Running is great cardio, yes, but it’s also relaxing and invigorating. It gives us a chance to turn off our brains, enjoy the sights and sounds around us and soak everything in.
But sometimes, your body makes it difficult to lace up your running shoes. Aches and stiffness in your ankles, knees and low back can make even the most die-hard runners think twice about a morning jog.
The good news is there are things you can do right now to start feeling better for your next run. By adjusting your running technique, correcting a few imbalances or fixing your weaknesses, you’ll feel the difference in no time. (And don’t be surprised if you start running faster than before, too.)
1. IMPROVE YOUR MUSCLE STRENGTH
Think of running like a light form of plyometrics — in just one mile, there’s hundreds of explosive lower-body movements with a lot of shock absorption through your tendons, bones, ligaments and joints. After long enough, anyone’s legs will hurt.
To withstand that pounding, you’ll want to strengthen your muscles, joints and bones by lifting weights. It goes beyond calf raises and the seated leg press to include squats, lunges, deadlifts and hip bridges to pack on muscle (and bone) thickness to reinforce your lower body and build muscle through your glutes, hamstrings and quads.
Also, focus on getting strong: for men, try to front squat your own bodyweight; for women, front squat 75% of your bodyweight.
2. IMPROVE YOUR MUSCLE QUALITY
If you’re experiencing pain when running, there could be issues with muscle quality. Within your muscle fibers, there can be spots of ultra-tense muscle fibers — called “trigger points” or “knots” — that can affect your joints, flexibility and mobility.
To release and relax those trigger points, use a foam roller before and after every workout and run. Spend time on those tender spots, breathe, stay relaxed and the soreness should melt away. Once you improve your tissue quality, you can advance to tennis balls, lacrosse balls and PVC pipes.
3. IMPROVE YOUR WARMUP
Now that your legs are in better shape, it’s time to lace up your shoes and build your running legs. Before you start, make sure you warm up correctly. Too many people still get prepared for their run by doing “static” stretches (where you hold a stretch for 20–30 seconds and repeat). The problem is those stretches don’t prevent injuries; they can actually make you weaker and less stable.
Instead, use “dynamic” warmup drills to activate your muscles, open your joints and fire up your nervous system.
4. LAND MID-FOOT
When people run, they often land on their heels, which increases the amount of force on your joints and ligaments. But when you land mid-foot, the tendons and muscles in your ankles act as shock absorbers, which minimize stress on your body.
Here’s a tip: Always run as quietly as possible. You’ll feel the difference immediately. (If you’re used to running on your heels, however, start slow; your ankles will need to gradually build up endurance.)
READ MORE > WHY YOUR RUNNING CADENCE STILL MATTERS
5. RUN “FASTER”
If your runs cause issues, you might be running too slow. But not with your speed; with your “cadence” or how often your foot hits the ground every minute. Many people run too slow, which creates longer, less-efficient strides, poor technique and more stress on your knees. (No thanks!)
For your next run, shorten your stride and aim for three steps per second (180 steps per minute).
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN