With the days getting longer and spring weather within reach, you may begin to consider getting back into outdoor running or starting a new running routine. Running is a great way to stay in shape because it allows you to improve your endurance, strength, and mental health - while increasing fitness and reducing stress.
Before you begin, it’s important to know how you can avoid injury by ensuring your body is prepared. These 3 tips are useful for anyone who is thinking about getting back into running and wants to avoid injury in the process.
1. Build your aerobic capacity
A great way to prepare your body for running season is to ensure you start building up your aerobic capacity through brisk walking. Your aerobic capacity is a measure of how well your lungs and heart can get oxygen to the muscles. By increasing your aerobic capacity, you can use oxygen more efficiently during your workouts and improve your exercise tolerance.
Walking can begin at a moderate pace, slowly increasing in speed as you are able to tolerate more. Begin with short distances and progress gradually to your ideal running distance to prepare your aerobic system for endurance training. Building up your endurance can help prepare your lungs and heart to tolerate more movement and longer distances.
This promotes a safe transition to running by making sure you increase your aerobic threshold gradually. This will also prepare your back and hips for tolerating load during movement and engage your stabilizing muscles as you walk. Consider a run-walk transition before you begin to transition fully to running in order to continue to build your tolerance.
2. Improve your mobility
Incorporating dynamic stretches is a great way to prepare your body for movement. After sitting for long periods of time during the day, getting your body used to moving will help decrease your risk of injury by improving your mobility before you begin your running program. Try out one or more of the stretches below (perform the following activities for 3-5 minutes each):
A) Lunge with rotation
Take a step forward and lower into a lunge (half kneeling position, keeping your back knee off the floor). Then, turn your torso and upper body slowly and gently in both directions. Return to standing and repeat on the other side.
B) Active quadricep stretch
Perform back-and-forth scissor jumps (like jumping jacks but front and back rather than side to side) for 10-20 seconds. Then, stand and bring one foot up toward your buttock, holding your ankle with the same-side hand, keeping your knee pointing down toward the ground (use a towel or strap around your ankle if needed to allow you to reach comfortably).
Tilt the pelvis backward, squeezing your glutes and your abdominals, and making sure the stretching leg does not move forward. Keeping the position, pull the foot gently toward the buttock then push with your foot on the resisting hand (as to extend the knee) for 2 to 5 seconds. Return to scissor jumps and repeat on the other leg.
C) Active hamstring stretch
Run rapidly on the spot, bringing your heels as near to your buttock on each step for 10-20 seconds. Then, stand with one foot in front of the other, straighten the front knee. Bend the rear knee and lift the toes of the front foot up towards your body. Keep your back straight.
You should feel a stretch behind your thigh/knee. If required/able, lean your body forward to feel a comfortable stretch, then push the heel of the front foot into the ground for 2 to 5 seconds. Then return to running on the spot and repeat with the other leg.
3. Use proper footwear
It all starts from the ground up with proper footwear! Preparing your feet for the load they’re going to be taking is an important step. Using a supportive shoe that will absorb force and protect your ankle from too much movement is a great way to ensure you have a stable base to be running on. This will optimize the load transfer to your hips and back to avoid any adverse reactions up the chain.
As the weather gets warmer, running can be a great outdoor activity as it has many physical and psychological benefits. Even if you're completely new to running, ensuring you prepare yourself properly will allow you to transition safely into this spring and summer hobby. The next blog in this series will focus on some specific exercises to help strengthen your muscles before you begin your first run.
If you’re interested in setting up an individualized exercise program, feel free to book an appointment online. If you experience pain while doing any of the stretches above, please consult a health professional.
This blog was written by Paola Finizio - a Physiotherapy student at Queen's University.