Editor’s Note: This is the final in a two-part series. The first part appeared in the Dec. 23 issue of the AFN.
In order to have a blunder free running experience it’s important to incorporate other activities into your program. The past two Runner’s Raps have outlined the most common mistakes made by runners, how to avoid them, the importance of staying well hydrated and having new and proper running shoes. Now, let’s focus on the final portion of other prevention strategies: incorporating stretching, weight training and other cross-training activities into your program.
Flexibility is the functional range of motion about a joint and is specific to each joint. This means that flexibility can vary from person-to-person and from joint-to-joint. The goal of a stretching program is to optimize joint mobility while maintaining joint stability. Increased flexibility can improve your daily performance and help make tasks, such as lifting groceries or bending to tie your shoes, become easier and less tiring. Basic stretches to improve your flexibility focus on your body’s major muscle groups: the hamstrings, quadriceps, back and chest. In addition to stretching your major muscle groups, stretch muscles that you routinely use at work or play.
1. Warm up first. A warm muscle stretches a lot easier than a cold muscle. Always warm-up first to get blood circulating throughout the body and into the muscles.
2. Hold each stretch at a point of mild discomfort up to 30 seconds. It takes time to lengthen tissues safely.
3. Don’t bounce. Bouncing as you stretch can cause small tears (microtears) in the muscle, which leave scar tissue as the muscle heals making you less flexible and more prone to pain.
4. Relax and breathe freely. Don’t hold your breath while you’re stretching.
5. Stretch both sides. Keep both sides of your body equal.
6. Stretch before and after your workout. Try light stretching after your warm-up followed by a more thorough stretching regimen after your workout.
The cardinal rule of stretching: you should feel no pain – that is, don’t stretch so hard that you injure yourself! It’s OK to feel stiffness while you stretch, but not pain as in “injury.” When you stretch, hold each position for about 10 to 30 seconds and then relax.
Cross-training includes, essentially, alternative exercises/activities that use your muscles and joints in different ways. These alternative forms of exercise can help to prevent injuries, improve your fitness, promote recovery and revive a stale routine. However, the trick is to not get injured when cross-training and end up sidelined from running. The key, don’t take on too much too fast, which can make you vulnerable to injury. So approach your cross-training as a runner and focus on the three most common issues runners face:
1. Tight hamstrings. Running is a such a quad dominate sport and since our quads are larger, have more muscle mass and can produce up to one-and-a-half times more power than our hamstrings, running increases this imbalance and makes are quads even stronger. The hamstring is weaker and has to work harder to keep up, which increases the chance for pulls and tears. A great exercise to counter this is the hamstring curl. But keep in mind you won’t be able to lift as much as you do with your quads. A good rule of thumb is 20 to 50 percent of what you can lift with leg extensions.
Cycling (indoor and outdoor) can also build leg strength, but it’s important to wear shoes that clip into the pedals so that you are not just pushing down (which hits the quads), you’re also pulling up (which is what hits the hamstrings) helping to enhancing your overall muscle balance. In addition, watch your form. If you move side to side excessively during the down stroke you put excess pressure on your knees, which can increase your chance for injury.
2. Tight legs. Engage in activities that promote flexibility. Stretching is one form, but yoga and Pilates can build flexibility, core strength, mental focus and balance. Focus on exercises that help to loosen your hamstrings, calves, hips and lower back. But don’t push yourself too far and end up with a strained muscle or joint. Start with a beginner’s class or find an instructor who teaches modified poses. Remember, it’s better to practice beginner’s poses with good form than advanced poses with poor form.
3. Weak upper body. A strong upper body helps you process oxygen more efficiently, which allows you to run faster with less effort and helps you maintain your form during longer runs. Adding an upper-body workout to your routine is a great way to alleviate this problem, but do it safely by using correct posture and lifting the appropriate amount of weight (not too much) while performing your exercises in front of a mirror. This way, if you lose proper form you can correct it immediately. If it’s difficult to maintain proper form, lower your weight or reduce the number of repetitions in each set.
Swimming is often noted as an ideal cross-training activity for runners because it provides an excellent cardio workout with zero impact, it’s a total body workout and strengthens muscles that running often neglects. You only have to swim about one quarter of the distance you’d run in order to get a workout equivalent to running. To decrease your chance of injury, it’s wise to stick to the freestyle stroke, as it’s easier to master (and is effective at building upper-body strength). If you have a swimming background, it’s encouraged to use other strokes as this will enhance your cardio and muscle balance even more.
So hop off the road or treadmill a couple times a week and find a cross-training activity that you enjoy. But keep in mind, you have to cross-train safely, so your running can benefit without incident.
NOTE: The above is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other health care professional. You should not use the information in this article for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.
Ahwatukee Foothills resident Ronda Jameel is a certified running coach and owner of Run2Dend. Check out training programs for upcoming races at www.run2dend.com. Questions about running can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.