Rain or shine, treadmill or pavement, you’re piling up the miles to get 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…

Spoiler alert: There’s a better way to prepare. We’re here to break it down for you.

Training vs. conditioning for running

There’s a difference between training for running and conditioning for running. Training is the consistent running itself, and conditioning is how you prepare your body for those runs.

A lot of runners spend their time training, believing that running more is the key to running better. But getting into optimal running shape starts with understanding the demands that running places on your body. Then, you need to meet those challenges with a functional conditioning program.

Was this helpful?
running tipsShare on Pinterest
Wagnerokasaki/Getty Images

Running can place a high demand on your body as your feet pound the ground. And where does this impact go? It’s absorbed by your soft tissues — muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, fascia, etc.

But here’s the catch: Those soft tissues can only take the shock when there is an enough range of motion available in your joints. If your joints (like knees, ankles, hips) can’t move freely, that impact can cause injury. A foam roller can help improve this range of motion.

Here’s how to do it

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 your 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 warmup is all about readiness. It provides flexibility, balance, agility, and resilience. Plus, it actually helps prepare the body for the demands of running by exaggerating the natural movements that your arms and legs will perform on your run.

Here’s how to do it

Before you start your run, perform a series of dynamic stretches that includes natural movements that will also help with joint mobility, allowing you to run more effortlessly. Try some lunges, leg swings, and high knees to get ready for the road ahead.

Bonus: Getting the proper warmup makes your run a whole lot easier!

Running is a fully integrated activity. You need to make sure your hands, arms, feet, legs, head, and eyes are all coordinated. Your cross-training routine should reflect that full-body activity.

Here’s how to do it

Try a conditioning circuit that mimics the out-of-sync core motions experienced during a run, providing an immediate carryover to running performance. Incorporate unilateral exercises (like step-ups or lunges) as well as rotational movements (like rotational medicine ball slams or lunge chops).

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 a half-marathon, and 20 reps for a marathon.)

This type of circuit will help you tone, strengthen, and fire up your running muscles all at once. One study showed that biking is also an effective cross-training activity for runners to try.

“Recovery” doesn’t have to mean taking time off of from all kinds of 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 simply rest alone.

Your muscles work super hard to keep you pounding the pavement or blazing the trail day after day. Over time, this can lead to injury if you don’t balance these intense moves with a solid, restorative routine.

Here’s how to do it

Try a gentle yoga flow or easy walk through nature to restore your 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.

Devoting all of your race prep time to running won’t give you the best results. Instead, try to incorporate joint mobility, cross-training, and active recovery exercises to your running routine.