In this article we’re going to cover 5 tips for healthy running! We’re going to be looking at staying healthy as a runner! So if you’re struggling with pain, unable to run a few miles without pain, unable to speed train like you used to – this is for you!
Here is a quick reminder before we jump into this. You are not going to be running train… but TRAINING to run. We’re going to get into the details of how we train to run. In order to run in a healthy way and be able to stay healthy, to hit the mileage you want to hit, to run in the races you want to run, to reach those fitness or weight loss goals that you have by running, we’re going to be talking about how do we do that safely and effectively.
If you are more of the visual and auditory learner just click the YouTube video below outlining everything that is in this article!
Let’s get STARTED!
Tip 1: Train Your Running Muscles
It’s not enough to go into the gym and do your HIT training or bootcamp work out. You have to devote time to work on those specific muscles associated with running. In no particular order, some muscles we’re thinking of include:
Calf Muscles (Gastrocenimius and Soleus Muscles):
You use your calf muscles ALOT when you’re running. You especially need endurance of your calf muscles. So if you cannot do 25 single leg calf raises then you need to work on the endurance of your calf muscle. Click THIS LINK for an exercise to help strengthen your calf muscle.
Gluteus Muscles (Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Minimus, Gluteus Medius):
You specifically want to focus on the gluteus maximus muscle and the gluteus medius muscle. The gluteus medius muscle is extremely important when you’re running to help stabilize your pelvis and keep it level.
When it’s not working to keep your pelvis level, your pelvis drops when you’re running. If you’re getting a lot of dropping in your pelvis when you’re running, that can cause your knee to go in and this can be a contributing factor to knee pain. Therefore, you need to have good strength in your gluteus medius muscle. Most general workouts and programs will not specifically target the gluteus medius muscle, so you will not get that strengthening with your traditional dead lifts, squats and lunges. Those exercises are not targeting your gluteus medius muscle. Click THIS LINK for an exercise to help strengthen your gluteus medius muscle.
External Rotators (Piriformis,Superior Gemellus, Inferior Gemellus ):
These will be important as well. These are the muscles that rotate your hip and control what your knee is doing in regards to alignment.
Click THIS LINK for an exercise to help strengthen your external rotator muscles.
Quad Muscles (Rectus Femoris, Vastus Lateralis, Vastus Medialis, Vastus Intermedius):
These muscles will be important in helping to guide the tracking of your knee cap as you run.
You will need to do some dedicated quad based exercises to help strengthen those muscles. Click THIS LINK for an exercise to help strengthen your quad muscle.
So, train those running specific muscles so you can run healthy!
Tip 2: Train With Your Foot On The Ground and on One Leg!
Regarding the exercises we were discussing earlier with specific muscle training, we want to be performing those exercises with our foot on the ground. Not only do we want to do this with our foot on the ground but it’s also important to do this on one leg. When you’re running, you are always on one leg, you’re never running with two feet on the ground at once. Therefore, only training in the gym with a double leg squat or a deadlift, always having two feet on the ground, may not translate into actually strengthening and training those muscles for when you’re running. Training with one foot on the ground is important because that is how our muscles function.
Our muscles function differently when our foot isn’t on the ground.
This is called an Open Chain Exercise. An open kinetic chain exercise (A) is when the hand or foot is free floating and not fixed to a surface. On the opposite end, a closed kinetic chain exercise (B) is where your hand or foot is fixed to a surface.
Think about a seated knee extension machine in the gym or the hamstring curl machine where you are sitting. Those muscles don’t function like that when you’re running because your foot is on the ground and those muscles function from more of an isometric stabilization perspective as well as an eccentric contraction. So, while your muscle is lengthening, your quad muscles are controlling the amount of flexion happening at the knee. It’s not so much just kicking your leg up. Another classic example in the hip abduction/adduction machine where you sit down and you squeeze in and you squeeze out and you feel a good burn and you’re thinking to yourself “I’m going to get nice and toned and my thighs are gonna be FIRM”. Well yes, but that’s probably not going to translate to being beneficial during your run but that’s not how those muscles function when you are running!
