With summer now in full swing, lots of us are hitting the track, the streets and the trails to get and stay fit.
"It's not uncommon for runners to get into a regular running routine," says Jamie Schwab, an athletic trainer at Henry Ford Health. "They'll find a comfortable pace and stick with it, often even doing the same route."
Unfortunately, doing the same run day after day not only leads to boredom, but it can also prevent you from reaching your full potential.
5 Tips To Run Smarter
It’s no secret that running is tough on the body. In fact, runners frequently develop muscle imbalances that make the body work harder. But you can take steps that can help you improve your run, maximize efficiency and get the most out of your running workout. Here's how:
1. Listen to your body: Whether you're a seasoned runner or just starting out, pay close attention to what your body is telling you. If your hips and knees are sore, back off. Feeling strong? Run another mile. The key to improving your run is to gradually increase distance and intensity over time. At first, you may only be able to handle a 10- or 15-minute jog. But if you keep at it, you'll be running for 30 minutes straight in no time.
2. Get the right footwear: If you're not a competitive runner, you might think any pair of running shoes will do. In reality, properly fitted running shoes not only enhance your performance but also reduce your risk of injury. Find a running store that can analyze your form and recommend shoes based on your unique gait and foot strike.
3. Pay attention to your target heart rate: Your target heart rate is 220 minus your age. Once you hit that rate during your run, you're working at maximum capacity. Don't want to invest in a heart rate monitor or be bothered with another tracking device? You're probably hitting the zone if you can still carry on a conversation during your run.
4. Focus on strength: If you're an avid runner but you aren’t strength training, you're setting yourself up for injury. "You're asking your body to do a lot during a run," Schwab says. "Weak glutes or hips add stress to your knees and ankles." Want to stabilize your run? Pay special attention to your core muscles. Solid strength training exercises include lunges, planks, squats and pushups.
5. Keep it interesting: Doing the same running routine day after day can be exhausting. Break out of your comfort zone by trying a different route, playing with your pacing, or running stairs or hills. You might even incorporate plyometric activities into your run. These explosive motions — hopping, skipping and jumping — help build power, strength and performance.
Eating well and getting regular exercise are key to enhancing overall health. Plus, a fit body is better equipped to avoid and battle infection. Running can also protect your sanity.
"Running is a great escape for many exercise enthusiasts," Schwab says. "Many people find they not only feel physically healthier, but their mental and emotional health also gets a boost."
The caveat: When you're running, you're placing double or triple your body weight on one side of your body at a time. So it's critical to pay attention to what shape your body is in before you take to the track. A few questions to ask yourself:
- Am I in good cardiovascular shape?
- Am I recovering from shin splints, knee injuries or hip problems?
- Am I at risk of falls?
- Am I suffering from osteoporosis?
It’s always important to check with your doctor before making changes in your exercise regimen. If running isn't appropriate for you, plenty of other activities, such as swimming, hiking and biking, can get your heart pumping.
To find a sports medicine specialist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/sports or call 1-800-436-7936.
Jamie Schwab, AT, ATC, SCAT, CSCS, is an athletic trainer with Henry Ford Sports Medicine and works with student athletes at Edsel Ford High School. She is a National Strength and Conditioning Association certified strength and conditioning specialist.
When you've been hit with an injury, it's natural to want to get back to your regular activities as soon as possible. In fact, it's not uncommon for athletes to sidestep doctors' orders and return to the field or the court before an injury has healed.
"It doesn’t matter how much you train, or how much you prepare, injuries are going to happen, especially if you're an athlete," says Jamie Schwab, an athletic trainer at Henry Ford Health System. "But the real trouble arises when athletes try to play through their pain without allowing sufficient time for recovery."
Risks Of Returning Too Soon After Injury
If you sprain your ankle during a cross country run, it can be tempting to finish the race. Unfortunately, hiding your pain and powering through the activity can actually make matters worse.
"If you continue to work out after suffering from an injury, you run the risk of furthering that injury," Schwab says. So what began as a minor ankle sprain can evolve into a major sprain that sidelines you for weeks.
Returning to play after surgery demands extra precautions. "Athletes are a lot more susceptible to re-injury after returning from surgery, especially if they don't complete the entire 9-month or year-long rehabilitation protocol," Schwab says. In some cases, you can exacerbate an injury to such a degree that you'll never be able to participate in the same capacity.
A Safe Return To Play
The road back to play after an injury is a long and winding one. Before you can even consider returning to exercise, you need to reduce swelling, get pain under control and get your range of motion back to almost normal.
"The recovery process takes time," Schwab says. "But if you stick with it, and you take it seriously, it's going to be a whole lot easier for you to return to the playing field in a timely manner."
Once you get pain and swelling under control, you can focus on agility and weight exercises that will help you regain strength and slowly return to baseline. The key tenets for a safer return to play:
► Be honest about your abilities: "So many athletes are afraid to tell the truth," Schwab says. "But if you're hurting and you're not competing at your full potential, you're letting your team down and yourself down, too." Even worse, you could increase your risk of further injury.
► Focus on building strength: Strength training is critical. It can help you become faster, stronger and more agile on the field. It can also help you recover more quickly after an injury.
► Listen to your body: If something doesn't feel right, pay attention to it. Talk to your athletic trainer or a physical therapist to get to the bottom of what's bugging you and put a plan in place to address it.
Boosting Performance Over The Long Haul
Unfortunately, not every coach and athletic trainer stresses the importance of a maintenance program. In fact, focused training and maintenance exercises are key to preventing injuries in the first place.
"The rehabilitation exercises you begin doing on day one after injury need to be maintained at least three to four times each week, indefinitely," Schwab says. "If you follow that regimen, all of your muscular nagging strains will no longer be a problem because your body is constantly adapting to the stresses. It's conditioned, it's strong, it can withstand the constant changes in direction."
Most importantly, don't be afraid to try complementary strategies. Practice using a foam roller, try cupping to release tension in the muscles and enhance blood flow and consider getting a monthly massage.
Jamie Schwab, AT, ATC, SCAT, CSCS, is an athletic trainer with Henry Ford Sports Medicine and works with student athletes at Edsel Ford High School. She is a National Strength and Conditioning Association-certified strength and conditioning specialist.
To find a sports medicine doctor or athletic trainer at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/sports.