Running is the most popular type of exercise on the planet. It's cheap, relatively intuitive and you can run just about anywhere. There are a select few who can run a seemingly unlimited number of miles and stay healthy. But what happens to the rest of us when we get injured? A lot of times, our injuries result in having to take time off from training or even worse, give it up all together?
The majority of injuries that occur in runners, especially in American culture, are called overuse injuries. As the name implies, a runner gets injured from overusing their body. This injury could be a break down in the muscles, ligaments, tendons or even the bones! There are two types of people that commonly see overuse injuries. The first type is the runner that is training for performance. These runners typically run very high mileage; around 80, 90, or even more miles per week. The second type consists of runners conditioning for weight loss. While their mile count might not be very high, their increased weight will contribute a higher strain on their body. Both of these runners have one thing in common, however. They have a goal that they want to reach and they can't stand to be away from exercise and possibly lose progress. Their solution is usually to keep pushing through the pain, hoping that the injury fixes itself. Unfortunately, this plan usually falls through and they only worsen their injury.
Although these types of injuries are very common, they don't have to be. Overuse injuries aren't inevitable events that all runners must go through at some point in their life. Here are 4 ways to prevent these injuries and prolong your training all the while improving performance!
Self Myofascial Release
Self myofascial release is a complicated term for “Letting your muscles relax”. It can be done using a lot of different tools, a very popular one among runners being The Stick. A more versatile tool that we use at Force Barbell, and available at the Runners Forum, is a foam roller. It's basically a long cylinder of foam that's rolled over muscles to produce the same effect as The Stick.
When a muscle is unable to relax, it's constantly contracted and tight, which puts a lot of stress on the joints of your body. In runners, a big cause of knee pain is a tight IT band. The IT band is located on the outside of your legs. While it's possible to use The Stick to release the IT band, a foam roller is much easier and more effective. It allows you to use the weight of your body to apply pressure, rather than having to do it yourself or have someone do it for you. This video shows how we have our athletes at Force Barbell foam roll their IT bands with a foam roller (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6UqhqTyEZE).
Another common cause for pain in athletes that can be helped by self myofascial release is called a muscle imbalance. A muscle imbalance is when muscles on one side of a joint are much stronger and/or tighter than the opposite muscle. A common example of this is the knee joint. In the front, we have the quadriceps and in the back, we have the hamstrings. Due to the way we live our lives, always moving forward, sitting in chairs, driving in our cars and things like this, our quadriceps tend to be much tighter and stronger than our hamstrings. This puts an uneven amount of stress on the front of the knee, which predisposes it to overuse injury. Foam rolling the quadriceps will help release the stress on the knee if this muscle imbalance is present, as in this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRyDeMPeBEo)
Self myofascial release is a great place to start when looking to prolong your running life, but it's only the beginning!.
Hydration, the act of consuming water and electrolytes, is especially critical during warm and hot weather days. Hydrating before, during, and after your training is ideal. Before you run, be sure to consume water throughout the day or the evening prior to your training if you train in the morning. During your training activity, plan a route that may lead you by a water fountain in a park. In addition, there are lots of ways you can carry your hydration with you including hydration belts that are worn around the waste and hand held bottles that strap comfortably to your hand for ease of use. Hydration belts are extremely popular and used by many runners and walkers. After your run, be sure to consume electrolytes, protein, carbohydrates, etc. to insure that you recover properly for tomorrows training. It is critical that you practice hydrating immediately after to hit the best window of opportunity for recovery.
At Force Barbell, dynamic mobility exercises are a huge part of how we get people moving well and pain-free... and keep them there! Dynamic mobility sounds like a pretty simple concept; Dynamic”, meaning moving and “Mobility”, meaning the ability to move. The exercises that we prescribe, however, aren't simple toe touches and high knees. We choose these based on the needs of our athletes and where they are lacking mobility and stability. These exercises also promote joint stability. A stable joint is a joint that is at a low risk for not only acute injuries such as rolled ankles and torn ligaments, but also for overuse injuries that are so common in runners.
To illustrate mobility lets look at the shoulder. The shoulder can move your arm pretty much wherever you want it. This is because the shoulder has a high degree of mobility. If we look at the hip, it can't move quite as far as the shoulder, meaning it has less mobility. As a runner, if you have very low hip mobility, your strides are going to be short and choppy. You won't be able to have those long running strides that so many great runners have. These short, choppy steps mean you'll be taking many more steps than you should have to and use more energy. This leads to a decrease in performance and poor running form. This poor running form can also have a detrimental effect on your joint health, leading to injuries and preventing you from training.
A great exercise to use when warming up for a run can be seen in this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMlR5vY58CA). This exercise gradually increases hip mobility and is a great way to start a workout, rather than going straight into your run.
These dynamic mobility exercises not only increase your ability to move joints freely, but also promote joint stability, as I stated earlier. A lot of the exercises that we do engage the core and activate these muscles, as in this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TunGc3Malko). By activating and strengthening the muscles of the core, we allow for better transfer of power between upper and lower body.
A stronger core also helps with running speed and hip stability. The muscles of the core hold the hips in place and make them stable. With stable hips, the muscles of our legs are able to produce the power they are capable of producing, rather than losing power due to unstable and weak hips and core musculature. This core and hip strength and stability translate into more efficient and safer running as well as better performance!
Strengthen the Posterior Chain
As I stated earlier, in our culture we are constantly moving forward, sitting in chairs, at desks and in the car. Because of this, we like to use the front side of our body to do just about any task you can think of, be it running, biking, swimming or lifting weights. Because of this, most of the muscles on the front side of our body (called the anterior chain) tend to be much stronger than most of the muscles on the back side of our body (called the posterior chain).
Remembering what we talked about earlier, we know that muscle imbalances can cause unnecessary stresses in joints and can cause eventual injury. While self myofascial release can help relieve these stresses, it's only part of the puzzle!
What we need to do is strengthen the muscles of the back side, primarily the hamstrings and glutes. Back to the example of the quadriceps and hamstrings, we want there to be a balance of strength around these muscles of the knee. If we always are running and walking using our quadriceps, these muscles are going to be much stronger than their opposites of the posterior chain, the hamstrings and glutes.
A great way to strengthen these muscles can be seen in this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dD9Y91N7b0). This will help balance out the muscles of the knee and hip. This will not only help promote joint stability and balance, but also lead to improved performance by helping you activate the muscles of the back side that are so good at propelling you forward to run.
So there you have it. Four simple ways to prolong your running life. No one likes being injured or taking time off to let their injuries clear up. This replaces precious time and miles that could be put forth towards improving your running and replacing it with sitting at home and losing your progress, only to realize by the time you're healthy again, you're back where you started. Rather than injuries being an inevitable part of your running career, injuries are only something that has to happen if you let it. Take this advice, take care of your body and continue to run longer than you can imagine!
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