As spring brings us warmer, drier weather, there is more daylight and motivation to begin running, increase mileage or maybe even train for a race. Three fundamentals for preventing running injuries and improving running performance are dynamic warmups, strength training and proper recovery.
The research surrounding warming up for sport has grown significantly over the past 20 years. As physical therapists, we often see patients who grew up with the old standbys of stretching the hamstrings, calves and quadriceps for 30-60 seconds and have continued that into their 40s as their running “warm up,” along with “5-10 minutes walking or easy jogging.” What we have found, however, is those long stretches, known as static stretching, prior to higher intensity exercise can actually put us at more of a risk for injury. Alternatively, performing a dynamic warmup prior to running helps prepare our joints and muscles for activity and has been shown to prevent injury.
Part two of a complete training program is strength training. Strength training includes resistance activities such as working out with bands, weights, or body weight strengthening. Whatever you enjoy, incorporate resistance training 2-3 times per week to improve your overall fitness, muscular endurance and posture while running.
Contrary to popular belief, running on its own is not enough to keep your legs strong. Consequently, we see many runners plagued by various injuries that can actually be prevented by adding a few functional hip strengthening and coordination activities to their running training. Our hip musculature provides stability throughout our pelvis which creates a solid base for our low back and prevents “hip drop” when running. Our hips also help transfer force and provide knee stability when landing on one leg and, of course, as the largest muscle group in our body, they contribute a lot of power to our running.
The problem for most people, including even some experienced runners, is favoring the use of quadriceps or hip flexors while running instead of tapping into the powerful glutes. One muscle in particular that can be hard to “wake up” is the gluteus medius muscle which specifically stabilizes the pelvis during the single leg portion of walking or running gait. There are plenty of exercises to target this outer hip muscle with the most common being the “clamshell.” While I love this exercise to isolate a weak gluteus medius (my husband jokes that it is usually my answer to most, if not all, of his physical ailments), there are many more challenging variations and hip stability exercises to add to your routine.
3 moves to strengthen your hips and glutes
Adding these activities (20-30 reps) 2-3 times per week may help prevent running injuries, can make you a stronger runner and will make your routine a little spicier. But don’t forget, any strengthening is better than zero strengthening so, if nothing else, keep doing your clamshells.
When starting any new exercise routine, the first few weeks are sometimes the hardest as your body is experiencing new stresses. While this stress can cause delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), it is also what helps muscles grow and adapt. Until muscles become more accustomed to the different motions we are adding, or to increased running pace, incorporating recovery activities may help avoid the day-after workout soreness.
After your workouts is also a great time to get that foam roller out; just 1-2 minutes foam rolling on the front and back of the legs can do wonders for mobilizing the tissues and promoting blood flow. This will help to combat stiffness and lactic acid build up and prep your muscles for your next workout.
Making time for post-workout stretching can be hard to do for many people but, again, taking 5 minutes off your run to include this in your cool-down time is great for injury prevention and to keep you going. Other common conditions runners face include heel pain and shin splints, both of which your physical therapist can help you understand, treat, and prevent in the future as you continue pursuing your running dreams.
Whether you are hitting the trails for the first time or finally tackling that race you’ve been training for, hopefully these tips will help you become a better runner and athlete!
Are you ready for running season?
If you have any questions, have pain preventing you from enjoying your running, or you are interested in more personal and specific programs, your local Therapeutic Associates Physical Therapy expert can help. Our passion is to help every patient reach their goals on their journey to recovery and optimal performance.