The sun is out, the snowbanks are receding, and the ice is melting off your favorite running paths and trails!
After a long, cold, snowy winter you are ready to lace up your running shoes again.
The only problem is that the last time you ran was November. So, although you are brimming with excitement to hit the pavement, your body might not be so ready.
Here are some tips for getting back out there safely and injury free:
Start with a Walk-Run
Did you know that jogging is a less optimal movement than running or walking?
For most people jogging means a lot of bouncing up and down and tends to result in more jarring forces through your low back and hips.
Running and or walking are preferable movements. That being said, not everyone can hit the trails at a running pace after a long winter.
So, the compromise is a walk-run!
I recommend starting with 1-2 min of running coupled with 1-2 min of walking, then repeat for your desired distance or time. This way, even if you can’t run 3 miles right off the bat, you probably can run 1-2 min at a time and then your heart rate and breathing can recover when you walk.
Over time, increase the challenge by running for more time and walking for less. For example, run 3-4 min and then walk 1 min. Eventually you will be able to run the whole length of time!
*A little disclaimer on jogging: I realize that this works fine for some people’s bodies and if jogging is your favorite and it doesn’t make you hurt, great! By all means, continue jogging. For many people, though, jogging can lead to injuries – so this is why I recommend the walk-run as opposed to a slow jog.
Start on the Flats and Graduate to the Hills
I know it is tempting to book it up Josie’s Ridge as soon as the trail is clear of snow. But, if you haven’t been running all winter, this is likely too much challenge too quickly.
“I recommend starting on the flats. If you want to mimic some hill work you can do 15-30 sec “pick-ups”.
Here is what I mean: once you are warmed up and running at a steady pace, add in 15-30 sec of a faster pace. A “pick-up” is supposed to mimic a hill so the effort should be hard. Pick a faster pace that is challenging enough that you are ready to be done with it after the 15-30 sec. After the interval is over, return back to that steady-state pace that you were running before. Hold your steady state pace for 45-60 sec then repeat the sequence 4-8 times.
Once the hills are cleared of snow you can employ the walk-run strategy described above if it is too challenging to run continuously.
Don’t Forget Stretching to Compliment Your Running
As you start running again and your leg muscles strengthen, your quads, gluts, calves and hamstrings will also likely tighten.
I recommend stretching after each run.
Your body will respond better to stretching if your muscles are already warm, so after you run is a perfect time!
Please don’t stretch before you run! Static stretching prior to exercise actually decreases your body’s ability to generate power. So you will zap some of the energy from your legs before you even run! Plus, the stretching won’t be as effective because your muscles aren’t warm yet.
The research tells us that you need a 2 min dosage of stretching per muscle group per side in order to improve muscle length. We are always in a hurry, so a lot of times people only hold a stretch for 30 sec or less and then move on, this is a common mistake I see among athletes of all types. Don’t fall in to this trap!
You can break this 2 min of stretching up however you like, 4x30 sec holds, 2x1 min holds or just hold the stretch for 2 min. But you need to get to that 2 min mark, per muscle group, per side to improve muscle length.
I know that stretching isn’t so glamorous, and it can often fall by the wayside, but it is very important both for running performance and for injury prevention. Here are a few suggested stretches:
As always, if you end up with a nagging injury despite your best efforts, our running experts at Four Pines Physical Therapy are here to help.
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Dr. Kaysha Heck
Dr. Kaya Tuchscherer
Video Running Analysis is performed by Dr. Kaysha Heck, PT, DPT, CSCS in Jackson and Dr. Kaya Tuchscherer, PT, DPT, CSCS in Alpine to help optimize your stride and recommend an ideal style of running shoe and is available at both our Alpine and Jackson clinics.
We will also identify any muscle weakness or tightness that you may have that could contribute to your injury and recommend corrective exercises to address these muscle imbalances.
!!! HAPPY RUNNING !!!