes. This increases blood flow to your muscles, tendons and joints, and it allows your heart rate to increase gradually. This will help prepare the body for running.
You can also incorporate DYNAMIC STRETCHING into your warm up. This type of stretching uses movement to facilitate blood flow while stretching muscle groups involved with running. You should include stretches for your hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, calves, iliotibial bands, and back. For example, to dynamically stretch your hamstrings keep your back straight and kick one leg out in front of you as you reach toward your toes. Take a step forward and repeat on the opposite leg. Continue this process for 10-20 steps.
After you’ve finished your work out, walk for another 5 minutes. This will allow your body to gradually cool down. After your walk, do some dynamic or STATIC STRETCHING to help maintain your flexibility. Static stretching involves holding one position for a prolonged period of time. For example, to statically stretch your glutes, lie on your back and cross your right foot over the left knee. Lift your left knee toward your chest and grasp behind the left knee to support the leg. You should feel a stretch in your right buttock muscles. Hold for 30 seconds.
Incorporate Cross Training in Your Weekly Workouts Running injuries can be caused by muscle weakness, imbalances or overtraining. Cross training 2-3 days per week by doing activities such as biking or swimming can help to maintain cardiovascular fitness and give your joints a break from the impact of running.
Cross training should also include STRENGTH TRAINING. Building strength in your muscles can help to reduce the likelihood of getting an injury and increase your running speed. Here are some examples of exercises that strengthen key muscle groups for your core, hip, knee and ankle.
- Squat – Begin with feet shoulder width apart. Keep knees pointed straight forward and squat with hips back as if you are going to sit in a chair. You should be able to see your toes the entire time. Return to standing position. Begin with 10-15 repetitions. Increase the number of sets to 2-3 as your strength allows.
- Forward Lunge – Step one leg forward so that both knees are bent at a 90 degree angle. Keep front knee pointed straight forward and hips parallel with the floor. Keep back straight throughout range of motion. Return to standing. Repeat 10 repetitions on each leg. Increase the number of sets to 2-3 as your strength allows.
- Doming – Stand on one leg. If you are having difficulty balancing, hold onto counter top with one hand. Keep toes and heel on the ground and roll ankle slightly as you lift the inside of your foot creating a “dome” under the arch of your foot. Briefly return to resting position. Repeat 10-15 times. Increase to 2-3 sets as your body allows.
- 3-way Touch Down – Balance on one leg keeping hips level. Tap the heel or toe of your free foot on the ground 12 inches in front of you. Return free leg to start position but do not rest it on the floor. Then kick 12 inches out to the side. Return to middle. Kick 12 inches behind you. Return to start position. Repeat 10 times on each leg. Increase to 2-3 sets as your strength allows.
- Side Plank – Lie on side. Press up on arm to lift hips off of floor. Keep your body in a straight line. Hold for 20 seconds. Rest. Repeat on other side. Increase your hold time up to 1 minute or increase the number of 20 second holds to 2-3 on each side.
- Bird Dog – Begin on all fours. Try to draw belly button in toward spine as you kick your left arm and right leg straight out. Maintain a flat spine and avoid pelvic rotation as if you were balancing a hot cup of coffee on the small of your back the entire time. Repeat with right arm and left leg. Alternate sides for a total of 10 repetitions on each side. Repeat 2-3 sets as your body allows.
- Clamshell – Lie on side so your body is in a straight line. Bend knees to about 45 degrees. Raise your top knee toward the ceiling while keeping your feet together. Do not allow your hip to roll back as you raise your knee. Do 15-20 repetitions. Repeat 2-3 sets as your body allows. The following is a great way to get back into running without overdoing it. Remember to perform your WARM UP and COOL DOWN in addition to your training.
Avoid Rapid Increase in Your Training Stresses on our muscles, tendons and bones cause small micro-traumas to the tissues that heal and in turn create stronger tissues. However, this process requires adequate recovery time to allow the tissues to remodel. In other words, if you put too much stress on the body’s tissues without adequate recovery, they begin to break down which may lead to an overuse injury.
Start by running 1 minute. Then walk 1 minute. Repeat run/walk sequence 5 times which will equal 5 minutes running and 5 minutes walking. It may take a week or two for your body to tolerate 10 minutes of walk/running and the number of intervals can be adjusted as needed.
If you do not have any increased pain or excessive fatigue with the previous step, increase the time you are running to 2 minutes and continue to walk 1 minute between each running interval for a total of 14 minutes (10 minutes of running combined with 4 minutes of walking).
As your fitness level improves, begin decreasing your walking time to 30 seconds. Gradually decrease walking time until you are running the full 10 minutes.
Over the next several weeks to months you will be increasing your running mileage. A good rule of thumb to avoid over stressing your body’s tissues is to avoid increasing your mileage greater than 10% per week. For example, if you are running 3 miles, 3 times per week, your next week total mileage should be no more than about 10 miles.
Avoid increasing mileage, speed and incline at the same time. Remember gradual increases in tissue stresses are beneficial but too much could cause injury and even stop you from being able to run.If you’re having pain associated with running, try taking a break from running for a few days. If the pain does not subside or returns whenever you run, ask your doctor about seeing a physical therapist. A physical therapist at Northern Rockies Physical Therapy can perform an evaluation of your posture, strength, flexibility and can watch you run to determine the likely cause of your pain. Based on this evaluation, your physical therapist can give you recommendations for training, treatment (if needed) and exercises to reduce the pain and get you back out there.
Listen to Your Body There is a lot to consider when starting a running routine, but one of the most important things to remember is to listen to your body. Stay hydrated, eat a healthy diet and don’t forget to get plenty of sleep to help your body recover.