Very Short Term Running Preparation
I was recently asked by a fitness client to post exercise recommendations that would prepare her for outdoor distance running. This person was two weeks away from being out on the road, running two or three miles a day. She is middle aged, has a prior history of lower back pain, and her goal was to lose fifteen pounds and “tone up”. Given such short notice, these are my recommendations.
Perform soft tissue work on a daily basis. Foam roll the legs and use a lacrosse ball on the plantar fascia. The vast majority of overuse injuries in runners happen in the lower legs and feet. Attempt to unwind the myofascial distress created by 600-700 foot impacts a mile.
Improve your reciprocal hip pattern–one hip goes back and the other goes forward. Most general fitness clients have glaring deficits on one side. Perform some split squats, posterior lunges, step ups, and or walking lunges. If you struggle with these activities, I would reconsider running as a fitness activity.
Wake up your gluteals. Every day, perform fifty or sixty bridges, hip lifts, or leg curls. You need super gluteal strength / endurance to run distances and avoid lower extremity injury. If your butt gets sore from fifty bridges, you need to do them more often.
Running is a skill and most recreational runners need some practice. Running hills will improve gait mechanics, enhance hip extension, and decrease deceleration forces. Find a fifty-yard hill. Run up the hill and walk back down. Perform five hill runs.
You are always better to run too little than to run too much. Start with very short runs– no more than half a mile. Increase your total weekly mileage by no more than five percent a week.
You can’t do this in two weeks, but this is my big recommendation to all future runners. Lose the extra weight before running. As a method of fat loss, distance running has a poor track record. It tends to elevate the hormones that make you hungry, and physiological adaptation to distance running happens fairly quickly. Extra adipose makes you far more likely to develop a running related injury. I know the guys and gals you see running miles and miles every day are lean. Please remember that lean runners are successful with running because they possess the optimal body mass to run long distances. They did not start heavy and become lean. Put a fifteen pound weight vest on that guy or gal and everything will change. Their gait will lose efficiency and become less graceful. The extra fifteen pounds of load creates the biomechanical overload that makes them much more likely to suffer an injury.
My final recommendation is that you not become disappointed if you develop pain. A runnersworld.com poll conducted in 2009 revealed that 66% of respondents reported a running related injury that year. The statistics indicate that one third of the participants at you local 10k fun run will require medical attention for a running related injury over the next year. Have the good sense to stop when the pain begins.
Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
The most popular method of exercise in commercial exercise equipment rental centers is the treadmill. Several studies have shown that treadmill training gives us the greatest cardiovascular challenge with the lowest rate of perceived discomfort. The modern treadmill allows us to train free of the dangers of inclement weather, angry dogs, and poor pavement. However, the way we use the treadmill often places us at risk for injury. In an effort to keep you productive and injury-free, I have some recommendations as to how to properly use a treadmill.
Home Treadmill Safety
Modern treadmills have powerful electric motors with exposed belts underneath the unit. Any object that gets under the unit while it is operating can actually lift the unit off the ground with you on it. Pediatric friction burn injuries are becoming more common with greater home treadmill ownership. I know of two family pet fatalities brought on by treadmill accidents. When setting up the treadmill in your home keep this in mind. Be aware that a treadmill makes noise, and if you are concurrently listening to your i-device, you may not hear everything that is happening around you.
Kick the Holding Habit
Holding onto the rails, control console, or heart rate monitor handles of the treadmill significantly alters the reactive forces that travel through your body. It inhibits the reflexes that make walking/running automatic and prevents a normal gait pattern. Holding on exerts greater compressive forces on the shoulders, lumbar, and cervical spine. I have treated many patients whose cervical and lumbar pain abolished when they stopped holding on while using the treadmill. Holding on greatly reduces the amount of work you perform (35% to 60% decrease) and devalues the time you spend exercising. The saddest sight in the gym is the guy or gal trying to lose weight by walking uphill on the treadmill while clinging to the front of the machine. If you cannot walk on the treadmill without holding on, you are better served by staying off the treadmill.
Think about what you are doing while on the treadmill. Your posture should be tall with the head back and gaze forward. The arms should swing by your sides and the pelvis should rotate with each stride. Studies demonstrate that reading while walking or running on a treadmill shortens the stride, inhibits rotation, and alters posture. Listening to music increases lateral sway and widens foot placement in novice treadmill walkers. I have treated many headache patients whose pain symptoms can be traced back to reading while on the treadmill. Pay attention because falling off a treadmill is a painful and embarrassing experience that can dramatically impair your efforts to become more fit.
If your neighbor can hear you running on the treadmill from his front porch, you should rethink using a treadmill as a training method. Modern treadmills have suspended decks that absorb force. Anyone who runs on a treadmill and creates a lot of deck noise does not possess an efficient gait and is much more susceptible to overuse injuries. To land softer, try limiting the vertical component of your gait. Improving hip extension mobility, posterior chain strength, and postural awareness can make you a quieter and more efficient runner.
-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS