With many public gyms closed and one of the only reasons allowed to leave the house is to exercise, there is no wonder that running has become the primary source of physical activity for many Australians and people world-wide.
And why not, it is a great cardiovascular based exercise that helps build fitness and maintain general health and wellbeing. But fact of the matter is that running is difficult and many people who have returned to running after years of hiatus have picked up ankle or knee injuries trying to jump straight back into the 4,5 or 10kms that they used to be able to run.
I know I have fallen into the trap of picking up where I had left off 3 months ago with the same distance I used to run and given myself an injury. In hindsight it sounds like a terrible idea, but I do it almost every year. I have heard it described before to be like a hangover.
Usually caused by too much too quickly and as soon as it’s over we tend to do it all over again (Thanks @runningphysio). To get the most benefit out of our running we are much better off with a more gradual approach to build up our tolerance and prevent these setbacks. Generally, an acute ankle or knee injury can take 4-6 weeks to fully recover from. That can be over a month or recovery time, rather than this time spent gradually building up tolerance and fitness.
So, what is the alternative? Let’s dive in.
Injuries in running most commonly occur due to overloading the musculoskeletal system. This includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and everything in-between. Various studies have found that we actually produce similar total forces during walking and running for a set distance and the difference is the amount of time in which we produce these forces.
So, without getting too deep into the science behind it, Injuries in running occur due to greater peak loads and eccentric loads, or the landing portion of the running cycle. Running is in fact a plyometric exercise; or small, repetitive jumps landing on a single leg. You can now imagine the total stress the body is put through after jumping for 20, 30 or 40 minutes and how common overuse injuries can occur.
What we should do to prepare our body for this is build up the strength and a tolerance to this loading in our musculoskeletal system before we return to running. This should target the areas most affected by running such as the ankle, knee and hip joints.
Some simple exercises such as calf raises and body weight lunges are a good starting point to develop a strong base for running to be built upon. A personal favourite exercise I use prior to a return to running is skipping or jump rope. What this exercise is actually doing is preparing your ankles and knees for a repetitive plyometric load similar to that experienced when running.
If this isn’t your style and you’re just interested in a return to running, a simple alternative is to reduce the amount of distance you begin your return to running, as hard as this is to do. It is much more effective to start at a tolerable distance and build up slowly, rather than overshoot your limits, pick up an injury and start the cycle again.
A commonly used method is the 10 percent rule. This states that to safely and effectively increase volume when running, only increase by 10 percent each week. So, if you are running 20km this week, only increase by 2km next week to allow your body to sufficiently adapt to the increasing volume.
Note: As I am posting this, I am in fact nursing an Achilles tendon injury caused by a spike in training volume. So, it is most important to do as I say and not as I do! If you’d like to chat more, get in touch with us today!