As the weather warms and spring comes into full swing, you may find yourself itching to get back to running outdoors again. For many runners, the cold winter months cause us to take our exercise indoors, or even suspend it altogether. Or maybe you are an athlete gearing up for track season or for a series of upcoming races (tis’ the season for 5ks and marathons). Below are some tips to help keep your body in top shape and avoid injuries as you get back into your springtime routines again.
First, a proper warmup before running is very helpful. Our muscles will perform better and more efficiently once we increase blood flow and loosen them up. Think of a rubber band. A cold one is more likely to snap when stretched, but a warm one can be stretched with much more ease and is less likely to break. This is similar to how our muscles work. Here are a few dynamic stretches to prepare the muscles that we use when running. Each stretch can be performed 10 times on each leg, holding each stretch for just a few seconds.
Place the right leg in front of the body with the foot flexed, the heel pushed into the ground, and the toe pointing toward the ceiling. Slightly bend your left knee. Lean forward and hold the stretch for 3 – 5 seconds. Repeat on the other leg.
Quadricep (or thigh) Stretch
Grabbing your ankle gently pull your heel up and back until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. Keep your knees close together. Hold for 3 – 5 seconds switch legs and repeat.
Starting with a wide stance bend the left knee and lunge to the left side which will stretch the inner thigh muscles of the right leg. Return to the center standing position and repeat on the opposite leg.
Also known as the ‘runners stretch’ – face a wall and stand about 12″ away from it. Keeping both feet flat on the floor extend one leg behind you keeping the rear knee straight. Lean toward the wall until you feel tension in the calf muscle of your extended leg. Hold for 3 – 5 seconds and repeat on the other let.
Next, a few strengthening exercises performed 2-3 times per week will also be beneficial to keep many of the muscles involved with running strong. Often times, we think that running alone strengthens our muscles and that there is little need for extra strengthening work. However, research has shown that targeted strengthening exercises to specific muscle groups helps prepare our bodies even better for running and further reduce injury risk. Perform each exercise below for 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions.
Standing on the ground or off the edge of a step, let your heels drop down toward the floor. Then push off up onto your toes, lifting your heels toward the ceiling. Start by performing on both legs simultaneously. As this becomes easier, you may be able to try one leg at a time (single leg heel raise).
Lateral Step Down
Standing on the edge of a step, bend the knee that you’re standing on and tap the opposite heel toward the ground. Try to keep your hips level with a slight forward lean.
Lateral Band Walks
Using a band around your ankles, take steps to the side, engaging the band’s resistance. You should feel this one in the outside of your hips. Be sure to keep your toes facing forward and do not let your shoulders sway side to side.
Continue with the band around your ankles stepping forward in a diagonal direction, alternating sides. If you are able, try to do the same going backwards.
Lastly, one of the easiest ways to reduce your risk of injury once you start running again is to slowly increase your mileage or distance. As runners, we’ve all been there…the first few days of 60 degree temperatures and sun make us all want to go out and run more miles than what our bodies have been accustomed to. Research has shown that a 10% increase in weekly mileage is best to allow your body to adapt and reduce the chance of injury.
If you have specific questions about getting back into running, preparing for a school sports season, or preparing for your first race, our physical therapists at HARTZ PT are more than happy to meet with you. We offer a running clinic program at both our Lancaster East and Ephrata locations where we can review training habits, footwear, check your strength and flexibility, and even look at your running form using video analysis to determine your best course of action.