If you’re new to running or back after a break to train for the Simplyhealth Great Manchester Run, then you may think that picking up niggles or even full-blown running injuries is inevitable and something you have to suck up while training – but this just isn’t true! Running injuries often arise from imbalances or weaknesses, which are then exasperated by the repetitive movement of running.
If you have an injury, then you must seek out advice from a qualified physiotherapist or practitioner to prevent it getting worse. Anyone worth their salt won’t stop you from exercising, but they will help stop your injury from getting worse. However, if you just have tightness or weakness that’s niggling while you run, then you can strengthen that area using strength training. Read on to find out my top exercises, focused on common niggles and injuries, all of which can be done at home with very minimal equipment.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any injury.
Are you doing too much, too soon?
First up, we need to address how much you’re running, and how quickly you’re upping your distance. If you comfortably run a 5K one day, two days later you might be tempted to run a 10K – but if you’re not already a seasoned runner, your body just won’t be ready for it.
A safe amount of distance to increase each week would be 10%, so if you run 5km this week, try 5.5km next. This means it would take around 8 weeks to safely hit a 10K. Running too far, too soon could cause joint pain and exasperate any pre-existing weaknesses.
A very common running injury is shin splints, which can be absolute agony, and almost feel like it’s part of your shin bone coming away. Although the exact cause is unknown, the pain is usually from traumatised connective tissue of the shins and can be caused by a sudden increase in impact exercise. The best treatment is rest, but to prevent them happening in the first place, you can do the two following things.
A common theme through this post is that one muscle can be overactive, whilst the opposing muscle can be underactive. In this instance, it’s likely that the calf is overactive, whilst the shin is underactive, so our first job is to start to release the calf. The calf is made up of two muscles – the soleus and the gastrocnemius – and both can become very tight when running. Think of all the impact that goes through them! Stretch the gastrocnemius by standing with the ball of your foot on a step, letting your heel drop, and pushing your weight through it. Your leg should be straight, but to stretch the soleus, just bend your knee until you feel the stretch further down. Do each part for 30 seconds, three times over.
It’s difficult to strengthen the shin, but it can be done! Sit on a high chair or a box, and hold a dumbbell (or similar, say a water bottle) between the inner of your foot. Point the toes up, then down; do this 10 times, 3 times over. You should start feeling your shin muscles start to kick in.
Can you guess what I’m going to say here? Yep, too much, too soon sometimes – but knee pain can also be caused by overactive inner thighs, and underactive outer thighs. This is common for people who sit cross-legged most of the day, which I’m definitely guilty of, so for this we need to loosen off the inner thigh and strengthen the outer.
Using a cushion, kneel down onto one knee and stretch the other leg out straight to your side. Imagine you’re doing a half squat, and sit back to touch your bum to your heel. Sit back up and squeeze your bum. Feel that on the inside of your leg? You should do! Do ten each side, three times over.
Stand on one leg, brace your tummy like someone’s about to tap you in it, and hold onto a doorframe or a sturdy chair. Just using the outer hip (where I’m pointing, below) lift your leg whilst keeping the rest of your body still. If you have ankle weights or a resistance band, add these in as you get stronger! Do 3 sets of 10 reps on each leg.
If you suffer from back pain after running, it could be that as you get tired, you stick your bum out as you run. Learning how to control your pelvis and doing core work can help here, but only if you do the core work correctly.
My favourite core exercise is the deadbug, which helps you strengthen your deep core muscles and position your pelvis where it should be when running – all whilst concentrating on moving other body parts at the same time!
Set up laying face up on a mat, then raise your knees to 90 degrees and your arms straight up. Squeeze the muscle that stops you from peeing (the PC muscle), then suck in your stomach so your back is glued to the floor. Ask a pal to try get their hand under your lower back – they shouldn’t be able to, and this is the way it should stay throughout the move.
Lower opposite arm and opposite leg, all while squeezing your PC muscle and gluing your back to the floor. If your back comes up then stop, rest, then set back up again. Again, work up to ten each side, three times over. This feeling of your pelvis tilting under and your abs being braced is how you should feel during running to help protect your back.
Another very painful one, this is usually a dull ache in the arch of your foot, although sometimes the pain can be sharp. It can be caused by going too far, too soon (notice a pattern yet?) but can be caused by your running gait or badly-supported shoes. I’d actually do all of the above exercises to ensure your body is correctly firing all the way up the chain, but there are specific moves you can do to strengthen your feet, too.
Sitting on a high chair or box, place your bare feet on a thin towel. Grab the towel with your toes, then pull it backwards – using only your toes! Pick it up, drop it, then go again for 10 times each side, 3 times over. You can also get some real relief from plantar fasciitis by rolling a frozen can under your foot, or using a lacrosse ball to dig in and find the tight bits. Aaah.
I’m running the Simplyhealth Great Manchester Run on 20th May 2018, and I’ll be doing a mixture of these along with my run training to strengthen areas that could get injured before the big day! If an injury is recurring, hurts more when you run, or is brand new, then you must see a qualified practitioner – do not try to run through something just because you have a race coming up, as you may do more damage.
Do you suffer from any of these, or did I miss any? Have you signed up for the Simplyhealth Great Manchester Run? Let me know in the comments!