This pandemic has brought out the best of the innovators, as they’ve been able to make ends meet with home training programs in the absence of their precious barbells and dumbbells.
That’s commendable, since for many, it’s more difficult to transition away from a classic gym setting to one more poorly equipped. These days, when I drive the streets of Toronto, a quick glance at most sidewalks reminds me of the other method people are using to cope with gym closures: Running.
Say what you will about running: It’s good that people are using it to try to keep their fitness up. For some, it may not be the optimal choice of exercise, but that doesn’t mean it’s a choice that won’t elicit results. Just like any pursuit, there’s a risk/reward attached to it. A TV spot on running I did a couple years back gives a good idea of my perspective toward running. Check it out below.
You get the idea. The main message of that segment was to say this: If you’re going to run, know just why you’re going to run, and approach it the right way. As an extension of that message, this article should be able to steer you in the right direction if you’re thinking of hitting the road, track, or path to get some foot mileage in. My track and field days definitely taught me a thing or two about running as a whole – and though my disciplines were the sprints and jumps, many of the basics have carryover. Don’t worry – I won’t overstep my bounds.
First things First: Get the Strength (or at least supplement with it)
Like I mentioned in the video above, you can’t go wrong with strength training. It doesn’t ever negatively impact any activity outside of it. With that said, a statement I like repeating is “don’t run to get in shape. Get in shape to run”. This implies that running itself needs to be something the body’s joints and connective tissue are prepared for, with a solid base of strength, stability and mobility. This is something strength training can provide. If you don’t have a good background of resistance training under your belt already, now’s certainly the time to start pursuing it, even if a poorly equipped gym is all you have. My online coaching clients who also run have had great success when combining runs with their weekly workouts, tailored to their goals.
We have to remember that running creates plenty of impact thanks to a very repeated set of motions. Since there’s not much to escape this cycle, training various movements in a workout setting – even with lighter weight or other forms of resistance – is a smart way to stay injury-free, and keep your joints on point. Key areas to be sure not to neglect are the muscles of the hips (like the glutes, hip flexors and low abs), and the postural muscles of the mid and upper back.
Get the right Shoes
Sure, in the current circumstance, this may be the toughest hurdle to tackle – but it’s still worth writing about for the record, and for future reference.
I already knew the importance of the right pair of shoes for any activity – especially track. But it took a double patellar tendon rupture and the ensuing reconstructive knee surgery to truly understand the seriousness. A brand of shoes that I loved for their comfort pre-injury, felt virtually unwearable post.
The right heel cushion, foot angle (inversion vs. eversion), foot width, arch degree, and forefoot mobility can all be game-changers in your running comfort and overall experience. Of course, having a professional to help with the process is optimal. But but doing a little research independently during this time in their absence can go a long way, compared to just getting a familiar brand online that also looks good. Seeking out thorough reviews can help your process, and is worth the time investment.
Learn how to Walk
Just like you’d start light in the gym when preparing to train and make gains, the same thinking should apply to running. My track coach in university watched me walk 400m in my very first practice to take a look at my general gait and mechanics. Your body will do everything it can by way of compensation, to keep the eyes and ears level when you’re on your feet. Do you have alignment issues at the hips? Do your toes point out when you walk? Are your shoulders off? Do you slouch? Have you got a cranial tilt? Fixing your posture and overall walking mechanics can be one of the first steps to success for you to practice. And guess what? The right shoes, mentioned above, can be very helpful to making this a reality.
So can strength training.
Learn how to Run
You probably figured this subheading would be next. Just like a successful deadlift, row, or press, a solid result comes from learning good, sound technique. Running is no different. There’s a right way to do it.
Granted, everyone’s individual biomechanics will vary. That’s understood. But most pundits will agree that there are basic things to look for in order to minimize injury risk and improve general efficiency. Here are a couple of things you can change right now.
Don’t slouch down and hunch over. Give yourself a chance to take in air, open the ribcage and increase the lungs’ capacity. It’ll help you run tall too for good posture.
Make sure your feet hit the ground in a heel-ball-toe fashion. “Chipping” into the ground by dropping the toes too early or by not completing the true length of a comfortable stride will place plenty of unwanted stress on the hips, knees and ankles. On top of this, it’s just plain inefficient and produces more drag. Do your best to have the foot strike the ground directly under the body. Not in front of it, nor behind it. These two drills may be slightly tailored for sprinters, but can have plenty of carryover to runners when trying to understand foot placement.
Also, a nice trick I’ve found helps improve overall mechanics is to do faster paced runs up a mild hill. Travelling uphill can correct many faulty mechanics because kinetics won’t be on your side – kind of like running with resistance. Your body will be forced to find the most efficient way to get from point A to point B without wasting energy. As a bonus, hill running is easier on the joints.
Flat ground over Treadmill
If you can help it, it’s always beneficial to try to run over the ground than have the ground move under you. The reason why most runners’ first “outdoor run of the spring” after the snow has cleared is so challenging, is because they’ve spent most of the winter running on a treadmill, which doesn’t convert as directly to running as one may believe.
If you think about it, it’s an easy way for certain muscles to not pull their own weight, so to speak. The foot hits the moving belt, and the belt pulls the leg through to the next stride. You may be out of options if you live in a place where there’s snow on the ground or otherwise inclement weather, but for those who have the option, go for a run outside. You can breathe some fresh air and enjoy the scenery while you’re at it.
Be Modest to Start
This goes without saying. Don’t hit the roads in week 1 to do a half-marathon. Your cardio may be able to handle it, but that doesn’t mean your muscular system or connective tissue will fare as well. Start with something underwhelming and gradually build each week. As long as you’re supplementing with the right recovery methods and putting time in the resistance training world, you’ll be fine. Kick things off with a cool mile, focusing on things pointed out in this article where you can. Once that feels great, add a half mile in your next run and keep the ball rolling.
I’m no longer a strength coach who maligns running for the thought that it’ll “kill all your gains”. That’s meathead talk. And if you’re over 25, then you probably should be considering other aspects of fitness that keep you in shape for your longevity and health – not just bodybuilding and strength training. There are many forms of cardio that can create a good training effect, and running is one of the few that involves true locomotion. If you’re considering it, just make sure you’re in a good place to get the benefits of it without risking any disadvantages.
Even if the running kick is just an interim thing, it’s worthwhile to approach it from the right point, so you can come out of this pandemic with your body in one piece, for a nice, smooth transition back to the wight room, and a couple of new accomplishments under your belt.