What are the little things?
Typically, runners avoid the little things because they don’t think they have time to get them in or they feel they’re already doing enough. Certainly, fitting in grueling workouts with a busy work schedule and a family is difficult, but the following three little things add up to about 20 minutes per day of extra attention. When you’re questioning whether the bare minimum is enough for you, ask yourself: Is 20 minutes a day worth staying healthy and getting me closer to my goal?
Core And Hip Strengthening
Recent research has shown that a weak core and weak hips are two of the main contributors to most running injuries. Specifically, researchers have found that weak hip flexors and hip adductors are observed in almost all runners who suffer from IT band syndrome and patellofemoral joint pain (runner’s knee). Likewise, numerous research studies have demonstrated that core work (such as planks, back extensions, and oblique exercises) help prevent injuries, improve balance and improve running performance.
The good news from all this research is that you don’t have to perform hours of core work each day to make positive gains in hip and core strength to prevent injury. A five-to-ten minute routine consisting of side leg lifts, clams, back bridge, plank, abdominal twists, and supermans can help keep you injury-free. If you have more time, you can perform a full set of running-specific core routines and a running injury prevention hip routine as well.
As you’ve read here before, training your muscular and neuromuscular systems is critical to becoming a more efficient and economical runner. Not only does muscular and neuromuscular training improve performance, but it also helps prepare the body to better handle more rigorous speed work.
My two favorite forms of muscular work are strides and explosive hill sprints. Both are easy to add to the end of a run and require only 5 to 10 minutes of your time, but they provide a huge return on investment. Plus, they’re a lot of fun if you’ve been stuck in a mileage rut.
To execute hill sprints, find a steeper hill with a 7 to 10% grade. Stand at the bottom and, from a standing start, sprint up the hill as fast as you can. Land on the balls of your feet and pump your arms like a sprinter. The sprint is designed to be at maximum effort, so don’t go over fifteen seconds. Siz to 10 reps of 10 to 12 seconds is ideal. Walk slowly and gently back down the hill, rest until you are completely recovered, then begin the next repeat.
Strides, or 4 to 8 accelerations of 15 to 20 seconds in duration, can be added on to easy runs. Ease into the stride over the first 5 seconds, reach 90-95% of max speed for 10 seconds, and then decelerate the last 5 seconds. These strides will help you improve your running form and develop the neuromuscular system for more efficient running and a faster finish.
Finally, be proactive in regard to potential injuries and stop them before they become serious. Heating before a run, performing a quick set of dynamic stretches during the warmup, and icing after a run are quick and easy ways to stay injury-free.
One of my favorite methods to proactively treat injuries is to take ice baths after my hardest workouts. The Cochrane Collaboration, a nonprofit organization of scientists and doctors who support evidence-based medicine, reviewed the major studies on ice baths and found that there was evidence that following intense exercise, cold water immersion reduced muscle soreness over the next several days. Simply immerse your lower body in a bath tub that is between 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 15 minutes.
I also recommend heating any troublesome areas before running to improve blood flow to the area. While you don’t need to heat before every run, definitely take the time to warm up if you’re even the slightest bit tight or sore, especially if it’s a typical trouble spot.
Coach Jay Johnson is a big advocate of the lunge matrix as a dynamic and specific way to warm up your muscles and prepare them for all types of runs. Likewise, many runners have benefited from including active isolated stretching before or after their runs. Regardless of which method you prefer, adding a dynamic warmup only takes about 5 minutes and can significantly reduce your injury rates.