Just Started Running?
Hello and welcome back to the ThreeSpires Physiotherapy blog where we take a look at all things physiotherapy and health related. Since the Corona Virus outbreak has begun there has been an enormous increase in the amount of exercise and specifically running that people have been doing. As such I thought it might be helpful to have an article that looks at how best to begin running, how far and fast to go, how to build things up, how to reduce your risk of injury and also any strengthening exercises needed. Now there are a million and one programmes out there that will guide you through a training programme such as Couch to 5k and rather than try to reproduce one of those I thought it might be more helpful if I took you through some key principles of training, injury prevention and my top 10 things to consider when taking up running. These principles hold true no matter what level of runner you are from beginner to elite. Should you wish to find out more or have any concerns about taking up running we are currently offering online video physiotherapy assessments whch can be helpful. More information can be found here.
Benefits of Running
I have written extensively throughout these blogs about the benefits of exercise and in particular cardiovascular exercise. Running is simply a great way of getting some exercise, raising your heart rate and generally getting fitter. The recommendations for the amount of general exercise each week are 2.5 hrs of moderate intensity exercise and running can form part of that exercise. As well as general cardiovascular benefits there are some specific benefits to running that are worth considering:
- Being Outdoors: Yes, you can run on the treadmill and potentially when first starting that is something you should consider but one of the main benefits of running is that it gets you outdoors. Being able to get into the fresh air and move through your surroundings and see new areas comes with the benefits of elevating your mood due to the release of endorphins.
- Do it Anywhere: you don’t need to drive to the gym, you don’t need to plan to be near where you do your exercise. With running you can simply put on your shoes and step out your front door and start. For anyone time limited this is an enormous benefit and stops you looking for that long list of excuses to avoid exercise such as: “I haven’t got time to get to the gym”
- Minimal Equipment: Unlike many other sports there is actually very little equipment or gear that you need to begin running. You need a pair of running shoes and some clothes to run in but that is about it. So, it should in general be much cheaper than many other sports.
- Can be done on your own or in a group: For some people socialisation and making friends is an important part of any sport and for others they wish to do it on their own and enjoy the solitude. If you enjoy company and socialising with friends then joining a running club can be great whereas if you prefer to do stuff on your own then you can simply run on your own.
- It’s Quick: now I don’t mean you have to run quickly here! The point is that in terms of calories burnt and exercise done, running is one of the most time efficient forms of exercise. In comparison to get the same amount of calories burnt if you go out cycling will take much longer. So, if you are time short or generally lack motivation to do longer periods of exercise, running is a great way to do your exercise in as short a period of time as possible.
Okay, I think before continuing that it is important to be aware that none of the advice or recommendations in this article replaces the need to discuss taking any new form of exercise up with your doctor. Although running and cardiovascular exercise is good for your health especially in terms of blood pressure and weight loss it is important to have a chat with your doctor especially if you have not done any exercise for a long period.
Top 10 Tips for Starting Running
Okay, hopefully we have covered why running is good, I think we should now look at my top 10 tips for starting running. Remember these are not a programme such as the couch to 5km (there are lots of these out there) rather they are some general principles and tips from a physiotherapist aimed at getting you running safely and reducing your risk of injury.
- Start Slowly! Taking things easy at the start and not trying to go from hero to zero is vital for avoiding injury! When I say “Start Slowly” I mean both in terms of speed and distance, this is something I try to emphasis to all of my running patients. The difficulty here is that when you have made a decision to take up a new sport or activity and try to get fitter the temptation is to go all in and start doing too much. This is a mistake and something that you should avoid at all costs as it pretty much leads to injury and time off running. I would advise when you begin running to do much less initially and go much slower initially (certainly for at least the first month) than you think you can. So, if you think that you could run for 30 minutes already then start with a slow gentle jog for 10 minutes at maximum, with potentially some walk and run component to it. I understand that many people will be enormously frustrated by this approach but if you want to avoid injury then you need to give your body a chance to adapt and this takes time.
