With the return of warm weather and longer days, more and more people are starting to think of ways to get their fitness regimen going, and running is one way to do it. Running is a great way to build and maintain good cardiovascular fitness, if done correctly and if your body is ready for it. Running can also be a good way to injure yourself, and unfortunately for a large number of people, this is exactly what happens when they run. The reality is that running injuries, especially chronic injuries, can be largely avoided by making sure your body is truly prepared for the stress of activity. In this article, a checklist for career preparation is presented, along with strategies to help get you on track.
Before delving into the checklist, it is worth pausing to reflect on why running has so much potential to be harmful. From the perspective of movement, running can be classified as an isolated, cyclical and asymmetric activity. Running is isolateral in nature, because each side of the body is completing a different movement at the same time; cyclical, because the same movement pattern is performed repeatedly; and asymmetrically charged due to the combination of isolateral and cyclical movement patterns. This contrasts with something like weightlifting, which is bilateral, acyclic and symmetrically loaded.
The combination of isolated, cyclic and asymmetric loads creates very specific load patterns throughout the body. As an example, let’s look at the knee during the race. By hitting the foot, the knee is exposed to a braking tension, after which there is a rapid conversion from extension to flexion before the departure of the foot. If the lower body muscles are strong enough, they will support most of the load and will also help keep the knee in proper alignment. If the muscles of the lower body are too weak or there are significant strength imbalances, the knee joint will bear the load. In addition to this, there is the risk of falling into valgus (the footprints of the knee towards the inside of the foot), which exposes the ligaments to the risk of damage, as well as creating a risk of hip compression problems. Repeat this hundreds of times during each race with a body that is not ready and quickly create the right environment for a chronic injury. With that in mind, let’s delve into the checklist.
Have you had a musculoskeletal evaluation? A musculoskeletal evaluation should be performed before you start running, with the specific goal of identifying if there are underlying gait problems, clearly identifiable force imbalances, or movement patterns that predispose you to injury. A properly qualified professional must complete this assessment, and a failure at this stage means that he or she must postpone all plans until solutions have been employed to address them.
Can you walk to where you plan to run? This may seem like an obvious point, but many people subscribe to applications like Couch to 5Ks and assume that this is all they need to be able to execute. But we have to step back and make sure we can walk 5 km first. After all, if it costs us to walk 5 km, it will cost us a lot to run 5 km. And that fight becomes a loss of form, which translates into a greater risk of injury, while ensuring that we learn to run incorrectly, which affects the effectiveness with which we can aspire to run.