It’s been a bumper summer in the Snowy Mountains. This time of year, the most common injuries that pop up tend to be running related problems. Running has too many benefits to count. Apart from the obvious benefits for your heart, lungs body and brain it can be a great way to destress and also can help recover from some persistent injuries. This stems from the fact that it’s relatively low load and is a primal movement pattern you learned at young age, it’s also something your ancestors have been doing since the beginning of time so humans tend to be quite good at it! We’re the best long-distance runners on the planet and have the lack of hair to prove it. On top of this, it’s a great exercise for many different parts of the brain as it links the left/right brain and helps wake up the parts of your brain that order movement and planning. So the next time you’re having a mental block – go for a run!
That all being said, overuse injuries are common in Autumn. Loading your body is healthy but it should be in a controlled way. In fact, the best treatment for most overuse injuries is a controlled loading program – which running can be part of. It’s just a good idea to have a plan of action before committing to that 20km. Be sure to focus on these three components of your run to ensure success.
Get your biomechanics right
The first place to start is by making sure you have the best running biomechanics. This means that load will be distributed through your whole body (not just one joint), you’ll optimize cardiovascular output and you’ll conserve the most amount of energy.
There’s been a whole lot of mis-information regarding the correct way to use your core muscles which has actually misled most of the world. Our societies obsession with clenching the bum muscles, tightening the oblique abdominals and pulling shoulders back and down has contributed to the epidemic of low back and lower limb training injuries.
We have powerful hips and a huge spine/ribcage that has the capacity to act as great shock absorbers. When there’s rigidity in either of these areas all that shock is going to go somewhere else, and your tissues can only take so much. So first and foremost, ensure you’re loose and open in your torso and wide in the hips so your legs can get behind you.
Check out these pictures of Kenyan runners. It’s perfect form and surprisingly hard to replicate.
The combination of having a loose and extended spine as well as keeping center of mass forward over the feet allows the hips to extend and will distribute the loading through the whole body.
When I worked in Canada with the Olympic track and field physio, some of the best tips I learned were to:
Try and keep space between your shoulder blades and rib cage
Find the bony bit at the bottom of your sternum – imagine there’s a piece of rope attached here and it’s gently leading you forward on your run
Think of a person running behind you. Try to show them the bottom of your shoe when you run.
As you improve your running style, it can sometimes be a bit intense to change a lot at once so it can be best to do things slowly. What I mean by that is for the first week, try to keep the space between your shoulder blades and ribcage. Second week, focus on a rope leading you and third week focus on getting the leg all the way through. Some surprising benefits to this is you’ll find it will make you faster – optimal cadence tends to be about 180 steps per minute. Most runners sit around the 140-150 mark. Slow cadence often means overstriding which is associated with injury. It's sometimes good to go through this with a physio to avoid injury.
Train the right muscle groups
The second point but just as important as the first one is that there’s some key muscle groups that will help you cement the first point. To run effectively you need to have strong thoracic (ribcage) extensors, hip extensors and shoulder extensors. A training program should always be individualized so it’s difficult to give a one size fits all (we’ve all led different lives) but at the very least there’s a high risk of injury when you can’t use your hips, extend your torso or can’t counter rotate the upper body. So I’ve made a little list of exercises that would be a great way to supplement your running program. Exercises should be tailored to your individual needs with a physiotherapist and you typically would want to make these harder as you go. But this is a good place to start, check out the video for a quick summary.
Split squat. There's a muscle in your hip called the gluteus medius that controls the rotation of your leg when you land. Split squats can be a great way to strengthen this.
Raised Bridge. As you can see in the runner above, a really important part of a running gait is hip extension. Raised bridges are quite an easy way to train this.
Low triceps row. This is one of the most under-rated exercises needed for running. A lot of people struggle with shoulder extension and it messes with their whole biomechanics. Make sure you get this one down pat!
Running mans. This one pulls it all together. It's a combination of all 3 components to help you take it in your stride.
Increase your load slowly
As I mentioned before, the body is great at adapting to load but it should also be done in a slow and steady fashion. Think about load as a percentage rather than distance. So if your goal is to run 22km in 3 months and you’re currently running 5km without problems, rather than going straight to 10km (which is a 100% increase in load) start with 10-15% increases each week. So next weeks run would be 5.5km then 6.2 etc. Once you are running 22km then a 10% increase would be 24.5km. I know this seems sensible but it’s the best way to both avoid injury and to properly heal most overuse injuries and reach your goals. It's sometimes best to build load under the direction of a physiotherapist because everyone has a different tolerance for load.
Go out there and have some fun!