Injury prevention is one of the most important elements of a running or triathlon training program. And yet, so many of us fail to do it. I am terrible about stretching and have to force myself to do my strength training. And you know what? It shows. Right now, I’m dealing with pain and tightness that could so easily have been prevented if I just did a series of stretches every day. Good job, self.
Conveniently, I recently got an email from Cigna with some stretching tips that I’ve been using, and I decided to share the article here. (I’m getting nothing from Cigna for sharing this, it’s just good content that I thought should be shared.) So who is willing to commit to a stretching and strengthening routine with me?
Injury Free Training Preparation
Antonio Williams, M.S., NASM, P.E.S, Health Engagement Consultant
A mistake some runners make is not including strength training in their training program. Running without strength training could lead to injuries. You may wonder, “how can strength training prevent injuries?” Every time your foot hits the ground, it absorbs a small shock which tires your muscles as you run. Continuous running (pounding the pavement) can fatigue your muscles. As you increase your running miles, this will force your other muscles to compensate. When muscles compensate, they work harder than they should. This is when your body becomes susceptible to injury.
Running provides more muscular endurance than muscular strength. So you need strength training for your upper, as well as lower body, to prevent injury.
A lack of flexibility is the most common cause for injuries. Tight calves, hip flexors, IT bands (side of thigh), quadriceps, lats (back) and adductors (groin) all will put the runner at risk. These muscles are usually tight for people who have desk jobs or sit a lot. Athletes with tight muscles also may have slight external rotation when their foot lands during sprints. Running at top speed with a slight external rotation can cause groin strain, a pulled hip flexor and lower back pain. This is just one example of how a lack of flexibility can prevent efficient top-end speed.
A lack of flexibility may also alter proper running mechanics. Runners who can’t maintain proper running form will, ultimately, begin to slow down. This is because certain muscles are working harder than other muscles and fatigue sooner. Continued running with altered running mechanics will increase the chance of injury.
Imagine if four people are carrying a box and they each have a corner to hold. If two people decide not to carry the box, there’s more weight and pressure on the other two people. Although they are strong enough, they will soon tire out and drop the box. This same concept can happen with your body. A lack of flexibility will cause certain muscles to work harder than others. Soon your body will “drop the box” and you’ll experience muscular injuries.
Strength training two or three days a week will help your body absorb the constant pounding of the pavement. Over time, your muscles won’t tire as quickly. You’ll be able to run further, faster and for longer durations. This takes some time, so give this routine a couple of weeks to see a difference.
Stretching before and after your workouts also will help keep your body balanced. As a runner, it’s important to keep your muscles as flexible as possible. You want to prevent muscles from compensating to the point where you alter your running form. This could lead to injuries.
Put both hands against a wall with arms extended. Lean with one leg bent forward and the other leg extended back. Keep your knee straight and foot positioned forward. Push rear heel to floor (toe pointed straight ahead) and move hips slightly forward. Hold stretch. Repeat with opposite leg.
Kneel in front of a chair or stable surface. Place one hand on the surface and slowly lower chest toward the ground. Feel the stretch in your upper shoulder area around your armpit. Do not arch your lower back, and tighten your core as you lower your chest. Repeat on opposite side.
Kneel with one knee on a padded mat and your other foot positioned forward. Place back foot onto a stable surface like a bench. Slowly drive hip forward and squeeze glute on the same side as the quad being stretched. Hold stretch. Repeat with opposite side.
Stand next to a stable, knee-high surface. Place your foot on the surface and slowly reach your hand toward your feet. Feel the stretch in the groin area of your leg on the surface. Keep both toes straight ahead, as feet may have a tendency to point outward. Do not shift hips toward leg on the surface. Repeat on opposite leg.
Using these stretches may help prevent injuries.