Keeping goingThursday 3 May 2012
Keeping going; The value of warming up, cooling down, and stretching. Building your fitness up progressively. Avoiding injury, and what to do if you do injure yourself. Keeping motivated.
Warmup, cool down, and stretching.
It’s tempting to skip the warmup phase before a run - but don’t. A good warmup makes the run easier and gets your body ready for what’s to come (in surprisingly complex ways). An easy way to warm up is to walk for a bit - you can start off slowly but kick it up to a good pace to get some heat into your muscles, and to push your breathing and heart rates up.
While a warmup is more critical than cooling down, the cool down gives your body a slow return to its normal tick-over - all you need to do here is walk for a few minutes at the end of your run and let your heart rate settle back to normal.
Stretching before you run used to be a big deal and it was thought to prevent injury, but the view now is to either skip pre-run stretching or do a very particular type, called ‘dynamic’ stretching. Dynamic stretching effectively means keeping moving through your stretch, rather than holding a stretched position (or even worse, ‘bouncing’ in and out of a stretched position). Some suggestions for warmup stretches can be found here;
After your run is the critical time for stretching - once your muscles are good and warm. Doing this will really help you feel comfortable leading up to your next run too. Some good suggestions (with pictures as a guide) for stretching can be found here;
Build your fitness up progressively
Avoid the ‘boom and bust’ cycle in your approach to running - go in gently and build your fitness level up in stages. This’ll help you avoid injury, it limits pain and disappointment, and it’s just more enjoyable. Start with a realistic routine and stick with it for two or three weeks so you body can consolidate the gains and changes.
Running/walking a time or two around a short loop - preferably on the flat - can be a good idea to start; this way if you have a problem you aren’t far from home, and if you’re going well you can do several circuits. With the run/walk mix the aim is to start with walking, slowly add in some running to your walking, and move to doing only running (apart from your warmup). The US website Runners World has this nice starter plan you could use as a guide;
1: Two minutes running/four minutes walking
2: Three minutes running/three minutes walking
3: Four minutes running/two minutes walking
4: Five minutes running/three minutes walking
5: Seven minutes running/three minutes walking
6: Eight minutes running/two minutes walking
7: Nine minutes running/one minute walking
8: Thirteen minutes running/two minutes walking
9: Fourteen minutes running/one minute walking
10: Run the whole time!
A few good build-up tips:
Pace - use the talk test. If you can’t really talk while you’re running because the exercise is using up all your breath, then you're probably going too hard.
The 10% Rule - this is a nice quick way to work out how much you should extend your run each time you want to move to the next stage of fitness. Take you existing run and add 10%, so if you run for 30 minutes, add three minutes. If you run for an hour, add 6 minutes.
Vary the load - try a hard-day/easy-day approach where your body isn’t dealing with an all-or nothing situation, and has time to consolidate the gains between the more full-on sessions - no matter if those full-on efforts are 10 minutes or 100.
Training for an event
The link below will take you to a training outline for someone relatively new to running, but who has some basic fitness and is looking to enter something like a 10km off-road race:
This is a bit more of an advanced training outline for someone looking to enter a 30km off-road race:
More training plans here:
A few twinges and an ache or two can be just part of the territory with running - especially when you start - so don’t be thrown off your stride. Some good ideas to keep injury to a minimum are:
Beware the terrible 2’s: Too much, too soon, too fast. The best approach to injury is to avoid it if you can, and some basic tips really help here. Watching out for the too much, too soon, too fast trap is a key tip, and that’s why the Build your fitness up progressively (live link to that section) guide is so important. When you’re exercising you’re loading your muscles, bones, joints and organs with pressure, and their response to that demand is to grow stronger to meet that challenge. When you think about this process it’s really very cool and something of a miracle. So, give that miracle a hand by doing two things;
1) Give your body the time it needs to adjust to the different and extra demands you’re making on it. That’s the idea of the progressive build-up covered above. Included in that build-up and the sample training plans you’ll find through links on this site is another critical bit of avoiding injury - giving your body time to recover from the last lot of exercise. If you load too much challenge on, too quickly, and don’t leave rebuilding time, you overload and break down rather than build up.
2) Listen to your body and get to know it. Is that an old familiar ache which always goes after ten minutes, or something new you need to be careful with? Is the 10% extra increase in exercise over time just that bit too much for your system? Are you good on the flat but get sore on hills, or good going up but bad on the steep downhills? Remember that pain is essentially a signal - it’s there to wave a flag that you body wants you to notice.
Other things to look at:
Try running with a shorter stride. There’s some evidence that keeping your stride just a bit shorter when you run can reduce injury. People sometimes feel that they need to be really stretching out when they run, but this can strain your body and it means more of an impact when your foot hits the ground. Experiment with you stride to see what feels good.
