Running Without the Pain
While it is an incredibly effective and satisfying way to exercise, running can often cause great wear and tear on your body.
In 2008, Arvind Bharathi, an avid runner himself and the business head of Runners For Life, a Mumbai-based training centre, sustained an injury while training that would plague him for three years afterwards. He was diagnosed with Achilles tendonitis -a painful inflammation in the area just above the heel and advised complete rest for three months. But when Bharathi tried to resume his running routine after the pain had subsided, to his surprise, it recurred as intensely as ever. After three futile attempts to resume running, he consulted a physiotherapist who advised him to address the core issue first – in his case, tight hamstrings. “Simple stretching, a set of exercises that extended my ankles, calves and hamstrings after my running – and which added ten minutes to my usual routine – saved me from chronic pain,” says Bharathi who has been running ever since.
If you love to run – and you’re not alone, judging by the increasing number of marathons and running clubs mushrooming in major cities – then here’s what you should do to prevent pain and stay free of injury.
Strengthen Your Core
While running improves fitness, unless you strengthen your upper and lower body muscles regularly, expect to burn out pretty quickly, say experts. “If you’re running four days a week, you need to devote at least two days to weight training,” says Chandra Gopalan, Director of Contours India, a chain of women’s fitness studios, and coach at Runner’s High, Bangalore. “‘The repetitive nature of running weakens muscles. These muscles can be made stronger with simple weight training exercises such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, bicep curls, and shoulder presses. Regular strength training, especially in the muscle groups that target the abs and make your core stronger, will allow you to improve your stamina.” This of course, will result in longer, faster runs and will minimise injuries.
Listen To Your Body
As you strengthen your body with weight bearing exercises, you’ll find a natural improvement in your speed and stamina. Pushing yourself to take unnaturally long strides or to match your pace with that of a friend’s is a rather common mistake that will certainly lead to injury. “You should increase your pace very gradually as your fitness improves,” says Gopalan. “Running loads your muscles and stresses the joints, so never push your body to do more than it can.”
Allow yourself to slowly and gradually adopt to your running routine,” says Deepak Mudaliar, physiotherapist and fitness consultant based in Chennai. “‘Don’t let rivalry and peer pressure to disrupt your training.”
Take Your Mind Off Your Movement
Often, runners tend to be swayed by advice to alter their natural gait. In fact, that’s how Aravind Bharathi sustained his injury in the first place – by forcing himself to land on the front portion of his foot as runners are often advised to do. “You shouldn’t alter your natural gait – not while you’re actually running,” says Bharathi. “Any alteration should be done with a trainer who can condition you to gradually correct your posture and improve your running form. This change cannot happen overnight and should never be forced.”
Select Your Footwear With Care
A good shoe doesn’t have to be an expensive brand name, but it should fit the shape of your foot best. “While purchasing shoes, pay special attention to the arch of the foot. A good shoe should fit snugly and curve along this arch (at the side of your feet). It should distribute the weight of your body, evenly absorbing the impact as you land in order to prevent injury to the knee,” says Mudaliar. “And don’t forget to tie your shoelaces! Many people just slip into their shoes without lacing them up properly.”
Avoid Over-exertion And Dehydration
Some people overtrain (exercising on all days of the week) and schedule intensive workouts after a night of poor sleep. This can cause muscle degeneration. Instead of building a stronger body, you’ll actually be wasting away. “New mothers tend to do this agreat deal. Working out too much and with less than 24 hours between running sessions can weaken the system. Aim at fat loss, not muscle loss,” says Mudaliar. Staying hydrated while running prevents sudden cramps, so take small, frequent sips.
Power Up With Protein
If you’re running frequently, you’ll need to refuel, especially to build muscle that can keep you strong and injury free. Stock up on foods rich in natural protein: chicken, fish, channa, pulses, egg whites, soya beans, and dals. “Divide your protein into 6 mini-meals a day,” says Mudaliar. This will help you recover rapidly from the wear and tear of running.
Despite best efforts, the occasional injury is inevitable. Remember, pain is a warning signal for your body to slow down, so pay attention to every twinge. If you don’t recover with rest, seek medical attention/physiotherapy without delay.