Spring is the time when many of us are competing in one of the toughest challenges we will voluntarily enter: a marathon! But even for those of us with a slightly less intense need to pound the streets, spring tends to be the time when we start dusting off our trainers and getting out in the sunshine to improve our fitness.
But how do you make sure you’re achieving the best results you can? What can you do to up the miles while still feeling relatively fresh at the end? Well, here are our top five tips for improving your running!
Make sure you’re using your feet!
This may sound silly – after all, how else do you run? – but many of us aren’t using our feet the way they’re meant to be used. Most running shoes will have a sole that is cushioned more to the heel than the toe. This encourages you to land on your heel first.
Unfortunately, this leads to shock running up the leg to the knees and hips, and into the lower back. If you’ve ever wondered why you finish a run with an aching lower back, it’s probably because you are landing heel first!
So how should you land? You need to aim for the middle of the foot, fairly flat and even through the whole sole. Start your run by marching on the spot, and you’ll find the right area. But, if you aren’t comfortable while running, it’s hard to get your foot in the right place which leads us to point 2…
To keep your feet in the right place and stay relaxed, you need to adjust your posture. You can’t run the same way as you walk: upright. You won’t stay relaxed, and you’ll lead with your heel (see above!). To get everything into the right place, lean forward from the ankle. Let your bodyweight take you forward and add momentum to your run. You should almost be off balance, in a position that would make you stagger forward if you were still.
Your feet should be under your hips, and your chest should be slightly in front of your hips. Keep your feet under you, and don’t let them lead. This will keep your weight forward and off your heels. Once you get your posture right, it will help with number 3…
Easier said than done! The last thing you probably expect to feel when you’re running is relaxed! But one of the easiest ways to improve running is to stay loose. Tension in your shoulders and arms can affect breathing and posture, both of which will hit your run hard.
Unlike a sprinter, if you’re going for distance over speed, your arms play a very secondary role. While Usain Bolt will be pumping his arms to gain extra momentum, keeping yours relaxed and using a gentle movement is better for longer runs. It will keep your shoulder muscles relaxed, and these can impact breathing.
Most shoulder muscles are attached to the upper ribs. If they get tight and hold tension, it can affect how the ribcage moves, and impair deep breathing. Keep your hands open and unclenched, with your shoulders low and loose, and try not to let them hitch up to your ears. Remember, you are running on your feet, not your hands!
If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you may have noticed a trend. Stretching. It’s the number one thing that will help you stay fit and healthy in terms of ease and simplicity. But not all stretches are the same, and not everyone needs to do the same stretches.
For runners, we need to look at a couple of often-missed muscles: tibialis anterior, and piriformis! Don’t worry about the names, there isn’t a test. One runs along the shin, the other is in the back of the hip. Both, if tight, can cause problems.
To target the hip, lie on your back with both knees bent. Place your right ankle on your left knee, so your legs make an upside down 4 shape. Place your hands behind your left knee and pull up towards your chest. To increase the stretch, you can push down on your right knee with your right elbow.
To stretch your shin, kneel down and point your toes behind you. This can be done with both legs, on the floor, or you can use a chair, bed or other raised surface to do one leg at a time.
Both of these stretches can be strong, and you may feel some discomfort if the muscles are very tight, so take care that you don’t push too far: discomfort is fine, pain is not.
Running up that hill
No, it’s not Kate Bush karaoke. Adding some hills to your run can help to improve your overall performance. Hills add more effort to your run, increasing demand on your heart and lungs. A short hill run can help to improve your aerobic capacity, and also your recovery speed.
It will also use different muscles and add extra demand to certain areas like your thighs and calf muscles. One of the keys to any exercise is variation. If you always train the same way, you will always get the same results. When your body is used to one thing, it will stop adapting as much. Adding a dedicated hill day to your week changes things up and makes you adapt to different demands on your muscles.
Mix it up
You can apply the same idea to terrain (cross-country routes challenge balance and stabilising muscles more) and speed (some people add sprints to runs or have a separate sprint session). You can change and adapt your run for a specific race, or just to stop the monotony of doing the same route over and over.
Finally, if you really do plan to make running part of your regular routine, make sure you have a decent pair of trainers! There are plenty of shops around, such as Up And Running and although they will not be the cheapest trainers you’ve ever worn, they could save you a lot of pain!
Know when to stop
These tips could help to improve your running, give you the motivation to push yourself further, or may just remind you that some bad habits have slipped in.
Running is a great activity which many of us enjoy and can bring fantastic health benefits. But it can also bring injury, especially if you don’t warm up properly or overdo it. If you have any long-term or serious issues, make an appointment with one of our osteopaths for a full assessment and treatment plan.