In this post I share how I was able to significantly improve my running efficiency and strength. After struggling with injuries and inflammation for years, I finally feel strong enough to run regularly. I attribute this recovery mainly to five reasons. Since I know many of you are runners, I thought you might find this post helpful. And remember: we all have different needs and capabilities so it’s important to do what’s right for YOUR body.
1. I got stronger.
There’s no denying that running is a high impact activity. Repetitive movements can easily wreak havoc on your joints and muscles. Overtime, running can also cause muscle imbalances to develop and worsen. If these issues are not properly addressed they can easily lead to injuries down the road. Strength training can help runners maintain their power, endurance, and muscle mass.
Due to previous injuries, I tend to have weak hips and hamstrings, so I always incorporate movements that focus on strengthening and balancing these areas. Both multi-joint movements (squats, lunges, etc.) and unilateral exercises (such as single-leg deadlifts or glute raises) are important to incorporate so you can strengthen inactive or weak muscles. And because distance running breaks down muscle fibers, it’s imperative that you build it back up with regular and consistent strength training.
2. I paid attention to my form and cadence.
One of the reasons I love running so much is it requires minimal equipment: just throw on some sneakers and go. Yet, it’s extremely important to pay attention to your form and posture. Many local running stores offer free gait analysis. Their trained staff can review your form and offer suggestions on footwear. You can also visit a sports physical therapist or running coach to get some pointers on your form. Some of the areas I have to focus on include: leaning forward slightly and trying to land mid-foot (to prevent heel striking). I overpronate slightly when I’m tired and need to be a bit more mindful of this on longer runs when I get tired.
You may have heard people talk about cadence, or leg turnover. Cadence is the number of times your foot strikes the ground per minute. The general standard to strive for is between 170 – 180 steps per minute. Some people may fall above or below this range. Keep in mind that your height, weight, and stride length all determine your optimal cadence. To measure, just count the number of times your right foot strikes the ground for 30 seconds and multiply by two. I usually fall around 180 steps per minute, but that took a lot of work to get there and sometimes that number changes. Increasing leg turnover can make you a faster, more efficient runner. It will also help you land with proper foot positioning and may prevent injuries like shin splints from developing.
3. I stopped focusing on my pace.
Anyone who has trained for a race can attest that, at times, it’s hard not to get caught up in your pace. Owning a GPS watch makes it even easier to become absorbed in metrics and performance. In the past, I’ve put a great deal of focus on how fast I was running and my overall time; always trying to “beat” my pace/time each run. Not only can this increase your chances of injury and overtraining, but it can also steal the joy out of running. Sometimes I leave my Garmin at home or I’ll wear it, but won’t activate the “run” mode. This allows me to just enjoy the run for what it is: a run.
4. I quit wearing stability and motion controlled running shoes.
This may be a bit of a sensitive topic since I know runners take their shoes seriously, but I’ll address it anyway. First, I am by no means telling you to disregard the footwear that you love or the sneakers that work best for you. I am merely telling you what I have found to be true for me.
Last year, I reached a really low point in my running. I finished a half-marathon in the spring and had been suffering from some wicked shin splints and foot pain ever since. Despite adequate rest and almost no running, I couldn’t get rid of the pain. I decided to try wearing a neutral, minimal shoe and the pain decreased dramatically. While I am sure there were other factors involved (certainly the rest and recovery played a role) I noticed a huge improvement from switching my footwear. After wearing Mizunos for almost two decades, I have started to alternate between Nike Frees 5.0 and Adidas Pure Boost X. I have several pairs of sneakers that I rotate through often (another good tip: switch shoes on the regular).
5. Recovery, recovery, recovery.
Now that I am…ahem…in my thirties, I’ve realized just how important recovery is in between training sessions and runs. I absolutely believe that I am able to workout as much as I do because I have taken appropriate steps to restore and repair by body. Recovery may look different for everyone. For me, it means spacing out my runs and avoiding back-to-back long runs or heavy lower body work. It also means monthly massages, foam rolling, stretching, supplements, and quality post-workout fuel. Sweet potato smoothie, anyone?
I would love to know your thoughts on this topic. Anyone have some recovery tips to offer?
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