With warm weather on the horizon, it’s time to dust off your running shoes and hit the road. As runners come out of winter hibernation, even the most diligent athletes can fall victim to training errors and sabotage their long-awaited outdoor running season.
"Spring is when we start to see our runners coming back to the clinic. Many haven't maintained their regimen over the winter months, and ramp up a little too quickly," says Rachel Lampros, senior physical therapist at Mass General's Sports Physical Therapy. "Many spring runner’s injuries are preventable and a result of seemingly simple mistakes."
The Women's Sports Medicine Program offers new and existing patients a functional movement assessment customized to their needs. This assessment includes a comprehensive evaluation of a runner’s gait, form, stride, footfall, etc., identifying structural and mechanical factors impacting the overall risk for injury. Fortunately, many of these errors are correctable and can be treated with the right guidance. Proper preparation is the key to preventing injury and improving overall performance.
As you start training for your next race, whether it’s virtual or in-person, here are five expert tips to decrease your chance of injury and keep you moving:
Monitor your mileage
It is very common for runners to increase their mileage too fast, leading to overuse injuries such as muscle strains, “shin splints,” tendonitis, and bone stress reactions. The most important part of any running program is a slow but progressive increase in mileage. Conservative guidelines recommend increasing your cumulative mileage no more than 10% a week. Consider easing into running consecutive days if you have not been as diligent over the winter months, and vary your program intensity day-to-day. You should take at least one rest day each week. An interval walk/jog program is advised for individuals coming back after injury to gradually return to running.
Strengthen your lower body
Many runners skip exercising their lower body and assume running itself is enough to keep their legs in shape. However, many running-related injuries are a result of weakness in the lower extremities. Single-leg strengthening exercises emphasize the gluteal muscles, quadriceps, and hamstring groups, and are a critical part of any runner’s strength program. These muscles function as shock absorbers and lessen the mechanical impact of running. Exercises such as single leg squats, single leg deadlifts, and single leg bridges target these muscle groups effectively. Incorporating other core strengthening exercises such as front planks, side planks, anti-rotation presses, and bird dogs are also great adjuncts to this program.
Jump training (also known as plyometric training) is an important component to prepare the body for the impact of running. Each stride has a similar load on the body as a single leg hop. Therefore, initiating a single-leg plyometric program is a great way to strengthen the muscles, tendons, and bones runners use most. These exercises also promote gains in coordination. Improving the ability to hop with adequate control can mitigate joint stress reaction and improve the efficacy of each stride.
Rest and recovery are probably the most overlooked part of training. All rest is not created equal. Participating in active recovery can actually help the body bounce back from hard training days faster, and ultimately help you perform better. Complement runs with non-impact training days. Non-impact training includes swimming, aqua jogging, cycling, rowing and yoga. Take an active role in your recovery and, most importantly, always listen to your body.
Runners of all skill levels need to be mindful of their footwear. Most running shoes have a shelf life of about 300 miles. Make sure you are keeping track of your sneakers’ cumulative mileage and swap them out when they are getting worn. It is also key to pick a running sneaker that compliments your foot type and your running style. Individuals that over pronate might benefit from a more supportive running shoe whereas, an individual with a more rigid foot might not need that much support. Are you a forefoot runner, midfoot, or rearfoot runner? These variables can affect which sneaker is best for you. A Mass General Physical Therapist can help you determine what types of footwear are right for you, and our Foot and Ankle store at Mass General Waltham has everything you need to treat your feet right.
Running Assessments Available Now
Interested in a formal running assessment? Our team of running experts perform a 60-minute assessment looking at modifiable risk factors that might lead to injury, and will help you improve your running form. Call Mass General Sports Physical Therapy at 617-643-9999 today to schedule your evaluation.