If you’ve entered the Bristol Half Marathon, chances are you’ll soon start to up your training. Does your training include running, running and more running?
Nina Leonfellner, a physiotherapist at the University of Bristol’s Sports Medicine Clinic, says that to ensure your body is well equipped for the race, you should spend at least half the amount of time you spend running working on your strength, stability and flexibility. If you’re running four times a week but aren’t finding time to strengthen those muscles that support you through each stride it might be worth ditching a run or two to do just that.
Here are the best ways to make sure you finish the run elated but injury-free and ready to run another.
Get your gait and biomechanics analysed
A running analysis and biomechanical assessment by a sports physiotherapist can help pick out any alignment and muscle imbalance issues that, if left unchecked, can lead to injury.
“Some shapes are more prone to injury than others,” says Nina. “If you have ‘child bearing hips’ or are in a sedentary job your muscles can tighten and weaken and may not provide your body with the support it needs when you run.”
If this is the case, you might need to work harder on strengthening your core, hips and pelvis than someone who has an active job and a natural running physique. There are some exercises that all runners will benefit from, but a full assessment will help tailor the exercises to your body’s weak spots.
Loosen tight spots
Muscles that are tight and tense from commuting or computing are more prone to injury, so include some self massage and regular professional sports massages in your training.
One way to release tension in your muscles is to do some exercises with a foam roller (a foam shaped log). When you roll back and forth on a foam roller (or a full litre bottle of water) you use your own body weight to loosen up tight spots on your glutes, quads, calves or Iliotibial band (a long, thick tendon-like structure that runs from the pelvis down the outside of the thigh bone to just below the knee). Most foam rollers come with instructions – otherwise just google foam rolling exercises for runners and you’ll find plenty of demonstrations.
You can also massage your glutes using a tennis ball – sit on the ball, rolling it around until you find a tight spot and sit on it until the pain fades. These exercises will help loosen tension and ease muscle knots but they don’t replace getting a deep tissue sports massage, says Nina, who recommends a sports massage once a month.
Get great glutes
Working on your gluteus medius (the muscle which lifts the thigh outwards from the hips) will help keep your pelvis stable when you run. If your pelvis isn’t supported, your knees mayroll in with each stride, which over time can cause knee pain or other lower limb injuries.
Activate those neglected gluteus medius by doing the clam exercise (lying on your side with knees bent, slowly raising and lowering your upper knee while keeping feet together) and strengthen them with crab walking (putting a theraband round your knees and walking sideways). Do these a couple of times a week until the muscles feel fatigued.
Love single leg squats
“To avoid injury, it’s crucial to have strength and control while you’re standing on one leg,” says Nina, “because when you run you are essentially going from putting all your weight on one leg, to putting it all on the other.”
Stand on one leg and lower, imagining you are about to sit down on chair. Do as many repetitions as you until you can’t do them without wobbling or falling over. This might not be many to start with, but increase the reps as you get stronger.
Anything that improves your balance will reduce your chances of injury. Try balancing on one leg while writing your name in the air with the other whenever you’re waiting for the kettle to boil or standing at a bus stop.
Perfect your technique
“Lead with your chest when you run, think tall posture and pull your belly up and in so you’re using your core,” says Nina. “If you lead with your chest, your feet will fall under your body and act in a more spring like fashion. Try to land on your midfoot. Relax your hands and shoulders when you’re doing an endurance jog but engage your arms if you’re running with tempo. Driving your elbows backwards will help propel you forward.”
Engage your core
“Pilates is good for strengthening your core, but some people find it boring,” says Nina, “so any class or exercises that use a Fit Ball or a Swiss Ball are also really good.” Other core-strengthening exercises include the plank and cycling with your bum off the saddle. Choose a class that includes them or ask a personal trainer to show you how to do them properly.