As the summer is in full swing here in Calgary, I have been increasingly busy fielding movement and general fitness questions. One of the hottest topics is running. I’ve had many clients, young and old asking me how to safely get back into running. Many have experienced knee, hips or ankle problems in the past, and want to safely get back into the game and run their best without compromising their wellbeing and most importantly, staying away from old injuries. So while there is the old adage of to become a better runner you need to run, the science behind this movement is a bit more complex. I want to share my top 3 tips for getting back into running safely, effectively and without compromising your knees, hips or ankles. Let’s begin –
1. Begin a pre-conditioning strength phase of training
A lot of folks skip this step. I get it. You’re ambitious, excited to get back to your 5K or 10K days, maybe 10 years ago. However, you’re mindset might be right, but oftentimes your body needs to catch back up. Most folks that have retired from running, even for as short as 6 months, run a high risk of injury. Why? Well, they tend to skip warm up and neglect to build strength and endurance in the areas the are needed before efficient running patterns can be established. Here’s what I do with my clients that are eager to hit the road or the trails before they get ahead of themselves.
- Build a 2-6 week phase of training focused around stabilizing the joints and muscles used by blending stretching and flexibility with strength and mobility drills to build up some strength in areas like the bum (glutes) and the thighs (hamstrings/quads) so we see a better balance to really maximize the power output and minimize wear and tear on the joints from over-compensation of the quads or lack of engagement form the glutes (oftentimes these two are the culprits of “runners knee” or “IT Band syndrome” – something I’ve experienced and wish upon not even my worst of enemies…)
Try this little exercise 2-3x/week to build strength and stability in your run pattern
Stationary lunge (with vertical shin)
Take a knee with your back foot’s heel up in the air and engaged (as opposed to your top of foot resting on the ground) and ensure your front knee is no further than 90 degrees so as to not extend over the toes too far. Slowly inhaling and with your hands on your hips for stability, drive your front foot’s heel down into the ground and focus on driving your hips vertically until you are standing in what is known as “split squat stance”. Once at the top of the movement, lower yourself slowly again, exhaling slowly, and as your back knee just touches the ground (Don’t crash your knee towards the floor, lower yourself slowly!) focus on keeping your hips square and from creeping forward. You’ll want to keep 90 degrees in your front knee at the bottom of the motion. Once you’re at the ground take a moment, find your balance again and complete another repetition. You should aim for 5-10 on each leg and 1-3 sets to start. Rest as needed between sets. Remember, you want to take things slow and not aggravate any old issues you once had.
2. Focus on building core strength
Over the years I have seen a lot of clients come to me complaining about back pain. Oftentimes runners have no idea how to stabilize their hips through the engagement of their core (muscles in the low back, abdominals and pelvic floor) and within 15 minutes of a quick sweat session, I find out the root of their problem is a weak stability system in their core. Here are a couple of my favourite drills that will help you keep that back, butt and tummy in line when you’re out on the path training for the marathon!
Low Plank (from elbows and knees/toes)
Resting face down, pick yourself up to your elbows and knees (or toes if you’re feeling stronger). Keeping your shoulders vertically right in line with your elbows so you don’t strain your shoulders or neck, ensure your back is nice and flat, head is looking down between your hands and your tummy is tight (think about bracing your abs as if you were taking a punch in the belly…)! Hold this position for up to a minute at a time (most of my clients hold about 20-30 seconds without losing their posture and arching their back, so don’t worry if you can’t hold the position for very long. The key is to remain tight and contract all of your muscles. Squeeze your bum, squeeze your abs, even squeeze your hands. Remember to breathe though, as this one as per most exercise… can be fairly tough without oxygen. Please avoid death or death-like symptoms and be mindful about your slow controlled breathing. Look to complete 2-3 rounds of up to one minute holds. Rest as needed in between each set.
Supine (face up) Hip Raise
Laying face up on the ground, with your hands down beside you on the ground for support bend your knees and bring your feet in close to your bum with the soles down on the ground. Driving your heels into the ground, and inhaling slowly, raise your hips up to the sky, stretching your quads and squeezing your bum and hamstrings to get full extension of your hips. Once at the top, hold for a second or two and gently lower yourself with a nice exhale as you return to the starting position. Complete up to 30 of these extensions and rest for a couple minutes. Try to complete 2-3 rounds in the early stages. Nothing too crazy.
3. Slowly begin to build up your endurance
There’s absolutely no sense in just jumping back in to the training you were doing months if not years ago. You’re body isn’t conditioned for it and you will hurt yourself. Treat each week as a progression on your endurance and slowly start to add the distance on your training runs. I like to coach 2-3 days of specific running for most of my clientele just getting back to it. One day focused on sprints, generally a short, 30 minute interval session with a higher heart rate and less rest between intervals and the 1 or 2 more days where distance is slowly added and pace is slowly increased over the course of a few weeks. For my last two marathoners, this style of training kept overuse injuries at bay, something both clients were subject to in the past. I like to ensure that there’s more attention to recovery and efficiency of patterns rather than just going for miles and miles and miles of training. Try this kind of 2 week running set up if you’re thinking about getting back at it.
Monday – 20-30 minutes of Hill Sprints
Find a hill with a fairly sharp grade incline and sprint up that hill for 10-15 seconds, walk back down and take 2-3 minutes to recover. Complete as many rounds as you can in about a half hour.
Wednesday – 40 minute “Easy Jog”
Keep a light steady pace (if you have a heart rate monitor you’d like to be in zone 2 or about 40-60% your max HR) and try to stop only briefly for a sip of water or quick calf stretch. This jog will gradually build up your “engine” and you will notice over a few weeks your pace, stamina and overall tolerance to the lactic “burn” increases.
Saturday – (Optional 60 minute Jog)
If you’re feeling good, and by that I mean if your legs aren’t really tight and sore this one is very similar to Wednesday. Just keep a nice light pace and see if you can just increase your total time on the path.
Monday – Tabata Sprints
Find an open stretch of path where you can really open up your stride and sprint. Careful of Pokemon GOer’s and casual walkers, as they’ll be hazardous to your Donovan Bailey-esque form. You’re going to set your stop watch and sprint as hard as you can for 20 seconds, then walk 10 paces. Then sprint again for 20 seconds, followed by the walk. Complete 8 rounds of this and then rest for a full 5 minutes. Repeat 2 to 3 of these rounds and feel the lungs and legs burn!
Wednesday – 20 minute Flush Jog
Nothing fancy here, just get out for a quick rip around the block a few times. Easy pace, just feel your pattern and your stride.
Friday – 45-60 minute Marathon Pace Jog
Keep it pretty slow, as if you were conserving energy for the distance of a marathon and focus on not resting at all for a full 45 minutes to an hour. This is easy jogging so be mindful of breathing and try not to worry about how fast you’re going.
There you have it. These are my top 3 tips to ensure a nice re-introduction to the running game for anyone looking to get back out there and not hurt themselves in the process. Always consult your health care professional before starting up a new exercise routine and please, please, please ensure you’re properly hydrated and stretched out so you avoid injury. Do this before and after your training. Stretching is great and part of the whole balanced lifestyle. Don’t skip warm up or cool down. As always, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any comments or questions regarding movement, nutrition and mindset.
Remember, you don’t have to be a rock star to start, but you have to start in order to become a rock star. Stay sweet, folks!