Rain or shine, indoors or out, you are piling up the miles, getting ready for next month’s 10K. But your performance doesn't seem to be improving, and the fear of injury is creeping into your head. Is there another way to approach race training, or even just everyday running practice? You betcha!
Just the (Running) Facts
Consider for a minute the difference between training for running and conditioning for running. Training is the daily run itself; conditioning is about preparing for those runs. When you are "conditioned" for running, you are prepared for the demand all those miles place on your body. The reality is most runners spend their time training, believing that running more is the key to running better. But staying in optimal running shape starts with understanding the many demands running places on your body and meeting them with a functional conditioning program.
This enhanced approach is all about efficiency—getting more done with less effort. Sounds great, right? It’s totally possible when you understand common running myths and make a few minor adjustments to your running routine.
With two-and-a-half times your bodyweight crashing into the ground, running places a hefty demand on your body. Where does this impact go? It’s absorbed by the soft tissues—muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, fascia, etc Relationship between running loads and soft-tissue injury in elite team sport athletes. Gabbett TJ and Ullah S. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012 Apr;26(4):953-60. . But here’s the catch: Those soft tissues can only take the shock when there is an adequate range of motion available at the joint being impacted. In other words, if the joints—knees, ankles, hips—can’t move freely, the impact can cause injury.
Your action plan: Mobilize your joints! For best results, roll, stretch, and move (in that order). Start by foam rolling and self-massaging your calves, quads, groin, and hip flexors. This creates flexibility in the muscles, allowing the joints of your lower body to move while stretching. Stretch your hip flexors, and finish up with a set of lunges in multiple directions to help control the new range of motion. Your hip flexors are now ready to power your run!
There’s a lot more to warming up than just raising core temperature, lubricating your joints, and getting you focused. A functional, dynamic warm-up is all about readiness: It provides flexibility, balance, agility, and resilience. Plus, it actually helps over-prepare the body for the demands of running by exaggerating the natural movements of the arms and legs.
Your action plan: For the first half-mile of a run, perform this jog matrix that includes natural movements that will also help with joint mobility, allowing you to run more effortlessly. Overdoing your warm-up makes your run a whole lot easier!
Running is a fully integrated activity, requiring coordinated use of our hands, arms, feet, legs, head, and eyes. Isolated forms of exercise, such as working the machines at the gym or training individual body parts, don’t prepare you for the full-body workout that is running. Your cross-training routine should look like whatever activity you are cross-training for: In this case, running!
Your action plan: Try this conditioning circuit that mimics the out-of-sync core motions experienced during a run, providing an immediate carryover to running performance. Use weights that will allow you to complete each set with good form, and base the number of reps on the distance you typically run or are training for. (For example, 10 reps for a 5K to 10K, 15 reps for half-marathon, and 20 reps for a marathon.) With this circuit you tone, strengthen, and fire up your running muscles all at once.
The term "recovery" is often confused with rest—straight up taking time off of from movement or activity. While it is important to have "off" days, active recovery plays a key role in maintaining a healthy and effective running practice. Yep, there is such a thing as active recovery. Scheduled rest days are great, but authentic healing, nourishment, and recovery actually come from movement, not rest alone. Your muscles work beyond hard to keep you pounding the pavement or blazing the trail day after day. Over time, if these intense muscular contractions are not properly balanced with a solid, restorative routine, injury-possible can becomes injury-probable.
Your action plan: Follow this simple routine to restore the body back to its optimal resting, functional state. This will give your body what it needs so it can give you what you want—to run faster, for longer, and more comfortably.
Mike Rizk is a self-proclaimed biomechanics geek, professional corrective movement therapist, and coach by day, and mean hacky-sacker by night. Based out of Central Jersey, Mike gets his kicks being a father and unlocking people's hidden potential by sharing the message of being conditioned for life.
Want to put these tip into practice? Join Condition for Life's 30-Day Challenge, which includes a free workout every day during the month of June. You’ll move for just five minutes per session, but the real payoff is making a consistent, sustainable effort to prioritize your health and fitness. Plus, you’ll learn how to creatively explore movement in order to develop a greater work capacity day to day. For more info, email firstname.lastname@example.org.