If you are a recreational runner the following three tips should help you to improve your running and prevent injury. Beginners in particular will benefit from this advice whether you run marathons or chase footballs or anything in between.
1. Learn to run properly. You might think that anyone can run because it is something that comes naturally but I rarely see recreational runners running properly. First of all, you should not be landing on your heels. You should land on the ball of your foot and take the landing impact in your calf muscle through your Achilles tendon. The energy absorbed in your calf muscle can then be re-used to spring you off into your next stride. It is achieved by leaning slightly forward. Your foot lands just in front of or under your body. Then you push your leg back and drive forwards into the next stride. You must think about keeping you hips up as you raise your knee to bring your leg through. With practice you will learn a proper running style that will not only lengthen your stride, but it will also reduce the chances of injury to your ankles and back.
2. Stretching exercises. Can you get your hands flat on the floor without bending your knees? Stretching is important for many reasons. It helps your muscle tone, reduces the chance of injury and helps to increase your stride length to name a few. Look at some yoga websites or get my ebook “How to Run Faster” for some more ideas. You should always stretch both ways, so try the following sequence:
Lie on the floor on your back and relax. Raise your legs at right angles to your body and then raise yourself up into a shoulder stand, supporting your hips with your hands. Hold this position for a while, trying to straighten your back. Notice the feeling as the blood drains from your feet. Now lower your legs over your head and try to put your toes on the floor, keeping your legs straight and lowering your arms along the floor . This is the plough position. Hold it for a while and enjoy the stretch. Go back into the shoulder stand and hold that for a short time and then return to lying flat on your back Now to stretch in the other direction. Sit on your heals and lean back and put the top of your head on the floor. Keep your knees as close together as possible. Put your hands together as if you are praying and put them over your heart. This is the fish position. It is very good for stretching your ankles and relieving shin splinters. These exercises may be very difficult for you or they may be easy. Whatever the case, if you have not done them before you should take them slowly first time out. Use your judgement and only do what you are capable of. You may find it easier if you have a someone with you to help you to get into and out of the positions.
3 Ankle exercises. Your ankles take a lot of the strain when you are running and when you are new to the sport they are still quite weak. Absorbing the shock of landing and re-using the energy in the next stride is one of the keys to running properly, and it is your ankles that do most of the work. It is also this area that tends to get injuries such as Achilles tendon damage and shin splinters. You may also get foot injuries as well, so ensure that you are regularly stretching as well as running. Here are two suggestions for strengthening your ankles and calf muscles.
Jump rope or just jumping from side to side across a line or broom handle. Do not let your heels touch the ground and do not jump too high. You are aiming to bounce on your feet only: think boxer. Try to increase the speed as you get better at it. You need to do it for a set time or number of repetitions.
Find a step or block of wood about three inches high. Stand with your heels on the ground and the balls of your feet on the step. This may be difficult if you have not done much stretching. Then raise your body as high as you can for, say, 15 repetitions, rest and do two more sets. Aim to do them on one leg at a time and raise yourself as high as you can. When you get good at it you can hold a weight as well. As strength exercises are better done after your run, try adding a few extra minutes to your exercise time and do some ankle strengthening exercises.
These three ideas will help to improve your running and reduce the chances of injuring yourself. Running properly needs extra strength and suppleness which is gained from the stretching and ankle strengthening exercises.
For more a more in-depth look at improving your running and some more exercise ideas, take a look at how2runfaster.com