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I’d classify myself more as a “casual” runner, focusing on cardio fitness results instead of a particular distance or pace. Running has always been a great complement to my schedule as a fitness instructor, with the added bonus of a little me time, such as during treadmill blasts at an Orangetheory class—my favorite.
I thought I’d share some of the things that personally helped to dramatically improve my running and avoid angry knees and injuries.
Focus on Form. For something that should be second-nature to humans, assuming our ancestors got in pretty good cardio while running from predators and chasing down food, some important mechanics don’t exactly come naturally. In the past, I had a tendency to swing my arms too much, unaware that I was wasting precious energy. Now I try to keep my arms bent at a 90-degree angle, with my elbows behind my torso (unless I’m sprinting). I try to minimize the energy expenditure from my arms, since it tires me out much faster. My body can use the extra energy for cardiovascular processes, oxygen intake, and leg power for a better overall workout. I also try to minimize heel striking and hit the ground with the entire bottom of my foot.
Strengthen the ENTIRE Leg. As someone who used to primarily train the front and back of my legs (mainly quads, glutes and hamstrings), I noticed a dramatic increase in strength and endurance when I included training for my inner and outer thighs. Muscle weakness can be a contributor to knee pain. When a muscle is weak, it forces the stronger muscles to overcompensate. This can lead to imbalances, altered movement patterns, and even injury. I realized that I needed to keep my outer thighs STRONG in order to keep my IT band from getting irritated. Barre-based workouts are some of my favorite ways to train the entire lower body. If you’re looking to change things up, here’s one of my favorite barre workouts, which includes some cardio blasts.
Sprints and Hills, Baby. High Intensity Interval Training has a host of fitness benefits, including a revved-up metabolism, improved cardiovascular fitness, and increased power. It can also make steady state training feel much easier. Those sprints come in handy when you decide you want to pass someone during a race. During orangetheory, we do a lot of hill training. I usually silently curse my way through those sets, but during a hilly 10k, I realized how much it had helped me. I could power up the hills and maintain the same speed.
Efficient pre- and post-workout muscle care. Research is actually mixed on the benefits of stretching, so you can decide if you enjoy it or if it helps you. If you enjoy stretching before your run, try active stretching—I’ll include some faves in a future post. Follow your run up with static stretching, holding each stretch for 15-25 seconds. It’s important to remember to breathe into the stretches, as deep breaths can encourage the body to relax into the stretch.
What is something that has significantly helped your running?