Running can be one of the most liberating activities one can participate in. This is especially true with our lives currently so restricted due to the ongoing pandemic, and the subsequent inability to safely participate with activities and gatherings we are normally accustomed. A runner essentially only needs a pair of shoes if she or he is a shod runner, and perhaps nothing if a barefoot runner. Sounds simple, right? Although the external running equipment is simple, the machines that our bodies are must be working appropriately to be able to run step after step without risk of injury. The biomechanics of our body are critical to ensure correct running, in addition to sufficient nutrition, sleep and recovery. Following are some recommendations to work on creating a healthy working musculoskeletal system environment for a runner’s body
Our bodies need time to warm up and cool down appropriately- start with a fast walk or slow jog for 5-10 minutes.
Dynamic stretching: stretches that involve quick movements of the joints and muscles prior to running is recommended to get the blood going and muscles and joints ready to be pulled in multiple ways during running.
Static: stretching each of the muscle groups immediately upon completion of a run, while holding 30 seconds for people up to the age of 65 and 60 seconds for people beyond 65 years old is recommended to avoid increased tension holding in the muscles after the runs are complete
Strength training: including a comprehensive functional strengthening program 2-4 times per week (for runners without an active injury) is recommended to assist increasing a healthy biomechanical environment that will decrease strain being applied to joints, spine, muscles, and ligaments during running.
Core stabilization- provide support to the spine and allow for a stable region above the legs when running.
Cross-training activities- including other forms of cardio workouts such as cycling (indoor or outside), rowing, or the elliptical can allow a runner to use their muscles in different ways to allow some parts of the running fatigue in the muscles to alleviate and to create improved activation in other parts of the muscles by changing the requests being placed on the muscles.
Shoe wear: Wear sneakers appropriate for your foot (i.e. motion control, stability, or cushion); change every 300-500 miles.
Adequate carbohydrates and protein intake is important for sustained and strong running. Although runners do not need to carbohydrate load for a 3 mile jaunt in the neighborhood, runners do need more carbohydrates to support their bodies and activities than those who do not run. Runners also need sufficient protein to help build and repair their muscles from the miles they run. Our bodies break down muscle to fuel on training runs if enough protein is not being consumed. Building and maintaining lean muscle mass is necessary for safe running to avoid breaking it down for fuel.
Taper- research shows less lactic acid is produced during a distance race such as a half marathon or a marathon, if a taper is performed in the weeks leading up to the race day.
Listen to Body: People choose to run for so many different reasons. Many use it as an outlet and that seems to be especially true this past year. Runners like to hit the road, trail, or track, and not think about anything. Clearing the mind is a wonderful experience. One thing to do though, while this is happening is to be observant of what one is feeling in their musculoskeletal system during the run. If pain arises, it is something to acknowledge and try to find the source. In doing so, an acute problem can be addressed quickly and an injury can potentially be averted. If the pain does not subside with self management techniques, it may be time to seek a visit with a physical therapist.
Inconsistency- unless injured or sick, do not miss several runs in a row.
Building Mileage too rapidly- use the 10 percent rule = do not increase your weekly mileage by more than 10%; Please note: the 10 percent rule will not necessarily be the same recommendation if you are coming back from an injury.
Not following the hard-easy concept- long runs, speed-work, hill repeats, and races are hard workouts; do not perform these back-to-back.
Fatigue: Over training can lead to injury. Fatigue is the inability to repeat a certain level of force production; this can result in decreased performance and loss of correct muscle recruitment.
In the trying times we are living through, Cortisol levels are elevated in a majority of us. Cortisol is the stress hormone the body uses in a fight or flight situation. It is not healthy to be elevated on a regular basis. Elevated Cortisol levels can diminish the integrity of our muscle tissue and bones. It can interrupt the correct sleep cycles, which in turn is also another contributing factor to bone loss. Running can help diminish the Cortisol levels, and therefore many of us could benefit from continued safe running.
A physical therapist can assist you in identifying the critical components necessary to identify and address in creating a stable and healthy biomechanical unit for your body with the correct strength, motor control and flexibility for your safe running. Integrative Therapeutics takes an evidenced based approach when assessing and providing runners recommendations.