As we move into the new year, people start making New Year’s resolutions. One of the most popular resolutions is to start working out. Many people turn to running as a way to begin their fitness adventure. The most popular goal is completing some form of “couch to 5K” program. While running is an excellent form of exercise and a great way to reduce stress, it can lead to injury if not done correctly.
As an avid runner myself, I know from personal experience how running too much, or not incorporating enough strength and mobility work, can lead to all sorts of problems. I also know that following a good training plan can improve your confidence and prepare you for whatever goal it is you’ve set for yourself.
Whether you have never run a day in your life, or if you are setting your eye on running a new distance, here are some tips to help achieve your goals:
Start slow and easy – While you might think that you have to run the entire time to be considered a runner, any amount of running makes you a runner! It is always best to start with walk/jog intervals. For most people, a good place to start is walking 2-3 minutes and jogging for 1 minute. If you aren’t one that likes to rely on a watch, you can walk 2-3 blocks and jog 1 block. As your body adjusts to this new level of activity, you will be able to gradually increase the amount of time you jog and decrease the amount of time you walk. Nearly all recreational runners benefit from walk/jog intervals during the training process.
Build distance slowly – Another misconception that a lot of new runners have is that you have to run farther each time you run to become a better runner. While you might be able to get away with running 2 miles instead of 1 mile, drastically increasing the distance (without proper training) several weeks in a row, will almost always end in some kind of overuse injury. Not only does your cardiovascular system have to adapt to longer runs, but your joints and muscles also have to get used to the increased stress of “pounding the pavement.” It is important to note that your cardiovascular system can adapt faster than your joints and muscles, but that doesn’t mean you should run farther because you feel like you can.
Strength and mobility work- Oftentimes, new runners will experience an onset of knee pain, hip pain, or ankle pain. While there can be many different causes, I have found that a lot of this pain can be avoided by doing a 5 to 10 minute dynamic warm up prior to your run, followed by 10 to 15 minutes of strength/mobility work after your run. Important areas to focus on when completing strength work include the hip/glutes and the core. When these parts of your body are strong, you can focus on enjoying your run rather than having pain or discomfort.
Don’t run through pain – “No pain, no gain” is NOT good when it comes to running (or any workout routine for that matter). It is definitely okay to run if you have a little bit of soreness, but you should never run when you are experiencing actual pain. It can be hard to take a rest day or do more walking because it doesn’t seem like you are working, but you should always listen to your body. If you are experiencing pain that is greater than a 5/10 (0 is no pain, 10 is the worst pain imaginable), then you should probably take a rest day. However, if you can warm up and start your run and the discomfort goes away, chances are it’s ok to run slower or a shorter distance. If you are experiencing pain that lasts for hours after a run that limits your normal daily activities, it is time to see a physical therapist to help you return to pain-free running.
What should you expect when seeing a physical therapist? First, they will ask some questions about your pain and function. Make sure to tell them about your running routine (how often you run and weekly mileage), along with any other activities that you might be struggling with due to pain. Then, they will assess how you move with functional movements (walking, squatting, stairs) and your strength/mobility. After all of this, they will give you an individualized plan to focus on the areas that need strengthening or mobilizing. If you are seeing a physical therapist that has experience working with runners, oftentimes a running analysis will be done at the first or second visit, as well. This will allow them to further assess what your body is doing when running.
Running is an incredible form of exercise and a way to build mental and physical strength when paired with proper strength training and mobility work. Just like anything else, it takes time and practice. Be patient with yourself and you will find that your first race is just the beginning!