With the weather warming up, the outdoors beckon and our thoughts turn to getting active and (hopefully) fit. For many of us, getting in shape is synonymous with running. You don’t need a gym membership–just some decent shoes and gravity. Running is great exercise, but it can be daunting, and even unforgiving, especially if you are just getting started. Running injuries are all too common, but also quite preventable. Progress should be gradual. Be aware of a few things before lacing up those cool new shoes and hitting the pavement.
First things First: If you are not already conditioning your heart, legs, ankles, and feet, start by walking. We are big proponents of walking as exercise: it makes a huge difference between being active and being sedentary. Walking for 45 minutes is great conditioning. Be aware of any pain, tension, soreness, or shortness of breath. These may be signs your body is telling you to take it easy.
Jump before running: Jumping rope introduces a little more impact to your joints, gets your heart pumping, and requires a little coordination. Jumping rope for 3-5 minutes helps the body get ready for the run ahead. As an alternative, jumping in place or using a stairmaster will also prep the body to run. If you are not able to jump, you probably shouldn’t be running!
Add mileage gradually: If you are just beginning running, there is nothing wrong with starting with short distances (< 1mile), and walking in intervals. Trying to cover too much distance too quickly increases the likelihood of injury. Once you achieve your goal of a mile or two, you may add 10% more every two weeks. Yes, it’s OK to push yourself more if you’re “feeling it”–but never to the point of pain.
Uneven surfaces: Uneven surfaces (such as grass) are actually better than flat surfaces because they help condition more of your muscles, activating our proprioceptors (sensory receptors that relay information to the brain about our body’s position). Varying your running surface helps you avoid repetitive injury.
Recovery: After the exertion and repetition of long runs, you need to allow the body to recover. Low impact exercises such as yoga or swimming on your “off” days are great compliments to a running regimen.
Also, pay attention to nutrition and hydration. These help your body rebuild and get ready for the next run.
Train before competing: Whether you are just looking to finish a 5K or heading out to try something even more challenging, give your body enough time to prepare. Training too hard, too fast is proven to increase injury rates. The race itself is not the time to discover whether you a physically up for it. And the simple security of knowing you are up for it will help you enjoy the event and challenge yourself.
Training for competition with exercises that challenge your balance, coordination, and strengthen the hips and core muscles gives your body a strong foundation to mount your best effort!
Runners and walkers: Check out our workshop on ankle health Wednesday, June 1! We’ll talk about how the ankle functions, common injuries, and what you can do to keep this important joint strong, flexible, and healthy.