Running is infamous for its ability to cause niggles, aches, and injuries, yet it remains one of the most popular and effective ways to exercise. Does running deserve its bad reputation? Is there a way to maximize its gains while avoiding running injuries? We think so.
Why does running hurt?
Contrary to popular belief, running does not wear out your joints or cause long-term damage to your body. Humans have been doing it for several million years, so you should be pretty good at it, right?. Why is it that many people experience pain or injury when running?
It’s because running is a highly repetitive movement that loads almost all of your muscles and joints. While activities like cycling and swimming are also highly repetitive, they place less load on your body and tend to be less provocative. In contrast, activities like basketball or weightlifting can place lots of load on your body but are less repetitive, incorporating many different movements.
When you perform a task that loads your body repeatedly, like running, your body gets the job done in the most efficient way it can. It uses your strong muscles to do most of the work, spending little energy on weaker muscles that aren’t essential for the task. Over time, the strong muscles become tight and overworked, while the weaker muscles atrophy, losing their ability to stabilize and support. These imbalances can affect movement quality and cause pain.
Most of your body is involved, and therefore vulnerable when you run. Everything from your neck and shoulders to your toes is working to generate movement and keep you breathing. This is why running can lead to issues almost anywhere in the body, not just in the high-impact zone of the lower limbs.
How to make running hurt less
To prevent and treat running injuries, you need to reduce your imbalances while improving your running technique to use all of your muscles in proportion.
Engaging in other physical activities besides running, also called crosstraining, can be helpful to reduce imbalances, as it challenges your body to use new muscle patterns. Another strategy you can use involves targeting your imbalances with specific exercises.
The most common injury causes in runners, and how to fix them
While no two bodies are identical, many people share similar imbalances. Working to reduce these imbalances will build strength in mobility in areas that are usually weak and tight. We recommend them for everyone, whether or not you have experienced an injury.
Imbalance 1: Lumbopelvic Region
While this might not be the site of injury, improving strength in the hips and lower trunk is incredibly important for preventing injury elsewhere in the body.
What’s Weak: Glutes, Lower Abdominal Muscles, Pelvic Floor
What’s Tight: Lower Back, Hip Flexors, Quadriceps, Hamstrings
What To Do
Imbalance 2: Ankles and Feet
Your feet and ankles are the first points of contact with the ground when you run. They play a large role in absorbing and producing force. Unfortunately for most of us, the shoes and surfaces that we spend most of our time in have weakened this area. Strengthening your feet and ankles can help to avoid issues in the feet, ankles, shins, and knees when running.
Whats Weak: Big Toe, Ankle Stabilizers
What’s Tight: Calf, Shin
What To Do
Imbalance 3: Neck and Shoulders
The upper limbs and trunk are essential for good running technique. The upper trunk does most of the work when we breathe. Strength and mobility n these areas are often neglected by runners, and many experience issues like stitch, shoulder pain, and neck pain. Regular maintenance here can reduce pain and improve performance.
What’s Weak: Mid Back, Diaphragm
What’s Tight: Chest, Traps, Thoracic Spine, Rib Cage
What To Do
What is good running technique, anyway?
Once you start gaining strength and mobility in the right places, running with good technique becomes much easier. The key is to start taking advantage of your weaker muscles, instead of neglecting them. Here are the main points to get you started. You can find a full description of how to improve your running technique here and on the Phyx app for iOS.
- Use your arms and trunk
- Breathe with your diaphragm
- Don’t ignore your core or butt
- Grip with your feet
Do you have an iPhone?
Find all of the exercises in this post and more on the PHyx app for iOS!
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