The constant impact from running puts stress on the knees and back, which over time can lead to injury and chronic pain. However, most running injuries stem from improper training that is easily avoided with a few preventative measures. Follow these simple techniques to help reduce the strain on your body and enjoy safe and pain-free runs.
One of the most important measures for avoiding pain and injury is to practice a thorough warm up prior to running. Build up gradually, by starting with a three to five minute walk, followed by a five-minute run-walk. Easing into speed increases the temperature of and blood flow to the muscles most needed for running.
Dynamic stretching, stretching that utilizes momentum rather than standing still, also helps to prepare the muscles, and is a smart addition to your warm up. This active form of stretching enhances range of motion, loosens up muscles, and increases heart rate, body temperature and blood flow to help you run more safely and efficiently. Some examples of dynamic stretches are arm swings, lunges with a twist, high kicks, etc.
Running with proper form is necessary for protecting against injury and enhancing your performance. Improper posture usually occurs when runners assume an unnatural position, such as leaning too far forwards or backwards, or twisting from side to side, which can lead to neck, back and hip pain. It is best to run tall, with the head up and balanced over the shoulders over the hips, which keeps the spine in alignment.
If possible, try to run on a surface that reduces the amount of pressure at foot-ground contact, such as a rubber track, instead of cement. Running on harder surfaces increases the impact of when the foot hits the ground, which places additional stress on the ankles, knees and back. However, when it comes to injury, researchers currently believe no single surface provides the safest workout. The best bet for avoiding injury is to incorporate a variety of surfaces, including grass, dirt, asphalt and rubber tracks.
Intersperse your effort levels, by following a challenging run with a lighter, less rigorous workout at the gym. Doing too many intense workouts in a row slows down recovery and increases the risk of injury.
On your gentler workout days, supplement running with strength training, which helps strengthen muscles and joints. Focus on exercises that target the shoulders, back, hamstrings and core, as these areas’ key muscles support balance and stability when running. A few examples to try are planks, lateral step-ups, push-ups and lateral lunges.
Integrating running into other types of workouts helps to avoid overuse injuries, such as Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, stress fractures and muscle tears. Try weaving running into another physical activity, such as turning your 40-minute bike ride into 15 minutes of cycling, followed by 10 minutes of running and 15 additional minutes on the bike. Cross training will also help your speed and mileage, as our bodies are made to come back stronger after small amounts of change.
Make sure to wear comfortable and supportive shoes that are designed for your foot type. A footwear specialist at your local running store can help you determine what kind of shoes your individual biomechanics require. It is also crucial to replace your running shoes frequently, as their ability to absorb shock will decline and eventually become inadequate over time. Running shoes should be replaced every 300-500 miles.
It is important to stretch post-run to insure that the muscles and tendons do not tighten up, and that soreness does not turn into an injury. Once you have completed your run, gently stretch your major leg muscles through slow, static stretches, such as a kneeling hip flexor and hamstring stretch, a standing quad stretch, etc. Breathe deeply and hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds.
Most importantly, always pay attention to their signs that your body is giving you. If you are ever in pain, stop running to tend to the problem. If the pain persists over time, make sure to consult a health care professional.
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