Running can be a vigorous activity that increases longevity, burns fat, and builds muscle, yet many guys avoid it. Why? Running can kill your ankles, knees, hips, and lower back. The culprit of this pain is often poor technique, imbalances, and weaknesses.
But, by following a few strategies, you can eliminate the pain that’s holding you back and return to proper running form. Use these six tips to revamp your preparations and mechanics to get off on the right foot while running.
1. Run on your forefoot
When you run barefoot on hard ground, you’ll automatically strike the surface on your forefoot because your body intrinsically moves to better absorb shock. It's how we're supposed to run. By doing this, the muscles and ligaments in your ankles will act like shock absorbers to minimize the impact on your knee.
In this 2013 Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise study, forefoot strikers produced less patellofemoral stress compared to heel strikers, suggesting that people with knee injuries may want to ease their way into the forefoot strike zone.
To get the feeling of where you should land on your feet, practice with a jump rope. Don't ditch your support shoes just yet, though. You can cause further injury if you rush into a minimal-support sneaker. Try to tweak your form first, then see how it feels to run in a lighter shoe.
2. Quicken your stride frequency
Running speed consists of stride length and stride frequency, so to get faster you’ll need to increase either one of these variables (or both).
Every running step should result in your foot landing just under your hips. Overstriding, having your foot land too far out in front of your body, increases time spent in the air and results in a harder landing, increasing risk of injury.
Understriding is also counterproductive because you’ll just wind up wasting energy by running too slow. To increase stride length, improve strength and range of motion in your hips and legs.
To increase stride frequency, or step rate, take quicker, controlled steps while keeping your feet low to the ground. A quicker cadence can reduce stress on the hips and knees, and may be beneficial to preventing and treating running injuries, according to this 2011 University of Wisconsin study.
Running with proper form will lead to a stride length and frequency that coincide with a speed your body is comfortable with.
3. Use dynamic stretches
A recent Journal of Strength and Conditioning study of soccer players found that dynamic stretching improved sprinting time and jumping ability significantly more than static stretching (or no stretching) when done 24 hours before the sprint and jump tests.
To properly warm up for a good run, use dynamic stretches that involve controlled movement through the active range of motion for each joint to activate your muscles. Here are some example of these joint-friendly dynamic movements.
4. Strengthen your core and legs
Strengthening your joints, bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles to withstand the rigors of running in the longterm can be done by lifting weights. If lower back pain during running is your issue, try light deadlifts to strengthen your spinal erectors without added stress.
Training your core can also improve running gait in those with previous ACL injuries, according to this 2012 Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation report. Also, strengthen your glutes and hamstrings with exercises like glute ham raises and kettlebell swings for maximum joint protection during running. To better mimic running mechanics, focus on single-leg movements like split squats, lateral squats, and single-leg deadlifts.
5. Improve your posture
If you’re serious about running, invest some time and money to get your gait analyzed. You’ll uncover all sorts of limitations and issues that you can correct and, eventually, run pain-free again.
For example, overpronation or underpronation can cause healable aches and pains or hunching over rather than running tall can increase spinal tension.
6. Improve your tissue quality
Use a foam roller, lacrosse ball, or tennis ball to improve your muscle health and relax bunches of ultra-tense muscle fibers called “knots” or “trigger points.” If left untreated, these areas affect your joints and limit your mobility.
Foam roll before every run and every workout. If you roll over any extremely tender regions, spend more time on that area to coax it to release.