Running has many benefits from reducing the risk of heart disease, improving sleep quality and strengthening our immune system. Unfortunately overuse injuries can happen with running. Returning to running after an injury can seem like a daunting task, nevertheless following a disciplined and planned approach will have you back on the road or on the trails in no time!
After an injury such as a hamstring strain, the injured tissues are more sensitive and less resistant to high demands such as running. This is why a progressive and controlled return to running is vital to ensure no relapse in injury or altered running mechanics occur. Starting with walking at a comfortable to brisk pace is a good place to start as it is similar to the biomechanics of running and prepares the joints and muscles for continuous impact. Once cleared, using the Soreness Rules developed by the University of Delaware either for treadmill or a predictable running surface can aid in gauging when to increase volume and intensity.
1. Soreness during warm-up that continues, take 2 days off
2. Soreness during warm-up that goes away, stay at running speed that led to soreness
3. Soreness during warm-up that goes away but redevelopes during session, 2 days off with return at lower speed
4. Soreness the day after running that is not muscular, 1 day off and wait to advance running volume
5. No soreness, progress program
Mobility and Strength
The best way to prevent running injuries is to be proactive instead of reactive. Having mobility and strength training in your fitness routine can decrease the chance of developing an overuse injury. If you have sustained an injury, cross-training which includes some elements of mobility and strength will greatly enhance the ability to return to running efficiently.
Increasing passive and active mobility can help decrease stiffness especially after a period of forced sedentary behaviour. Three areas to focus on specific to running are the ankles, hips and thoracic spine (mid-back).
1. Ankle mobility- Increasing dorsiflexion, the ability to bring your foot towards your shin more efficiently.
2. Hip mobility- Greater hip flexion and extension allows the ability to powerfully lift your knee up and drive your leg back in a fluid motion.
3. Thoracic Spine mobility - Developing mid back mobility through rotation, extension and some flexion helps with the neck, shoulders and hips all of which are involved with running.
Improving musculoskeletal strength for a runner is imperative to reduce the risk of injury or re-injury. Mostly any type of strength exercise will help but by focusing on some exercises that replicate the biomechanics of running will help translate strength gains.
1. Single leg deadlift- Helps increase hamstring mobility, improves balance, strengthens hip extensor in a lengthened position and back strength.
2. Plank variations- There are many variations that increase trunk and pelvis stability, progressing to a plank that requires the adductor and glute muscles will be more specific to running.
3. Calf raises (leg straight and bent)- Increases ankle mobility while strengthening the lower leg. Achilles is notorious for developing overuse injuries which is why it is important to strengthen this area, especially prior to returning to running.
Important takeaways from this post is to listen to your body and follow a return to running plan that has a gradual progression allowing the body and mind to adapt and improve post injury or long break.
Liam Kennell, The ACADEMY Personal Trainer and Running Expert
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