Wellness and Healthy Living: BJC Medical Group

 

Published on Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Where Do I Start if I'm Interested in Running?

Devin Bell, DO, a primary care physician at Progress West Hospital gives pointers if you are interested in beginning a running routine

Prior to any new exercise program, it is usually recommended that you consult your physician. However, if you have ever asked your physician for their opinion, you were probably met with a generic response.  In most cases, the doctor will tell his/her patient to begin gradually and build up capacity over time.  They may encourage healthy eating and better sleep.  Then you are left with the responsibility of deciding what it really means to you personally to “begin gradually” and “build up capacity over time.”  Should you start gradually by running two miles per day or half miles per day? Should you just throw on any tennis shoes you have close by and take off? I would like to provide you with additional information that will help you determine the best way to begin a running routine, with a focus on preparation guidance.

In this article, I will cover these questions:

  • Is a running routine right for me?
  • Why should I view running as a skill?
  • How can I properly prepare my body for running?
  • What do I do once I start a running regimen?

Many patients who want to start exercising believe that running is a great place to start.  Running is a great form of exercise and can provide great benefits for the mind and body. However, most people do not realize that running is a skill, not simply an activity.  The proper way of running requires much more than just putting one foot in front of the other for a couple miles. Because many people often do not spend time practicing the skill of running correctly, it often gets incorrectly classified as something that is hard on the knees and back. Any skill, including running, that is performed improperly can be harmful to the body.  However, when you prepare for running and perform the skill properly, it is an excellent form of exercise.  There are several factors to take into consideration before beginning running. 

First and foremost, a new running routine should not be your first step to losing weight. If a patient is overweight and interested in losing weight, I would first recommend quality sleep, healthy dietary modifications, and exercise that is safe for their joints, such as swimming because jumping into running would not be a safe choice. The reason for this is that every pound of excess body weight puts an extra four pounds of pressure on the knees. This is why it is vitally important to begin with weight loss prior to beginning running. Any extra force on your knees can take a major toll on the body over time. Working towards a goal of a body mass index (BMI) close to 25 and then starting a running routine would help minimize your chances of injury or pain.

The next step to consider prior to beginning an intensive running regimen is joint preparation and strengthening. When it comes to running, the stretching and strengthening of the ankle and foot are incredibly important.  Unfortunately, the importance of preparing your ankles and feet for running is usually given little attention. This is something that should not be brushed over quickly. A short article such as this is simply not long enough to give this subject the full attention that it deserves. A simple Google search can go a long way in discovering exercises and stretches for the ankles and feet.  The knees and hips are additional points that are just as important to prepare before running. However the feet and the ankles are the base and you will typically find that hip and knee pain are related to a problem with the feet and/or ankles.  Begin with simple ankle movements that can be performed throughout the day. Try gentle eversion and inversion of the ankle when you are at work or standing in line waiting for coffee.  Straight and bent knee calf stretches can also be easily practiced during your day.

In addition, it is common for people to have tight hip flexors and weak glutes.  These are areas of weakness the patient should focus on prior to beginning an intensive running routine.  The Superman (arch body) hold is one of the best movements to counteract tight hip flexors and weak glutes. Again, there are multiple stretches and exercises to strengthen the legs.  I encourage unilateral work in the lower extremities to fully address weaknesses. 

As mentioned above, running is a skill that most people have not been taught.  The problem is, most people do not see running as a skill and therefore do not research how to run.  Spending a few minutes researching proper running technique will go a long way to enjoying running and avoiding injury or pain.  Just like any skill, there are coaches and trainers out there to observe your form and help you make corrections.  I encourage anyone who is serious about running to find coaching support in your community.

After deciding that it is the right time for you to begin running as well as considering the steps to proper joint preparation and running technique, it is time to look into running shoes. It is important to find a pair that fit your foot and stride.  There are several shoe stores that will help properly fit your foot and then observe you running on a treadmill to further analyze your gait.  This is extremely beneficial and will ensure that you get the correct shoe for your stride. There are foundational elements that all runners need to have. However there are minor individual variances in which running shoes may be helpful.  Please do not mistake this for believing a pair of shoes will prevent pain or injury if your stride is fundamentally poor. 

When it comes to running footwear you’ll hear arguments for and against how much support is necessary.  Some encourage less support and others will encourage as much support as possible for the foot.  Each patient is unique but, in general, those that do the best with minimalist footwear are those who spend time on ankle preparation, body weight reduction, and gradually build up distance while wearing minimalist footwear.  If your body is accustomed to a great amount of support from your shoe, I would not recommend you jumping into barefoot type running shoes. Most people’s feet and ankles are too weak for this and they are setting themselves up for injury.  I would encourage patients to incorporate a minimalist shoe into their daily walking prior to considering running with this type of shoe.  It will take time to build up the strength for minimalist footwear.

The final aspect I will address is routine and how to “begin gradually” and “build up capacity over time.” I typically ask patients to determine their purpose for running and set a goal.   Do you want to participate in a 5K, half marathon, marathon, or are you just trying to improve their overall cardiovascular fitness?  Again, there are plenty of free training programs online to help prepare people for the first 5K or marathon.  For those patients that are running for overall improved health, I typically encourage them to run one long distance every one to two weeks aiming for distances less than three miles.  I would also encourage them to incorporate interval sprinting into their routine, which would include 100, 200, 400, or 800 meters in interval type training.  A typical workout could be as follows: run 400 m, rest three minutes, repeat 10 times.  This interval type training will provide the biggest bang for your buck.  If running is your primary form of exercise, I would suggest doing this one to two times per week. You would also benefit from incorporating cross-training into the routine on days you are not running. You should also have one to two days of rest per week.  Rest days are excellent times for stretching and mobility work.

If you are interested in beginning a running routine, please consider the points mentioned in this article. There is a lot of information out there about running and I do recommend seeking guidance from a knowledgeable professional.  Running is an excellent cardiovascular exercise and, if performed correctly with proper preparation, can be enjoyed for years to come!

Devin Bell, DO, is a member of BJC Medical Group and is on staff at Progress West Hospital. His practice is located at 20 Progress Point Parkway, Suite 108, O’Fallon, MO, and can be reached by calling (636) 344 – 2400.

 

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