- Be Realistic: For many people the decision to start running is part of wider move to being healthy that they have decided to recently make and often they have not done any exercise in a very long time. As such there is a general tendency to overestimate what is realistic or to think that what was easy 20 years ago will still be so! I try to emphasise to all of my patients who are starting a new activity that being realistic about what you can actually do is important. There is no point in sorting out a plan that will take you to running a marathon in 3 months time if you have not done any running in the last 20 years and are overweight. This is simply a plan to get injured! I generally think a good way of starting is to think about what you might be capable of running or walking without any preparation and halve that amount! So if you think that you can run 10 minutes without too much difficulty then for your first few runs just run 5 minutes. Yes, you may find it frustrating but think about this as laying down some good foundations that will prevent you getting injured.
- Don’t Run Everyday!! This one sounds easy and obvious but in fact is a common mistake when taking up running for the first time or getting back into it. Often people starting running are extremely motivated to get fit, start building up the distances and to hit their targets and initially things improve for them. However this motivation leads them then to think that running every day will help them improve faster or they simply just enjoy running too much to have rest day! Unfortunately this is a recipe for overtraining and injury and needs to be avoided. When you a first starting running you need to give your muscles, ligaments and tendons time to adapt and recover after each run. To do this you need to allow at least one day between each run as a bare minimum. In fact I would suggest that when first starting you really shouldn’t aim to run more than 2 to a maximum of 3 times per week for at least the first couple of months. Yes, I know this sounds like it is going to make improving slower and that is exactly the idea! Making slower steadier improvements initially and allowing those muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments time to adapt and strengthen will form a base that you can then add more training load to. Running 5 times a week and with several back to back runs when you are first starting is almost guaranteeing injury.
- Get Some Good Footwear: Pretty much everyone (including me) has been guilty of trying to avoid spending any money on a new sport that they are not quite sure is going to be their thing. So, I think it is fairly reasonable not to go out and buy top of the range running shoes initially but certainly you need some supportive and comfortable running shoes that give your joints and feet some cushioning. After a bit and once convinced that you are going to keep going with the running I would very much suggest that you invest in some good footwear. One way of doing that is by visiting your local running shop and getting some advice and possibly a treadmill assessment. Most local running shops are run and staffed by keen runners and they will be able to give you advice on which shoes might suit you best. If you are serious about running and want to give yourself the best chance of avoiding injury then having some comfortable and supportive shoes will give you the best chance. I guess some people reading this article will have read about barefoot or minimalist running and certainly once you have a good background in running and been doing it for a fair period then this could be something that you look into in the future. However, when first starting running I would not recommend this approach to the majority of people as their feet and joints will not be strong enough to tolerate the load from barefoot running. This is quite an area of debate in both the world of running and physiotherapy and is beyond the scope of this article.
- Do Some Strength Training: Yes, runners need to be strong! Yes, runners need to lift some weights and build up their general strength in their upper body as well as lower body. No, runners do not just need a strong set of legs. Runners need a strong whole body that is stable through running and able to tolerate the impact of running. Having increased upper body strength will help with running quicker. If you are thinking about starting running or have just started running there is a high chance that you are wanting to do this because you do not like the gym and lifting weights (this is fair enough) and as such you will generally, in terms of training, want to avoid anything that is not actually running. As a physiotherapist I can tell you that this is a mistake, as well as running you should do some general strength training in order to get a generally strong body and core that will help with your ability to run quickly, tolerate training, give you a stable gait and run over uneven ground. When you first start running is the ideal time to get a general strength and core training routine, as if you are following my advice you will only be running 2 – 3 times per week anyway. This routine does not need to be complicated or involve going to a gym: it can be done at home fairly easily and should not take long. I would suggest a 30minute routine would be sufficient for most. Getting this aspect right early on and making it a part of your training will pay dividends later on in your running career and will almost certainly reduce the likelihood of injury. You may find it helpful to have a read of our previous blogs about home exercises, core exercises and balance work which can help with improving your general strength, core and balance for running. To get a good routine that will address any weaknesses I would suggest that it is beneficial to see a physio and have a full assessment. If, as at present (due to the Corona Virus lockdown we are experiencing at the time of writing this article) you can’t get to see a physio but want to have a routine to help with your running I would suggest that you try one of our online video physiotherapy assessment sessions.
