A lot of people have been taking advantage of this beautiful weather by lacing up their runners and hitting the pavement after winter hibernation. Now don’t get me wrong, I love seeing people take charge of their health and getting active…but I see the same thing happen every year: as we transition into spring and outdoor activities, running related injuries just skyrocket. Jumping into a running routine without proper preparation can take a major toll on your body and increase the risk of getting injured.
My goal in this article is to share some effective and practical ways for you to keep your legs safe and work towards seeing some solid gains this year. If you can incorporate all the suggestions – great! If not, work with what’s realistic for you. But at bare minimun, commit to one of the four recommendations below and go from there.
1. Static vs dynamic stretching
Old school thought lends itself to performing static stretching before engaging in physical activity. Static stretching refers to placing a muscle into its longest possible length and holding for a set period of time (1). Remember your high school gym teacher getting you to draw your heel up towards your butt and grab your ankle…that style. This tool has been argued to increase joint flexibility, aid in recovery, and reduce injuries in previously uninjured individuals when conducted following an exercise routine (2). However, static stretching has been argued to have a negative impact on overall performance if conducted prior to taking part in an exercise bout (3).
On the flip side, dynamic stretching has been associated with increased physical performance (strength, agility, power, etc), but does not appear to yield the same benefits with respect to increasing joint flexibility and ultimately preventing injuries that could result from poor flexibility (4,5,6). Dynamic stretching refers to moving a joint from its neutral position to its end-range, and then back to neutral in a smooth, controlled, and medium paced manner (1). With this, we are looking to raise our core temperature, increase overall circulation, and draw blood to the specific joints that will be stressed during the upcoming activity.
- Static stretching may or may not help with long-term flexibility, recovery, and injury prevention – but if you do choose to use this tool, perform it after your workout
- Hold your stretch for 15-30 seconds in a position of mild discomfort (not pain) and repeat for a second set if possible (7,8,9)
- Consider a routine of the following:
- Hip flexors and quads
- Glutes (max and med)
- Dynamic stretching can help boost performance and should be conducted before engaging in your exercise bout
- During my participation in the Olympic Weightlifting for Sports Performance workshop with Dr. Trevor Cotrell and Dr. Richard Bordon (in association with the Ontario Human Performance Association), I learned an incredible dynamic warm-up routine…here is a small selection from the routine that you can start with:
- 20 alternating knee hugs
- 20 forward lunges with arm swing (mimic a running motion)
- 20 full range sumo squats
- I will be putting together a short video demonstrating a dynamic warm-up…stay posted!
2. Find your imbalances
When I speak of balance in this context, I’m referring to two specific components: strength balances between opposing muscle groups (muscle groups that perform opposite movements at a specific joint) and flexibility at your hip joints.
- Talk to a personal trainer about safe and effective ways to strengthen your glutes (including medius) and hamstrings in order to achieve an optimal balance between hip extensors and flexors
- Have a personal trainer assess if your hip flexors and IT bands are tight; tightness can affect your running mechanics and can put you at risk for injury
3. Invest in a foam roller
If you have used one in the past, you’re probably cringing right now. There is no denying that the foam roller can be a little nasty…but this is a must for any runner. Learn from my mistake: I suffered with IT Band Friction Syndrome due to poor preparation for a half-marathon several years back. After the race, I was in insane pain for 3 days and I finally went to see my Chiropractor, Dr Ryan Barnswell, for some much needed rehab. Had I spent the time using the foam roller while training for the race, I wouldn’t have had to spend all that time, money, and effort in rehab…not to mention how painful the race was. Now the foam roller is a very dear friend of mine!
- Foam rollers can be found at most running specialty stores and their running coaches can demonstrate how and when to use them
4. Make massages a part of your training routine
It’s easy to get caught up and forget about our own needs. Massage and other forms of therapuetic recovery (hydrotherapy, acupuncture, etc) are incredibly important to our injury prevention protocol. A Registered Massage Therapist, Naturopathic Doctor, or Acupuncturist can work magic to keep you in running form. If you plan on staying active for years to come, this is a very worthwhile investment in yourself.
- O’Sullivan K, Murray E, Sainsbury D. The effect of warm-up, static stretching and dynamic stretching on hamstring flexibility in previously injured subjects. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 2009; 10:37.
- Cross KM, Worrell TW. Effects of a Static Stretching Program on the Incidence of Lower Extremity Musculotendinous Strains. Journal of Athletic Training. 1999; 34(1):11-14.
- Malliaropoulos N, Papalexandris S, Papalada A, Papacostas E. The role of stretching in rehabilitation of hamstring injuries: 80 athletes follow-up. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004; 36(5):756-759.
- McMillian DJ, Moore JH, Hatler BS, Taylor DC. Dynamic vs. static-stretching warm up: the effect on power and agility performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2006; 20(3):492-9.
- Fletcher I, Jones B. The effect of different warm-up stretch protocols on 20 meter sprint performance in trained rugby union players. J Strength Cond Res. 2004; 18(4):885-888.
- Herman SL, Smith DT. Four-week dynamic stretching warm-up intervention elicits longer-term performance benefits. J Strength Cond Res. 2008; 22(4):1286-97.
- Bandy WD, Irion JM, Briggler M. The effect of time and frequency of static stretching on flexibility of the hamstring muscles. Phys Ther. 1997; 77(10):1090-6.
- Bandy WD, Irion JM, Briggler M. The effect of static stretch and dynamic range of motion training on the flexibility of the hamstring muscles. Phys Ther. 1998; 27(4):295-300.
- de Weijer VC, Gorniak GC, Shamus E. The effect of static stretch and warm-up exercise on hamstring length over the course of 24 hours. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2003; 33(12):727-33.