Five Tips for Crossing the Finish Line without a Running Injury
Since the mid ‘90s, competitive running has blossomed into one of the most popular activities for millions of Americans. Running is an amazing way to promote physical fitness, set and achieve personal goals and reduce stress. Training for a new, further distance can be exciting as you discover that you are able to push your body beyond what your mind tells you is possible. However, our bodies do have limits and injuries can happen. When it is race day and you are giving it your all, you never want to find yourself in the position of having to choose between finishing the race with an injury or calling it short in order to keep your body healthy. The trick to preventing injuries while achieving your goals is all in the preparation and building of healthy habits before race day. Whether you’re running in a 5K, mud run, half or full marathon, following these five tips will keep you healthy and help you reach your goals.
1. Dynamic vs. static stretching – Dynamic stretching entails quicker, repetitive movements. It should be practiced prior to exercise as it prepares the joints for movement and muscles for optimal activation. Static stretching, or holding a stretch for a sustained period of time, should be a post-run activity.
Here is an example of a pre-run, dynamic warm-up that could be performed in less than five minutes. Each movement should be performed for about 20-30 seconds.
-Hip swings: Stand with one hand on a wall to stabilize you with feet placed shoulder-width apart. Balance on one leg and swing the opposite leg forward and backward without moving your pelvis. Repeat on the opposite side.
-Standing knee to chest: Balance on one leg and bring the other knee toward your chest, hugging it with both hands. Hold for a second or two and alternate legs as you repeat.
-Heel raises: Come up on your toes with both feet at the same time for about a second, then lower back down.
- Glute kicks: Pull your heel toward your hip to feel a stretch through your quad, then lower back down. Alternate legs as you repeat.
- Overhead reach: Breathe in and reach your hands above your head, interlocking your fingers. Hold for a second or two, then exhale as you relax your arms back down.
After your run, take about 5-10 minutes to perform static stretches for each muscle group in the legs including quads, calves, adductors, hamstrings and glutes. It is generally recommended to hold these stretches for 30 seconds to a minute to allow muscles to relax and lengthen.
2. Core strengthening – Incorporating core strengthening exercises into your training regimen is vital to your success as they can increase your stability, balance, posture and control. When your core is strong, it can take excessive stress off other joints including your knees and hips as you run.
Here is an example of a core strengthening routine that you can perform in about 15-20 minutes. It is always important for strength training to be pain-free, so listen to your body when choosing resistance or number of repetitions.
-Weighted squats: Keep your knees behind your toes, your back straight and your knees pointing in the same direction as your toes. Perform three sets of 8-15 repetitions with a resistance that is challenging, but does not cause pain or compensation.
- Birddogs: Start on hands and knees and extend your opposite arm and leg. Try to keep abdominals engaged so that the back does not extend. Perform three sets of 8-15 repetitions.
- Planks: Keep your hips down, but your abdominals engaged so that your back does not sag in order to avoid stress on the low back. Start with holding for 15 seconds and try to build up to one minute. Perform three repetitions.
- Bridges: Keep your abdominals engaged and push through your heels to lift your hips off the floor. Hold for three seconds. Perform three sets of 8-15 repetitions.
3. Foam rolling – Invest in a foam roller and use it either before a run as part of your dynamic warm-up, or after your run to decrease muscle soreness. It is a helpful tool to increase mobility, speed up recovery after a run and decrease muscle tension in sore areas.
Here is an example of a foam rolling routine targeting muscle groups that are commonly tense in runners. Try rolling each area for a minute or two, especially emphasizing areas that are a little sore.
4. Listen to your breathing – If you can talk comfortably while running or aren’t gasping for air, your pace is just right. An alternative is to use a heart rate monitor and run at 65 to 75% of your maximum heart rate.
In order to calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. For example, someone who is 45 years old has a maximum heart rate of 175 beats per minute (bpm). Their 65 to 75% range would be between 114 and 131 bpm.
5. Hydrate – Drink eight to 16 ounces one-to-two hours before a run. If that’s not possible, drink at least four to eight ounces of fluid, 15 to 30 minutes before your run to avoid dehydration.
Select Physical Therapy knows that life can change in a matter of minutes. If you’re injured, tired of having less mobility or experiencing aches and pains, our licensed clinical experts can help. At Select Physical Therapy we believe movement is medicine and are committed to helping you get back to work, athletics and daily life.