Tip 3: Train to JUMP with Plyometric Exercises
I’m sure you’re all wondering, why do we need to jump? We’re runners. Think about the fact that when you are running your foot lands on the ground and quickly rebounds up. This is called a plyometric activity. Your muscles go from a rapid eccentric contraction through an amortization phase and then go into a concentric contraction. Your muscles are going from eccentric to concentric and your muscles need to be able to change rapidly. You need to have spring off the ground. One of the main contributing factors to running related injuries that comes up in the research is too much time on the ground. So actually spending too much time in what we call stance phase, where your foot is on the ground, is comparison to spending time when your foot is not on the ground. Increasing your cadence by spending less time on the ground can help that. How do we increase cadence? How do we increase the reactivity of your muscles? We need to train them plyometrically which is essentially jump training. So if you’re not doing any jump training right now, you need to add some jump training into your program.
There are specific running focused plyometric exercises that you want to do! There are level 1 plyometric training exercises where you’ll want to start if you haven’t done plyometric training before. If you do plyometric training for the first time, even if you’ve been hitting the gym every day for last 25 years, you will be sore the next day. This is simply because plyometric training requires different demands of your muscles than it is just doing your traditional strength training exercises.
Click THIS LINK for my level 1 plyometric program, which is a great place to start.
Click THIS LINK or the video below for those more experienced and have been doing some form of jump training exercises for my level 2 plyometric program
Ultimately what plyometric training does, is strengthens and conditions your muscles to be able to tolerate the demands of running so that when your foot hits the ground you can spring back up quickly and efficiently and spend less time on the ground so there is less stress on your joints and soft tissue muscles.
Tip 4: Train Yourself on Proper Self Tissue Care
What do we mean by this? When you are running, you’re constantly using your muscles. Your muscles are your soft tissue. Your muscles are connected to other soft tissue. There’s fascia which surrounds your muscles, as well as tendons that connect your muscle to your bone. A lot of running related injuries are due to overuse of the tendons or muscles that are not strong enough OR muscles that are not as pliable. So maybe you have a length issue or you have trigger points in your muscles or your muscles might be stiff and tight. So if you don’t train yourself in proper soft tissue care, you’re not allowing yourself the ability to work through some of these soft tissue complications. What we’re really talking about here are your self mobilization techniques. Whether you’re using a foam roller, a rolling stick, a lacrosse ball, a tennis ball, whatever your pleasure is, you’re foam rolling those muscles before you’re running and after you’re running as well as stretching those tight muscles! If it’s your hip flexors that are super tight, if it’s your calf muscles that are super tight and limiting your ankle mobility and it’s difficult for you to do hill work because you’re getting pain in your Achilles, then that’s a problem! You need to dedicate some time on soft tissue care and do some dynamic stretching prior to your work out and then at the end of your run do static stretching. Dynamic stretching prior to your run will be those active stretches where you’re moving and static stretching following your run will be those longer holds of 30 to 60 seconds. When you’re running, you’re consistently contracting your muscles and if you don’t stretch following your run, those muscles will just stay in that contracted state and will never resume back to their resting length. If you’re logging 20 miles a week for 10 years, those muscles are going to constantly shorten over time and that can be a contributing factor as to why you might get some running pain down the road.
Click THIS LINK for a more detailed previous blog article I posted a couple of month ago on the topic of proper soft tissue care.
So, the moral of the story: That proper self tissue care is so IMPORTANT. You can’t just go out there and run and just do you exercise program and strength train. You have to balance it off by soft tissue care and the best way to do this is self mobility. So yes, can you go see your physical therapist and have them do soft tissue work with instruments, or dry needling, or maybe you see a massage therapist?
Of course! These things are all great and maybe you need those periodic check ins based on how much you’re training. However, your self mobility techniques are going to be golden and that’s what is really going to keep you healthy in the long run — is taking care of yourself. That’s the foam rolling, the stick, the ball to use on those muscles and by no means are these a magic pill to fix everything but they are one part of the equation that a lot of runners do not use that could really benefit them in the long run!
Tip 5: Train SMART with Proper Progression
It’s not just about your physical health. It’s just about the exercises the we talked about or targeting the specific muscles. It’s not only about training plyometrically or training with your foot on the ground. It’s not only about taking care of your soft tissue. These are physical things that we can take care of. What we’re talking about here is training mentally and proper progression. A common theme we’ve been seeing in running related injuries is ramping back up way too fast. Proper training is going to keep you healthy! It’s not realistic for anyone to think that they can go from zero to sixty in a week or two. If you’ve taken any substantial time off from running, for example, you didn’t train over the winter and you’ve just been lagging along in the spring and now it’s summer and you’re thinking okay, it’s beach time, I gotta get out there and run every day… You have to progress your body back into running.
