Amidst the current pandemic and the subsequent closing of gyms and other exercise spaces, people are becoming more interested in running. Like walking, most people think because they have two feet and a pair of sneakers, running is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other with a bit more spring in their step than a brisk walk. While that may be good enough to dash out the door or down the sidewalk, there are some important considerations to make before you decide to make running your primary exercise of choice. Here are some tips that can help you navigate running, one of the oldest and best forms of exercise that we have to date.
• Walk before you run.
It sounds simple, but walking is a critical first step to perform before you run, not unlike the crawling that we all do before walking. In fact, unless you can easily walk a given distance (non-stop) every day of the week, you probably should not suddenly decide to run said distance in any single session. Ramping up your mileage too quickly puts your muscles, joints and nerves at risk. While walking may not be the same thing as running, walking briskly trains most of the same muscles and movement patterns as running, and it can also help condition your heart, lungs, muscles and joints to carry the load of your bodyweight over a distance.
Start by keeping track of your mileage, whether walking or running. Tracking your weekly mileage is the best way to monitor your progress, and, thankfully, most smartphones have the capability to do this with ease.
Aim to increase your weekly mileage at 10 percent per week, which will give your body a chance to repair at a reasonable rate. While muscles adapt quickly (one to two weeks), tendons, ligaments and nerves take more time (months to years) to adapt.
• Know thy weakness(es).
Every body has weaknesses; what’s yours? For many runners, their weakness is that they aren’t engaging their core enough on impact, and that puts strain on the spine and the hip. For others, they don’t “feel” the ground with their feet or engage the ground with their foot muscles, which puts excessive strain on the plantar fascia (foot), nerves of the toes or knee. And for many runners, “good posture” is over-emphasized in their form, and they end up over-engaging their spinal muscles, creating a host of other issues.
Most new runners make the mistake of using all the wrong muscles and movement patterns, so do not feel alone. In fact, most athletes make this mistake in one way or another, and like any garden variety weed, the answer is to address the problem at its root, get rid of it and keep going. Additionally, many new runners bump up against a mild or moderate injury and get scared away from running altogether, which is sad and, for many, is unnecessary.
Start by becoming self-aware when you run. Running, and all exercise, is as much about self-awareness and consciousness as it is about “feeling the burn” or “getting a good workout.” When you are exercising, your focus should be on what your body is doing and not anywhere else. This is the “zen” of running that many runners have come to love and even crave. Getting familiar with how your body is moving is the first step in learning how to run effectively, so why not start now?
• Start with quality equipment.
If you are going to be putting miles on your feet, getting a quality shoe is a good place to start. While I do not want to endorse any brand, most people do not need an extra special type of shoe. Companies spend millions on research and development every year to create the next new, highly specialized type of shoe that most people do not necessarily need. Most people need a shoe that fits their foot length, foot width and supports their foot without being too rigid or flexible; that is it. Most good shoe stores will have staff who can help you decide on a shoe, and some may even be able to watch you walk or run to see where your foot weakness may be. If a foot injury arises and you do have a quality shoe under foot, look next at your technique and movement habits. Many times, there are poor patterns, poor mechanics or old soft-tissue issues that are causing unnecessary strain. This is where a good professional who can combine your diagnosis, your movement assessment and your technique can be helpful.
Understanding your foot length and width is a good place to start. Having those measurements alone can be incredibly helpful in choosing the right shoe. While most companies have length and width specs, many brands also have a “type” of foot that they accommodate best. Once you get that information, get in touch with your local running store to narrow down your options. They might ask you about your arches, which would also be helpful to know if you have a high arch, flat arch or somewhere in the middle.
Dr. Dan Michael is a chiropractic physician at NW Sports Rehab in Madison Park.