Runners run, it’s just what we do. But, all too often, it’s the ONLY thing we do. I fall victim to this on a recurring basis...it’s easy for me to become a slave to the almighty mile. If you ask me what I’d like to be doing at almost any time on any given day, the answer is most likely “running.” But what happens when we sacrifice things like stretching and rolling for the sake of another few minutes on the road, track or trail? Most of the time nothing, until that singular, fateful day when something DOES happen and it takes us out of the game. It’s during this time that hindsight really is 20/20, and we play the coulda, woulda shoulda game with our lack of cross-training or comprehensive conditioning. It doesn’t have to be this way. Sacrificing a mile or two now for a week or month of steady training down the road is always worthwhile.
As a runner, you’re performing one motion through one plane of movement. While the dance can oftentimes be simplistically elegant, it’s less than ideal for preventing repetitive overuse injuries. It becomes imperative for us to prepare our bodies for different movement patterns, using different body mechanics, in order to reduce our chances of getting hurt. But what does that look like? What can you do on a regular basis that won’t take too much time away from the run? While I’m definitely an advocate of strength-training and off-season conditioning work, these “best practices” will appeal to even the most holy of the purists out there.
It all starts with the warm-up. How many of you have jumped out of bed and immediately started your run? Everyone. Everyone has done this. Were you properly warmed up? Were your muscles and joints loose? Did you to anything other than tie your shoes before the workout? No, no and no. That’s trouble waiting to happen. Luckily, you don’t need to spend 20 minutes getting ready to roll each time. If you use these techniques, a good-quality, mobility-based warm-up won’t take more than 3-5 minutes.
1) Move backward, side to side and up and down. It doesn’t really make much difference how you do this, the idea is simply to get you moving through all planes of motion. You’ll be more prepared for surprise obstacles out on the road.
2) Elevate your heart rate. A few burpees, jumping jacks or striders will increase your heart rate and push fresh blood into the working muscles. This will literally warm you up, and is especially important if you exercise first thing in the morning or in cooler temperatures.
3) Take a few deep breaths. Deep breathing will help stretch out your lungs, and give yourself a moment of stillness to contemplate the task at hand. It will help you relax, center yourself and get the most out of the run.
It finishes with the cooldown. We’re all on a tight schedule. The moment the run is over, the shoes are off and we’re in the car on the way to our next appointment. By jumping immediately back into your normal routine after a run, you’re missing a critical window of opportunity where your body is primed to become more flexible. You’re already loose and limber, so take advantage of it! Developing a short, effective post-run stretching routine isn’t as complicated as you might think.
1) Walk it off. Blood needs to circulate to become re-oxygenated, and blood circulates through muscular contractions. This concept, loosely called venous return, is the first step in your recovery. Rather than allowing blood to pool in your extremities, simply walk for 2-3 minutes after a workout.
2) Shake it out. Giving your arms, legs and torso a quick shake helps loosen up after a run, especially if you have a tight shoulders from holding your arms up or a stiff lower back from the repetitive pounding on the pavement.
3) Salute the sun. I’ve found that the standard yoga-based sun salutation hits all the major muscle groups in a smooth, fluid fashion. Hold each pose for about 20 seconds before transitioning to the next, and go through the salutation about 2-4 times.