- Tendons & Ligaments Take Time: When starting running for the first time it is important to understand that certain parts of your body will strengthen much faster than others and some will strengthen and adapt much more slowly. It is these parts that adapt and strengthen slowly that are at most danger of injury especially in the early days of starting running. Tendons and ligaments are in general very low blood flow structures and as such take a very long time to adapt to new training stimuli such as starting running and as such you need to consider that these areas are the bits most likely to get injured. Muscles are in general high blood flow environments and will adapt and strengthen to taking up running much faster and are (in general) less likely to get injured. The problems arise (these are especially common in people who are relatively fit and athletic but with no prior running background) when you start running and initially you can feel that your legs are getting stronger and your heart and lungs are feeling better. At this point there is a large temptation to up the volume and speed of running – this is usually a mistake as although these structures have got stronger, your ligaments and tendons are still adapting to the new loads being put through them and are very likely to get injured.
- Run & Walk: When starting running a great strategy to try and give your body some time to adapt is to alternate running and walking rather than simply going out for a 20 minute run. By this I mean run easily for a minute or 30 seconds and then walk for the same amount of time, over time you will find that the running part gets longer and the walking part gets shorter. This is especially useful as a strategy for anyone who is possibly overweight or simply has not done any exercise in a long period. It gives your body a chance to adapt to this new activity and also means that rather than collapsing in a heap after 5 minutes and never wanting to go out running ever again, you build up the capacity of your body to sustain running and cardiovascular activity.
- Don’t Go Too Fast: This is one of the commonest mistakes I see as a physiotherapist and is especially common amongst people who are relatively fit and young. If you are generally an active person and have just decided to take up running you will commonly find that you make really big improvements in terms of how fast you can run and how good you feel when running more quickly. The problem here is that you need to give your body time to adapt to both increases in speed and increases in distance and increasing both at the same time or one by too much is a recipe for injury. Without getting too technical you need to consider that you only want to increase your running load by a small amount each week (let’s say 5% - 10%) and that load on your body can be thought of as a combination of volume (how far you are running) and intensity (how fast your are running). As a physiotherapist I generally advise patients who are new to running not to increase both at the same time and also if you do say run faster one time then you need to think about having a slower run the next time to let your body adapt to the change. Going out and each time running faster as you get fitter is a good recipe for injury ass you simply are not allowing your body to adapt to these changes. As I mentioned earlier on there are plenty of very good starter running programmes out there which will guide you safely through the early part of starting to run and I would highly recommend that you follow one of them rather than just get out and hit the road.
- Don’t Go Too Far: This is clearly very similar to my previous recommendation and I would guess that by now my message is fairly clear: you need to give your body time to adapt. However it is still worth having a think about what I mean when I say not to go too far when you are starting running. Not going too far can be thought of in a number of ways: firstly it means that on any individual run you should only be increasing that distance very slowly and by say a maximum of 10%. Also you should then do that same run for at least the next week before increasing the distance or time further. The other component of not going too far would be to think about your overall weekly mileage and not increase that by more than 5 – 10% at a time. For example if you are running 3km three times a week this gives you a total of 9km per week, now let’s say that you decide to run 4km three times per week this now gives you a total of 12km per week which is clearly a large jump in your weekly mileage and it would be more advisable to have instead ran 4km once that week and continued with the 3km runs the same. Now I appreciate that keeping to very conservative increases in distance and mileage when you are just starting is difficult but the main point here is that whenever you go a bit further on one run or increase your mileage over a week you need to let your body adapt to that new change by giving it a bit of time. In general the main reasons that as a physio I see patients getting injured from running is that they simply went too far and too fast too soon.
- Get an Assessment: Now I appreciate that during the current Corona Virus outbreak this is very difficult – as at the time of writing we are currently in lockdown and unable to get out to patients. However, in general terms getting an assessment with a physiotherapist either before starting running or early on after beginning running is really helpful. They will be able to look at your strength, balance, specific areas of weakness, gait and your running programme and be able to identify areas to improve and what you should concentrate on in order to avoid injury. They will be able to give you a programme of supplementary training exercises to reduce your injury risk and will be also able to look at the amount and type of running that you are doing and consider if you are doing too much or too little. At present we are offering online video physiotherapy assessments to help with exactly this issue and if you feel that you might benefit from an assessment because you have just started running and are worried about getting injured or have started getting some niggles then please get in touch.
Okay, I hope that you have found this article about starting running helpful, as I have mentioned it is not designed as a running programme more as a series of tips and recommendations that as a physiotherapist I would advise you to be aware of if you want to stay injury free. We are as I have said offering online video physiotherapy assessments to help with either starting running or any running injuries that you have developed. For more information click here.
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