With the sun making a return and the London Marathon in just over a month, the City will soon be seeing more and more people out running. It’s a form of exercise most of us can do without needing to pay for a gym membership or forking out for fancy equipment. All you need is a decent pair of shoes and some lightweight clothes and you’re good to go.
But it’s this very simplicity that makes people set themselves up for future problems. Rather than gently ease themselves into a routine, people throw themselves into running, introducing the body to a new stress that it’s not conditioned to handle. Every year, like clockwork, I meet people suffering from the same symptoms: plantar fasciitis, hamstring problems, knee injuries.
There are, however, a number of strategies we can introduce that will help, and which will also improve your performance, and even aid in the recovery from any existing injuries.
How many people really warm up prior to a run? We just tend to jog a little slower before we get going. Someone recently said to me, “Lions don’t warm up before they hunt”. Fair point, but neither do lions spend all day sitting at a computer, nor do they lie awake at night stressing about their next big presentation.
A warm up routine that includes activation, mobility and dynamic stretches is the best way to prepare for a big run, and it could even benefit many of us if we did one during the day to break up periods of physical inactivity. At No1 we encourage all of our clients to run through a quick warm-up covering these three areas before exercise. It raises your heart rate, helps prep your nervous system, activates your muscles and increases blood flow and hydration to the tissues around the joints, which helps to alleviate the stress of impact.
For runners there should be a big focus on activating and mobilising the feet, ankles and hips.
Tools like foam rollers and mini bands are amazing for warming up and come highly recommended, but in some cases, it’s not practical to carry these around with you. Fortunately there are a host of alternatives that can be done using your own bodyweight.
Three dimensional training
It’s very important to challenge the body in three dimensions, conditioning it to accept forces in all planes of motion, rather than just back and forth. What this means is that we need to change the forces that go through the body, conditioning lesser-used areas to take some of the impact. If our joints can move more freely, our muscles work less aggressively and you can save more energy when you run. Imagine running with your arms tensed: you will tire quickly. If your joints are restricted, your muscles will work harder.
Most runners are relatively inflexible at the hips. Exercises that can help include side lunges, side step ups, and lateral movements, which move the joints through a number of ranges.
I would also advise runners to incorporate exercises into their regimes that mobilise and load the ankle, hips and thoracic spine. Wood chops, various lunges and shift patterns are all effective. Many knee problems can be improved by focusing more on the foot and hip, distributing force differently through the body.
Running trainers are great when you’re running, but avoid using the same trainers if you’re weight or gym training. Most running shoes allow you to run your hand under the toe, and feature relatively high heels. This is great for cushioning, but it also restricts movement throughout your foot, which can weaken it in the long-term.