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  • - Rob Drenning PT, OCS, FAAOMPT

Don’t Run to Get in Shape... Get in Shape to Run!

Running is one of the most popular sports world-wide. It doesn’t require much equipment and has numerous positive benefits for our health and fitness. However, running also has the highest prevalence of injuries amongst all endurance sports! Running is such a risky sport that it is estimated that 50% of people who run regularly will have at least one injury each year. As the weather gets warmer, we see this pattern play out time and time again. The more people that start running… the more people that end up hurt. So let’s look briefly at why this happens, and go over some tips to keep you healthy and on track toward your fitness goals!

When we think of running, we often think about the strain that it has on our lungs, or how ‘out of breath,’ running makes us when starting out. The best way to improve this dreadful feeling is to… yep, run more.

What we often overlook is the impact running has on our muscles, bones, and joints. Did you know that running causes a force on your knees that is 5-7 times greater than your body weight?! Unfortunately, that’s just one example. It takes a remarkable amount of strength and endurance in your muscles to control these forces. On top of that, it takes time for the surfaces of your joints to get used to that load. If your muscles and joints aren’t used to that amount of stress, the result is often an injury. So… how do you avoid this fate? Well, in a nutshell, you need to get in shape before you start running! A program consisting of regular strength training should include lifting weights and moving through full ranges of motion exercises (for example deep squats vs shallow ones), AND should be started at least 2 months prior to beginning to run! The mistake most people make is waiting too long and beginning just a couple of weeks prior to running… or not at all! Allowing more time to train will prepare the leg joints for higher loading forces and prepare the muscles to control those forces. Getting stronger takes time! Starting a regular aerobic conditioning program that has less strain on your joints prior to running is always a good idea. Some examples might be walking, swimming, or biking.

Ok, so let’s say you’ve done all the necessary conditioning work. Does that mean you won’t get hurt running? Of course, the answer is no. I wish it were that simple. Always remember to progress running slowly. A general rule of thumb is to increase by 10% per week! This is painfully slow progress, but it does give your body time to adapt to the activity and helps avoid injuries. Remember, an ‘increase’ in running doesn’t just mean distance, it can also be time, pace, or terrain.

Starting a strength training program is a very individualized thing. No exercise should hurt! Certain body types will dictate which exercises will be most beneficial for each person. If your goal is to start running, and you would like any guidance in this process, just give us a call to talk with a Physical Therapist, we’d be more than happy to help.

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