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How to prep your body for running (first time or returning)

Whether you are returning to running from an injury, getting back into running after having some time off or trying it for the first time, it is very important to prepare your body, but why?

Running is a very demanding form of exercise, which can put high stress on your muscles, joints, heart and lungs (no matter the pace or distance). When running, the force exerted through your body can increase up to 250% of your body weight, additionally, your heart is required to work faster and harder, in order to deliver oxygen to your body. Therefore, without adequate preparation for running, you may be putting your body at risk of injury.

So how do I prep my body to run?

There are multiple factors to consider when prepping your body to run which include mobility, muscular endurance and cardiovascular health.

1. Mobility

Mobility refers to the ability of your body to move freely. For example, the your knee being able to move through its whole range of motion without any stiffness; affecting your ability to complete everyday tasks which may involve bending your leg (i.e. sitting down on a low chair). Mobility is important because it affects the way you run, which can be a protective OR risk factor to injury. If your joints are unable to move freely, this may stop you from running with a safe running pattern/style. The ideal running style varies depending on your body, however a basic overview includes: keeping your head upright, maintaining a good posture, keep your shoulders relaxed, keep your knees “loose”, keep your stride light and low to the ground and lastly, ensure you are landing on the inner side of your arch and pushing off the with the ball of your foot.

In order to increase your mobility, it is important to complete range of motion exercises multiple times per week. This includes simple exercises such as static and dynamic stretching (i.e. leg swings, or a knee to wall stretch). Mobility exercises can also be completed before your runs to assist with warming up your muscles and mobilizing your joints!

2. Muscular endurance

Muscular endurance refers to the muscles ability to consistently and repetitively exert force against a load, over a period of time. Therefore, it is important for all the major muscle groups of your body to have good muscular endurance in order to manage the load of running, and decrease risk of injury (i.e muscle strains). In order to improve muscular endurance, current guidelines recommend completing exercise on 2-3 times per week (on non-consecutive days) , completing 2-3 sets of 15+ repetitions at a time. Exercises can be body weight, or use resistance (i.e. dumbbells or TheraBands), aiming for a moderate intensity.  Exercises such as squats, lunges, calf raises and bridges are all good options to work the major muscle groups of the lower body.

3. Cardiovascular Health

For this last point, you may be thinking, I want to run to improve my cardiovascular health, how do I get it before I even start? And yes, this is true, running will improve your cardiovascular health and fitness, however it is important to ensure your heart and lung health is okay, in order to stay safe.

So, how to check if your cardiovascular health is safe? There are various screening questions health professionals use in order to test this. The main priority is checking for history of heart or lung conditions (i.e. high blood pressure or asthma). If you have a history of this, please check with your GP before engaging in running (or any higher intensity form of exercise). In order to develop a good cardiovascular base before you start running (or returning), engaging in lighter intensity activities such as brisk walking, swimming or riding a bike will improve both your fitness and tolerance to exercise. Once you feel confident with tolerating lighter intensity cardio workouts, start with slow, short runs. Building up your distance and pace as tolerated. This may include having sessions which include both walking and running (i.e. walk for 1 minute, run for 1 minute).

Most importantly, listen to your body! If a muscle or area of your body feels sore, give your body the rest it needs, and work toward strengthening up the areas of your body which may not be tolerating the increase in load through running. This will help avoid injuries, and help you run to the best of your ability!

 

References:

Carter, J., & Greenwood, M. (2015). Does Flexibility Exercise Affect Running Economy? A Brief Review.

Strength & Conditioning Journal, 37(3), 12-21. https://doi.org/10.1519/ssc.0000000000000127

Hayes, P. R., French, D. N., & Thomas, K. (2011). The Effect of Muscular Endurance on Running

Economy. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(9), 2464-2469. https://doi.org/10/1519/jsc.0b012e3181fb4284

O’Toole, M. L., (1992). Prevention and treatment of injuries to runners. Medicine & Science in Sports

& Exercise, 24(Supplement), 360. https://doi.org/10.1249/00005768-199209001-0001

Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., Van Every, D.W., & Plotkin, D. L. (2021). Loading Recommendations for

Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum. Sports, 9(2), 32. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports9020032

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