Updated: Feb 28
You're a runner because you like running, right? Of course you are, we all are. No runner likes to be sore or injured; we want to be out on the roads or trails. There are a lot of things we all should be doing in addition to running... but sometimes it seems like a lot of extra time that we could be running!
What if I told you there were five easy things that you could do to support healthy running, and that they wouldn't add more than 12 minutes per day to your routine? You'd do them, right? Well, here you go!
This should be done every day before you run. It only takes 4 minutes!
Leg Swings and Lunge Matrix - by Jay Johnson
These get the blood flowing and muscles activated before you go out and start a high-impact sport like running. Even a slow jog, which you sometimes think of as a warmup, carries just as much impact, and sometimes more! This is a super easy habit to start, and will make you a faster, stronger and more consistent runner over time.
Post-Run Mobility and Release
Foam roll everything you can. While static stretching can lengthen the muscle-tendon unit, and actually decrease performance for a lot of muscles, foam rolling can decrease next-day soreness by 50%, without any lengthening! You could spend 10-20 minutes after each run on mobility and foam rolling, but here is the bare minimum to focus on if you're in a hurry. The lower legs and glute medius, often take the brunt of the impact forces, and as smaller muscles, are more inhibited by soreness on future runs. The hip flexors and psoas are probably the most common problems for humans in general due to our excess sitting. I'd recommend doing those several times per day if you can find the time! Gentle stretches repeated several times per day elicits a much better response from your body. Remember with any static stretching: contract the opposing muscle group!
Here are some basics:
1-Minute: Foam Roll Lower Legs
1-Minute: Roll Glute Medius with lacrosse ball
1-Minute: Psoas release: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQuQ_aKlDjI
2-Minutes: Couch Stretch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XO9wvUhmf-Y
Mobility and recovery work can be immensely helpful, so make it a habit! You can see some other mobility techniques here.
Pre and Post-Hydrate, with Added Salt
Many of us will run without water on shorter runs, and that's usually okay! One thing you should get in the habit of is hydrating consistently throughout the day. Adding a small pinch of salt to the water can help your body absorb the water, so it doesn't 'go right through you.' (Don't add enough that it's salty, just enough that the water feels 'smoother.' A barely noticeable pinch in a 16-20oz bottle is often plenty, but you can fine-tune the more you do it. If you're deficient in magnesium, this can be a good place to supplement with liquid magnesium.
Rotate Your Shoes
Most people know they should replace their shoes every 300-500 miles. (You knew that, right?) What some runners don't know is that they should not run in the same exact shoe every day. Wait... what?
There are two factors at play here. First, as you run, you're landing with 1.5 - 3x your body weight with every step. The cushioning in your shoe compresses each time you do that. Ideally, it rebounds instantly. to prepare for the next step. However materials are not perfect, and the cushioning compresses further over the course of a run. The foam recovers over the course of a day or two, but if you run again in the same shoe the next day, you've limited that recovery. Yup, your shoes need to recover as much as you do!
Second, if you run in the same exact model of shoe every day, you can subject your body – especially your feet and lower legs – to a lot of the exact same movements, potentially causing minor injuries or at least excess discomfort. Much like running on trails subjects your legs to variations in stride, running in different models of shoes throughout the week can help decrease injuries by forcing very slight variations in movement patterns. This doesn't work for everyone; some people just really love a single shoe. If that's you, grab a couple pairs of the same model, and be sure to foam roll extra and be cautious of aches and pains. That said, I'd recommend everyone try to find at last two different models that will work for them, even if it's just mixing in a trail run in trail shoes each week. You may see a surprising amount of benefits!
Keep a Log
Whether you work with a coach, are self-coached, or you just play it by ear each day/week, keep a detailed running log! This does NOT need to be fancy or include every metric under the sun! See my post on running data here. You should definitely keep track of the following things, as it will really help you (or your coach) when making day-to-day decisions, and when designing future training!
Distance and vert (if desired)
Perceived Effort level
Purpose of the run (easy run, workout, long run, etc)
Subjective feedback about how the run felt
ANY odd soreness or injury-ish tweaks, no matter how minor
Optional: Average Heart Rate (if using chest strap), Average Pace, terrain
If you want to use Strava, Garmin, Suunto or some other digital running log, that's great, but you don't have to. A lot of runners use a spreadsheet (I use a tricked-out Google Sheet with my clients), and some even use a paper running log.
The takeaway here is twofold. One, you want to be doing some thinking about your run that day. How did it really feel? Did your legs tighten up a lot after? Was it truly easy, or did you push it a little because you were feeling good? Okay, maybe you pushed it a bit too hard, better do some extra foam rolling tonight.
Two, you now have that subjective feedback to look back on whenever you need it. You can look back a year from now and see: what you planned, what you actually did, how it felt, how your body reacted, etc.
If you keep a detailed enough log, your log can save you when your memory fails you. I've had several near-injuries averted because I was able to look back in my log and see what worked to treat and/or avoid that. Would I have remembered those details three years later? I doubt it!
No matter what you add to your running, make sure it's consistent. I think all of us have goals of all the strength training and mobility we're going to do. For most of us, adding an extra 30-60 minutes of "stuff" each day really isn't practical. Prioritize! Start with the 10-12 minutes above. If you're already doing some of it, then great! Add a few extra small things. For the big things, make a schedule so that you're doing the things you want to be at least 1-2x per week, instead of trying and failing to do them every day.
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