Nothing can bum a runner out faster than injury. In fact, talking to an injured runner requires a certain finesse so you don’t rub in the fact they are missing out on their cherished training. While you may think you’re doing everything you can to avoid aches, pains and sprains, you may be over- or under-doing it.
“It is important to move through your training program at a slow pace, progressively increasing distance and pace in a stepwise manner all while listening to your body,” explains Anthony Lauretta, DPT and director of the William Cannon clinic at Texas Physical Therapy Specialists. “It’ll tell you if you need to back off to avoid an injury.”
As you learn to listen to your body, there are other things you can do to make sure you stay healthy and approach your training safely. Below, we’ve outlined five things a physical therapist and chiropractor see most often in runners — and what they wish you would do instead.
1. DO MORE FOAM ROLLING AND LESS STRETCHING
Stretching is often a controversial topic. A few sources say to stretch before a run, some believe after a run is best — and due to time constraints, many runners skip the practice altogether. It turns out that might be OK. Foam rolling is growing in popularity and according to one chiropractor, it is actually more beneficial for runners.
“In my opinion, runners actually do too much stretching and not enough foam rolling and strength training,” reveals Kim Davis, DC, active release therapy practitioner and founder/CEO of RunLab. “Stretching usually serves very little purpose because people either stretch the wrong areas or hold stretches for such a short period of time that they exhibit no long-term effect whatsoever. On top of that, most runners are more flexible than they think they are and are sacrificing stability with all of the stretching, especially prior to a run.”
READ MORE > 5 FOAM ROLLING TRICKS FOR RUNNERS
Davis explains that foam rolling is different from stretching because it doesn’t lengthen an already flexible muscle; instead, it improves fascial alignment and breaks down adhesions in muscles that limit performance.
2. INCORPORATE STRENGTH TRAINING
It’s vital to do regular strength training in addition to running, which is why many training programs include cross-training days built into the plan. Runners often hear that they should focus on a strong and stable core, which is true, or choose to just focus on building leg strength in order to endure long mileage. While this is great, it is easy to neglect vital muscles in the process.
“Make sure you are also strengthening the hip abductors (gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and tensor fascia lata [TFL]) and hip extensors (gluteus maximus and hamstrings),” urges Lauretta. “Weakness in these muscles affects performance and predisposes runners to overuse injuries like plantar fasciitis, tarsal tunnel syndrome, patellofemoral knee pain and IT Band syndrome.”
READ MORE > A RUNNER’S GUIDE TO INJURY PREVENTION
When creating your strength-training routine, it is important to make sure it is well-rounded and hitting all areas of your body. A good approach is to focus on different muscles on different days so you don’t overwork certain areas or neglect others.
3. SEE A DOCTOR BEFORE GETTING INJURED
It seems odd that you would see a doctor before getting injured, however, it can be thought of as a routine wellness check you’d get annually. It’s better to correct behaviors and patterns that are likely to cause injury before they become a problem.
“Seeing a therapist, whether that is a physical therapist, chiropractor, massage therapist or similar can certainly help prevent injury; but you want to find a therapist who understands running biomechanics at a high level,” shares Davis. “Most runners are unaware of their own strengths and limiters because their body has built up compensation patterns to deal with both structural and functional limiters over time. Getting an assessment by someone trained in working through these complex movement patterns can help unravel them before they turn into something symptomatic.”
Lauretta agrees, adding that most issues can be addressed with exercises that can be done independently. Additionally, if you end up getting injured, then you have a relationship with a doctor who is already familiar with your body and medical history.
4. KEEP AN EYE ON THOSE KNEES
Both Davis and Lauretta admit knee injuries are the most common they see in runners. Poor stability and imbalances often lead to overuse injuries in the knees.
“The body is amazing at finding the path of least resistance,” notes Davis. “If a muscle is weak, the body finds a way around using it. Runners need to work on their running mechanics both on and off the road and make sure they take the time to focus on what they are working and how it fits within the context of the gait cycle, not just getting through the reps.”
READ MORE > WHY YOUR RUNNING CADENCE STILL MATTERS
To prevent knee pain and future stability issues, Davis recommends adding single-leg squats and hops to your routine. Lauretta adds side-lying hip adduction to that, as well, which will strengthen the hip abductors and prevent overuse injuries, as mentioned above.
5. TRY THIS APPROACH TO TRAINING
It’s easy for runners to get too lost in their routine, choosing comfortable mileage and routes when preparing for a race. However, adding variation can help reduce your chance of injury and make you a more well-rounded runner.
“The best way to get out of the gym and strengthen your hips, ankles and core in a more functional way is to find a technical, hilly trail and start trail running weekly,” advises Davis. “Jumping and stepping over big rocks and roots, along with the inherent lateral movement involved in trail running helps runners build stability. It’s difficult to run fast on a technical trail so it helps keep the focus on something besides speed and distance, which is what most road runners cling to during their workouts without regard to strength-building.”
Varying your surface and terrain not only keeps running a bit more exciting, but can help you use those muscles you may be neglecting in order to stay injury-free and prevent any imbalances you may be prone to by just running on one surface.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN