Crazy as it seems, you can really be a better runner by doing three things! You may say you do bits and pieces of these three things, but do you really spend the proper amount of time on each of them? So instead of always trying to increase your mileage or improve your pace, do this:
1. Foam roll – soft tissue work. Spend at least 5 minutes doing this but more time is certainly recommended.
2. Stretch properly – dynamic stretches and static
3. Strength train – legs, core and upper body
The number one thing I would recommend to all runners and athletes alike is to do soft tissue work. Foam rolling is the easiest and least costly method of doing soft tissue work. A foam roller works out the knots and trigger points in the fascia of the muscles. Fascia is the protective covering of all muscles that binds them together. If your fascia is tight, so are you.
Foam rolling increases blood flow to the massaged areas, increases flexibility and soothes sore muscles. By working on your soft tissue, your muscles and joints will move in their normal patterns without restrictions. Things like arch pain, IT band pain, runner’s knee and back pain will be significantly reduced or relieved by taking proper care of your muscles. So think of it this way: tight fascia leads to restricted muscle length which leads to restricted movement patterns which can lead to over compensation and extra strain on the joints of the body causing inflammation and then pain.
Stretching is the second main piece of the puzzle to reduce running injuries. There are some important strategies here too. One of them is never stretch cold muscles. How many times have you watched someone who is about to run start stretching? If your muscles are tight and have knots in the fascia, you are tightening the knots and not getting the length needed for a proper stretch.
I advise a 5 minute warm up with some light cardio. You should increase core temperature and get some blood flow into the muscles allowing them to become more pliable before any stretching.
I also suggest doing some active or dynamic stretching prior to a run. Once you have completed your run, static stretch. I would also recommend foam rolling after a run as well. When you do stretch, it’s not just your calves, quads and hamstrings. You use your whole body to run, so stretch your whole body.
Strength training is the third piece of the puzzle. Don’t panic, you do not have to go to the gym and lift weights for countless hours per week. You can do some basic movements that will increase your running economy. By increasing your running economy you will require less effort and energy to run the current pace and distance you are doing. You will actually run smoother and faster, and have more gas in the tank for your long distance days.
Bodyweight is a great place to start. Foundation movements like squats, lunges, leg curls (on your foam roller), body rows, planking and push ups are great exercises to begin with. Again you do not have to do this for a long period of time. You are probably a runner and want to run, so carve out 10 minutes and add these strength training moves to the beginning of your run on short to moderate runs.
If you have everyday aches and pains, 90% of the time it is due to tight fascia and imbalanced muscles. It takes time to work on it. You won’t fix your aches and pains in one rolling session, but doing it daily will definitely help. Strength training will help keep your body balanced and strong enough to tackle hills with confidence and sprint to the finish line in a race.