Build up your muscle strength to balance the demands made by running. Having a stronger core - our main body mass that all those swinging arms and legs are working off - can be a huge benefit, not just in avoiding injury but in overall fitness and health. Often we have weak muscles in our core, especially around our stomach and our hips, and (under normal circumstances) other muscles cover for this when they can. Keeping everything in good alignment when we run helps keep injury away, and good core strength helps with that, and a bonus is that it’ll help avoid those nasty back strains that come along in normal daily life too.
Running surface. Hard surfaces like concrete footpaths heighten the impact of each stride on your joints, so if you're running 35 to 40 minutes three times a week or more it’s a good idea to find softer surfaces for your running route. Even tarseal roads actually ‘give’ slightly, but search out grass parks, off-road trails, hard-packed sand on the beach, or use the grass verge by the footpath where you can.
If you do injure yourself
The best way to deal with an injury is to ease off a bit, maybe take it easy for a bit and switch to another form of exercise like cycling or walking. If a specific area is a problem pop a bag of frozen peas on it for a bit to give it the ice treatment. Ice is a component of the old stand-by for injuries; RICE. That’s Rest, Ice (which reduces inflammation), Compression (strapping up an ankle with tape or a tube bandage, for instance), and Elevation. Elevation means spending some time each day with that injury area (often a knee or ankle) propped up on a chair or similar - preferably so it’s higher than your heart - and otherwise trying to keep your weight off it when you can.
The best time for RICE is as soon as you can after you’ve injured yourself. When using ice, place it on the sore area for about 10 or 15 minutes at least a couple of times a day. You can use a plastic bag that’s not too full of ice cubes and water - the not too full bit allows the bag to mold to your ankle, knee or wherever. A pack of frozen peas will also make a good ice-pack. Elevation is good for foot and ankle injuries, but less so for hamstrings or hips. Most chemists will sell some kind of compression dressing that will do the taping job for you.
Some experts also suggest adding P to RICE, P standing for protection. What they’re emphasising here is the need to give an injury time to heal before you hit this now-weakened area with the strains of more exercise.
Some injuries may need an anti-inflammatory for a while, so if it feels bad or is getting worse rather than better get it checked. If you’re out running and you get sudden sharp pain, cut back to a walk immediately and see it settles. If it doesn’t, get home as best you can, keeping the pace slow (walk) and protecting the area that hurts. If it’s not just a one-off strain but a problem area that keeps flaring up, get a movement expert like a physiotherapist or osteopath to check you out. You may have an alignment or muscle imbalance problem - it’s not that uncommon - which can be sorted out with good stuff like strengthening exercises, acupuncture, shoe inserts or other techniques.
Everyone who runs finds that motivation comes and goes, it doesn’t matter if they’re a top level competitive athlete or someone who just runs to stay fit. If you’re not in the mood you’ll find a zillion reasons to bail out; you hurt or think you might be getting sick, or old, or it’s been a hard day, or there’s too much to do, or too little to do and you’re bored. Or it’s winter, and it might rain/snow/be slightly wet, or it’s summer and too hot, or windy or if you run that route one more time you’ll go nuts.
On a bad day it might be all of these!
When motivation is an issue don’t get too bogged down by it, see if you can shift yourself into a different space. Some things that you can use to help might include:
- Change your routine, get some variety happening - run somewhere new, at a different time, maybe switch to walking or cycling for a bit.
- If you run alone, try running with someone else or a group for a while. Groups work well to keep the energy up and to trade encouragement. It can be easier to bring fun into the run if you’re with others, and fun really helps with motivation.
- If you run alone - or even if you don’t - music can help (using an iPod or MP3 player). It’s best not to do this if you’re somewhere where you need to hear cars, cyclists or other stuff around you.
- If you don’t have a routine, try to establish one - doing something out of habit is a lot easier than having to be disciplined every time you think about going for a run.
- Throw in some rewards - give yourself a treat if you push through the resistance and get out there.
- Negotiate a compromise - tell yourself “ok, I'll only run for 10 minutes” and head out. Run not to run, but to have a look around your neighbourhood, at the change of seasons, at that new house being built, shift the focus from running to ‘being out there’.
- Give yourself some structure. Having a goal can really help - aim to enter a fun run or similar so your runs have a definite purpose. Or run against your past running times so you’re tracking your progress and competing against yourself. Keeping a running log can help with this and that makes your progress really tangible. Keeping a log will also help identify what works for you and what doesn’t (best time of day, ideal gap between runs, food and drink that helped - or not).