So spring has well and truly sprung! This is a time when many people, encouraged by warmer weather and the inevitable over indulgence in food & drink over the Christmas festive season, begin to feel that they really must try and “get fit somehow”.
Many of these people will decide to take up running or jogging as they believe it’s the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to get in shape – all they think they need is an old pair of trainers, some workout clothes and they are ready to pound the pavements! Unfortunately, these same people habitually turn up in my treatment room a few weeks later complaining of pain, or to receive treatment for an injury they’ve sustained.
This post is intended to answer key questions I am regularly asked by patients, about the best way of getting started with running. I’ll draw upon my own personal and professional observations, both as a keen runner & sportsman and having over 15 years experience in working with patients. I have a Masters degree in Osteopathy and an additional degree in Sports Therapy and a Diploma in Sports Massage.
I do hope that this blog post will be helpful for those of you who are interested in how to get running safely and keeping injury-free. Let’s get started! I call these my SEVEN STEPS TO RUNNING…
STEP 1. What training gear should I get?
Although running is essentially a simple sport, appropriate training gear is important. Here’s some basic starter advice:
First of all get rid of those old trainers that have been sitting in the cupboard collecting dust. A workman looks after their tools and in terms of running, your feet are the major tool so keep them happy in a good pair of correctly-fitting new trainers.
I have written a whole article about which trainers are best for you and you can read this in a blog coming up soon, but if you are serious about starting running, and want to make sure you buy the right trainers, then I’d advise going to a specialist running shop and getting expert advice. They will be able to recommend trainers that meet your requirements and suit your foot shape and running style. I personally like Runners Need shops. For those who work in the City, there are several stores nearby.
In terms of clothing, don’t head towards the most expensive brands to start off with. Make sure you start by wearing some light, loose, comfortable clothing and a light waterproof, ‘breathable’ jacket. People prefer different types of running gear and once you start running more often, you will soon start to work out what suits you best. The rule is keep it light, comfortable and easy to move in. Make sure you are warm enough if it’s cold and use layers of thin clothing to stay warm. Also, don’t forget to protect your hands and head in very cold weather! For my female patients I advise them to buy a recognised branded sports bra with adjustable straps – it helps their posture when running and stops the ligaments in the chest from being overstretched. Lastly, if you decide to run after dark make sure you can be seen by wearing high visibility reflective running gear or invest in some high visibility reflectors that you can attach to your outer layer of clothes.
STEP 2. What exercises do I need to do before running?
It’s so important to get ‘running fit’ before you start, so that you don’t end up with an injury that stops your training at the outset. A personalised ‘biomechanics check’ is the best way to help prevent injuries. Many patients visit me or my physical therapy colleagues at the Lloyd’s Wellbeing Centre for a physical assessment prior to starting running. This is just like an MOT body assessment which helps to identify any muscles or joints that need treatment or exercises, before you start your training.
STEP 3. How far should I run at first?
If you put too much pressure on yourself or set unrealistic goals initially, then you’ll soon lose the enjoyment and be less inclined to go for a run at all. Start small, and grow from there. 5 minutes on your first go – that’s fine – that’s 5 minutes more than last week. Another way to start is by alternating running with walking for a set maximum time, again keep it manageable, say 5 or 10 minutes to start with. The maximum time should be a time that you can easily manage, and alternate the walk/run ratio to suit you.
There are no set rules apart from don’t overdo it! You will soon build up your stamina and your comfortable running time will increase. The key is to build up your running distance and intensity slowly to avoid potential injuries.
STEP 4. When should I run?
Plan time for your runs into your weekly schedule. It’s helpful to create a regular time, otherwise ‘lack of time’ can too often be an excuse for not going! Think in advance about your route and distance as this will help you stick to your running plan, rather than just allocating ‘running time’ with no plan.
STEP 5. What goals should I set at the beginning?
As with most New Year’s resolutions they only last for a short period of time. To make running an exception to this rule I get my patients to make goals/targets, so they write down some short, mid, and long-term goals to stick to.
A good starting point is to run three times a week, starting with 5 mins per run and adding a few minutes to each of your weekly sessions, building up to three runs of 20 mins per week. This can then lead on to your first race after 6 months where 5 km would be a sensible distance. Following on, you could then look to increase the distance of your races and enter a 10 km, half marathon and even a marathon! (look out for future posts about training plans.) My client patients are sometimes daunted at the thought of increasing their race distance challenges, but it’s amazing what some of them have achieved!
STEP 6. What posture should I adopt?
Don’t be too concerned about the best way to run, just keep relaxed in your movements and breathing and run at a pace that is comfortable for you. In the same way that everyone has a certain walk, we all have a unique style of running. The main thing is to be aware of your route. Look out for trip hazards like uneven ground or pavements, be aware of traffic, keep safe, keep relaxed and take it easy.
STEP 7. How important is a warm up?
Always make sure you warm up before starting a run. ‘Dynamic stretches’ are now proved to be better than ‘static stretches’ (more on these in a future post!) Try some gentle squats and lunges to get the blood flowing to the joints and warm up the muscles. Then start off by walking briskly for 5 minutes before running.
Warm downs after a run are equally as important and sometimes forgotten. Your warm downs should involve stretches to the hamstrings at the back of the legs, the quads at the front of the legs and the calf muscles. Hold each stretch for about 45 seconds. Stretches are great as they will help prevent muscle soreness after your run.
If you have any questions feel free to post them on this blog page, or come and visit me!
Mark Bussetti – M.Ost, BA Hons, Dip FTST
Osteopath and Sports Massage Therapist at the Lloyd’s Wellbeing Centre