You have to be smart about how you’re adding in the training. The big thing is that you have to slowly build up your weekly mileage and consistency is key. It’s recommended to run at least 3 to 4 times a week. If you’re just starting out, start out with 2 to 3 miles. Get your body consistently able to run 3 to 4 times a week and then you’ll be able to add in some length. Once your body is used to running again you can progress to 4 miles, 5 miles, 6 miles. You’re slowly building up and then you’re getting to a weekly mile count, maybe 25 or 30 miles a week. Once you’re there, that’s your base. So now your body is used to running 25-30 miles a week and then this is where you start to add in your harder runs! This is when you add in your speed intervals, your track workouts, your hill workouts. You don’t want to add these in as you’re adding your mileage. If you’re building up right now, you want to build up that weekly mileage first! You need to allow your body to work back up to that proper fitness level so you’re not coming away with soft tissue break down and having pain in your hamstrings, your Achilles and your knees. You have to train SMART with proper progression in order to stay healthy!
So those are your five tips! Five tips really relating to the overall theme of training to run, making sure that you are training in order to run — not just running in order to train!
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Are you a runner that is trying to stay healthy but can’t train because pain is stopping you from meeting your goals?
Are you worried that an injury will limit you from doing what you love like working out and training?
Have you wondered what it will cost you in the long run if you continue to train through pain?
Have you seen other medical providers in the past that just tell you to stop your activity?
We have a unique treatment approach that focuses on solving these problems with our clients. We combine manual hands-on techniques with guided supervised exercises to help you get stronger, pain-free and perform at your peak level to get you back on the road doing what you love. Our goal is to help keep you active and on the road, while recovering from injury by guiding you in ways to modify your training, rather than eliminating running!
The SPARK Physical Therapy Commitment
No long waits or multiple trips to providers’ offices every week. We see you either onsite at a partnering gym or in the comfort of your home when it is convenient with your schedule.
One on one for a full hour with your doctor of physical therapy, every visit. We provide you with a customized plan specifically designed for you, based off your unique injury and goals.
Full transparency in what you pay. You will never get a bill from us a couple of months after your visit.
Access and availability to you! Have a question about your pain or exercise program? Get an answer from your therapist directly.
If you’re in the greater Hamden, CT area and are a runner that has been dealing with injuries we can help. We’d love to chat for a few minutes and see if you are a good fit for what we do. Fill in this CONTACT REQUEST LINK and we’ll set up a free-minute phone consultation with a doctor of physical therapy
Thank you for taking the time to read,
– Duane Scotti, PT, DPT, PhD, OCS
A special thanks goes out to Allie Eldridge, SPT for her contributions to this article
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In one word, TRUST. You can trust Duane Scotti to provide you with exceptional healthcare. My daughter is a competitive gymnast and has seen Duane every other week (pretty much) for 6 months. He has treated her for reoccurring heel pain and overall leg flexibility (and other aches and pains here and there). He has kept her in top condition despite the daily abuse her body takes from this relentless sport. He is excellent at listening to the athlete’s concerns, treating the problem, teaching the athlete how to maintain her health, and communicating with the parent. I highly recommend Duane, he is beyond exceptional.
Knowing that Duane fully understands the dance world and what it takes to be a dancer makes physical therapy with him one of a kind. He is able to personalize my rehabilitation and have me ready for whatever competition, performance or training I had coming up. Our sessions were always filled with laughter and I always felt like I was able to understand each step of the healing process. I felt stronger and more prepared to continue my rigorous dance training after my treatment with Duane! I would highly recommend Spark Physical Therapy to any performer and I’m grateful that I’ve had the experience to learn and work with them!!
SPARK Physical Therapy was instrumental in my recovery of from achilles tendinitis. I visited a podiatrist who said I would need surgery to shave down a bone spur and Haglund’s Deformity. The recovery would be at least 8 weeks and at the time I was 24 weeks from running the NYC Marathon. Duane evaluated me and said I needed to work on my calf muscle and flexibility. We started treatment with dry needling and specific exercises that I could do on my own. The pain subsided and even after some long runs everything was starting to feel better. I will tell you that I ran and finished the NYC Marathon without pain or issues from my achilles. Had I not met Duane about a week after my podiatrist appointment I would have needed to defer my marathon and probably would still be recovering from the surgery. I was able to run through my injury safely and achieve my goal. The refreshing thing about SPARK Physical Therapy is they do not push for ton of session. I met my running goals in 10 sessions spread out over 3-4 months. Big Thank you to Duane and I highly recommend seeing him for any running injury you may have!
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