Become a Better Runner, Become a Better Mover – Part 1
- Justin Levine
I see too many runners just start running. They eliminate some very important aspects. No soft tissue work, no pre-run warm-up, no drilling, they just begin to run. This strategy can run you right into a physical therapy clinic. You must take the time to create a recovery and regeneration program and implement it into your overall running program so you can truly maximize your performance. Remember if you are hurt you can not train, and if you can not train you can not get better. So take the time to devise your recovery program to reduce injury and enhance your running.
I just conducted a running clinic and we discussed the importance of soft tissue work, pre-run warm-up strategies, running drills for better economy and functional strength training to enhance your strength and power. If you missed this educational clinic, don’t worry because I am going to give you some of the concepts we talked about.
First we went over foam rolling techniques. Foam rolling is a great way to “self massage” your muscles. You can reduce and better yet eliminate knots that are bundled up in the muscles from running, daily moving and activity. When you improve the tissue quality of the muscle you improve blood flow and flexibility. You will move better. A foam roll is a very important tool for runners and other endurance athletes as it can tremendously assist in injury prevention. When you roll you want to find tender areas in your muscles. Go slow and methodical and when you hit a tender spot, stop and pulse over that area for 20 seconds, then continue to other parts of the muscle. Here are the muscles runners need to concentrate on to reduce some common injuries seen in the sport:
IT Band: the IT band is located on the lateral (outside) of the leg. It attaches to the hipbone and runs all the way down to the outside of the knee. When our IT band is tight we can create pain on the outside of the knee, also known as IT band syndrome.
Quadriceps: We all know where the “quads” are. But what most people do not know is that there are three different parts to the quads. The vastus medialis is located medially (inside of the quad), the vastus lateralis is located on the outside and the rectus femoris is located in the middle. Make sure to hit all three spots as you can build up knots throughout the entire muscle. Many runners with patella (knee cap) pain or medial (inside) knee pain can tremendously reduce the pain with consistent soft tissue and foam rolling.
Glutes and Hip Rotators: If you have ever experienced low back pain this is the area you need to concentrate on when you roll. When your hips and glutes are tight, your low back takes the compensation and movement, thus causing pain. By rolling and stretching this area you can assist is taking the stress off the low back and get your hips and glutes working correctly.
Thoracic Spine: Another area, if not functioning correctly can cause lower back and even neck and shoulder pain. Our thoracic spine is the 12 vertebrae located in the middle of the back. We need active mobility in this region. Sitting, driving, bad posture and bad movement causes the “t-spine” to become locked and dysfunctional. When this happens we start moving at the lumbar spine (lower back) and cervical spine (neck) causing issues up and down the chain. Many injuries and pain symptoms can resonate from poor function at the t-spine. So we need to focus on rolling this area many times during the week to increase function so we become better movers.
Calves/Peroneals/Soleus/Feet: We run on our feet so it is crucial to work the areas of the lower leg. If we begin to have tightness at the gastrocnemius (main calf muscle) then we could experience tightness down the chain into our fascia on the bottom of our feet. When the muscles of the foot become inflamed we get plantar fasciitis, a very common symptom amongst runners and endurance athletes. But it is something we can stray away from with the correct recovery and regeneration program. Make sure to roll your calves, peroneals (outside of your lower leg), soleus (underneath your calf) and the bottom of your feet. You can use a rolling stick for these areas or you can use a canned food, baseball or tennis ball.
Next we talked about pre-run warm-up strategies. Again, too many runners forget this important aspect and just start running with out dynamically warming up. This warm-up will prepare the body and nervous system for the workout ahead. If you have a sit down job this portion is mandatory as it will put your body into good function before you begin your run. Always take 5-10 minutes to perform a dynamic warm-up. Even if that means you reduce your overall run time by 5-10 minutes. You will become a better and more efficient runner and you will reduce your chances of injury.
Lunge/Arms straight up: This is a great movement as it can lengthen our hip flexors, activate our glutes and open up our shoulders and thoracic spine. Step out into a lunge position. Place the knee on the ground and raise your arms straight up next to your ears. Push through the back glute to feel the stretch in your hip flexor. Hold for 3-5 seconds and repeat 3-8 times on each side, then switch legs.
Deep Squat to Hamstring: This movement can be used to assess your overall functional movement. So it is important to work and perfect this move. Make sure to keep your chest up, back flat and maintain good core control. Keep your heels on the floor, your feet need to be outside the hips and facing straight ahead and keep your elbows inside of your knees during the squat. As you go into the hamstring stretch, push your butt out and back and keep a flat back until you feel the stretch in your hamstrings. Perform 3-5 full repetitions.
Side Lunging: Running is a sagittal plane (straight forward) movement. We need to increase mobility in all three planes of motion to truly maximize our functional movement. So side lunging will increase hip range of motion in a frontal plane (side to side). Make sure to keep your feet straight and locked into the ground. Sit you butt back into the move as you shift to the left or right. Make sure your bent knee does not slide past your toes. Force your butt and hips to drive backwards and to the direction you are going. You will feel this stretch in your adductors as well.
Push-up Yoga: This is a total body move as it can assist with hamstring and calf flexibility, ankle and thoracic spine mobility and shoulder stability. Start in a push-up position. Maintain good posture and keep your abdominals tight. Take 4 small hand steps back towards your feet. Raise your butt into the air and place your heels into the ground. Keep your legs locked out. Hold for 3-6 seconds and then walk back to starting position. Repeat for 3-5 full repetitions.
To be continued….