Running is an excellent form of aerobic activity to improve your health status, reduce disease risk, modify body composition(best when combined with a good diet) and improve all around physical fitness. It is also a weight-bearing activity that helps in maintaining bone mass and preventing osteoporosis.
Current guidelines by the American College of Sports Medicine recommend 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days a week for adults. Brisk walking is an excellent activity to reach this desired level of activity as it is easy to perform, uses the large muscles of the body, both upper and lower, and it does not require any expensive equipment. Running will burn more calories than brisk walking due to the increased intensity of the activity. This is great for energy expenditure but does bring with it an increased risk of injury.
Common running injury sites include feet, ankles, knees and back. Often these injuries are associated with altered lower limb biomechanics during running. For this reason, it is recommended to consult a chartered physiotherapist prior to undertaking and running activity. Physiotherapists are experts in performing lower limb biomechanical assessments and identifying abnormalities which may cause or perpetuate injury during running. These can be addressed, ideally before taking up running to ensure the risk of injury is minimised.
In order to run as optimally as possible and therefore reduce the risk of injury, it is advisable to increase your cadence, run with a light stride and perform appropriate flexibility, balance and strengthening exercises on an ongoing basis. This aims to reduce the amount and speed of impact forces transferred through the body. This is achieved by running with a quick, light stride with adequate dynamic alignment of the lower limb. This reduces the amount of contact time between the foot and the ground and also reduces the amount of work of the muscles of the lower limb.
An example of a common biomechanical fault is to land heavily on the heel of the foot, with the foot touching the ground while extended out in front of the body. This places a large amount of force through the heel and weight is being transferred far from the individual’s centre of gravity.
The following take home messages should help you with your running programme:
- Consult a chartered physiotherapist prior to undertaking any running programme
- Do a light warm up before you start: walking and some gentle stretches
- Start off slow: walk with short bouts of jogging at first and build up
- Increase pace or duration gradually
- Avoid excessive heel striking on landing
- Keep the slightly knee bent to absorb impact on landing and avoid landing with your foot extended far out in front of the body
- Run with a quick, light stride: short step, high cadence
- Don’t change your shoe type if you are used to your runners
- Cool down after you run: walk followed by static stretching of the major muscle groups, in particular the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and back
Don't let the colder and darker winter season put you off, braving the variable elements adds a revitalising dose of aliveness to your regular run. Be well.