The Importance of Prehab
The reason we run differs for each individual. It could be to run a certain time, lose weight, for the long-term health benefits or for pure enjoyment. The list is endless and it’s always a joy to help athletes to move steps closer to hitting those goals. Something that often gets in the way of that is injury and most runners will face some sort of setback during their time training. It’s just the nature of the sport, unfortunately. Our bodies can handle quite a bit of pounding but as you adapt and get fitter throughout the training process, you should be able to handle more training and faster training.
We want to keep adapting so that we can be the best version of ourselves and achieve better results. Then we get greedy. We feel the gains and start pushing harder knowing how good it feels to reach new peaks. Boom, an injury curtails your progress. This isn’t how it always happens but it’s a very common injury story. Why did the injury happen when you were fitter and stronger than ever? The stress/rest cycle was out of balance and you were pushing too hard for the amount of recovery you were giving yourself or it was a freak accident (like twisting your ankle or stubbing your toe on a curb). Option 2 we can’t control but making sure that we are helping our body to recover adequately is something we can do a lot about and on a regular basis.
PREHAB NOT REHAB
Prehab is the process of helping yourself stay away from preventable injuries by taking care of the weaknesses ahead of time and not allowing them to evolve into something that will stop you from running. Running is what we love doing so it’s easy to do but prehab? For many of us, not so much. For the vast majority it seems like an inconvenience or you may believe you don’t have the time for it. But once injury hits, the regret sets in and you wish you’d spent that extra 15 minutes a day doing those little things to help your body get back to neutral (a term I use for your pre-workout state).
One of the things that sets apart successful athletes from others is that they can train consistently for long periods of time without any interruptions. They do the little things that help their body to stay in great condition year round and they do those things regularly. The best runners in the world are known for how diligent they are in making sure they are at their best all the time. Why not learn from them? It’s easy to do and it doesn’t take much time or effort. Here are some of the things you can be doing to help you reduce the risk of injury and keep you feeling good on a regular basis.
The easiest way to do this is to pay an expert to get into your muscles and work them out for you. That’s a more expensive, but a very worthwhile version of massage as they can feel for knots in your body and work them out through a series of movements and manipulations. A much cheaper way to use massage is by using a foam roller or massage stick. You can pinpoint areas on yourself where you feel tightness and make passes over those areas and ease them out yourself.
There is lots of evidence for and against massage but almost every top athlete gets massage so they must do it for a reason right? I heard a great analogy recently about why massage is so good for the muscles. Think of your muscles as hair and the foam roller/massage stick/masseur as a hairbrush. If you don’t brush your hair for a while, it will get knotted up and eventually break. The hairbrush (massage) keeps the hair in good condition and moving naturally.
Everyone has an opinion about stretching and whether it works for them. A lot of athletes feel it doesn’t make much of a difference but that’s because they’ve never done it for a period long enough to see true results. It takes around 210 days for your muscles and tendons to adapt to stretching and for the flexibility to really kick in so just like endurance running, it’s a long term process.
The key to flexibility isn’t about being able to move in larger ranges of motion but to be able to use those new ranges combined with extra strength. This is the difference between flexibility and mobility. We want mobility otherwise you can’t put that newly found flexibility to good use. Personally, I have found that active isolated stretching to be very useful in recovery and making my legs feels better before big efforts and after runs. This is the process of stretching your muscles to their end range, holding for a couple of seconds and then loosening off and repeating a few times. Within a few minutes and with minimal effort, you can feel unbound and ready to flow through your training. Our muscles shorten while we run so doing this after runs can be very helpful as you re-lengthen the muscles to their pre-run state which allows them to be in good condition for your next round of training.
I see core training as a form of prehab. Making sure that we constantly work on our back, abdominal, hip and glute strength not only allows us to be more fluid and efficient but it allows us to be stronger and more able to stand up to the rigors of running. It doesn’t have to take long either.
Greg devised a core routine that you can fit into your day conveniently and that you can do anywhere. That means no extra time traveling to the gym, working out and then traveling home again. You can finish your run and move straight into your core work. Many of us think of a strong core as a rock solid 6-pack but it’s much more than that. It’s your whole mid-section so the work you do has to encompass activating all the muscles in that area. If you haven’t done it before you will be tender the first few times but that goes away as your muscles get used to working in this new way. That tenderness actually tells you that you have work to do. This type of work will also help with your posture, which allows you to keep the rest of your body in good shape by not putting extra strain through your musculature. If you can get into a good routine of working on your core two to three times a week then you’ll be well on your way to reducing your risk of injury.
If you do end up getting sore from training, and you will, then there are a few easy ways to help you heal quicker than just leaving it alone. Note that if it’s a true injury then you should get treatment from an expert like a Physical Therapist or Sports Doctor. The three usual injury sites in runners are in the muscle, tendon or bone. As you increase your mileage and the length of your workouts your legs take a lot more force than they’re used to. That’s a good thing and it will produce a training response (breaking you down only to make you stronger). We enjoy this part because we know we are getting stronger every time we’re going out and working hard towards our goal. We just have to be careful not to cross the line where the stress/rest cycle comes out of balance.
Bone soreness: See a doctor. Remember that achiness and soreness are two different things. Achiness is fairly normal but if you have soreness in your leg bones then you may want to get a scan to make sure that you don’t have a stress fracture or the start of one. Best advice is see a doctor as soon as you can.
Muscle soreness: Again, fairly normal as running volume increases. Soothing the muscles with massage will help as will ice and Epsom salt baths. Ice baths allow the swelling in your legs to go down plus you get the added benefit of a great hormonal response producing more testosterone to help you recover. So even if you think ice baths don’t do anything for you, it does. Read more about ice baths. Epsom salt baths help you to absorb magnesium through your skin helping with muscle recovery and healing. It’s also very soothing to relax in a hot bath and I always take the opportunity of having thoroughly heated muscles to get some stretching in afterwards.
Tendon soreness: The common problem here is Achilles soreness. The world’s leading experts often say the same thing for healing the Achilles and that’s rest. Often times the soreness will go away after a few days and you can return to running again, or you can cross train by biking, going on the elliptical or best of all, do some pool running as there is no pressure on the area. Or, you may have to take some substantial time away from activity depending on the severity of the injury. To help with the healing of the tendon tissue, ice for the initial 24 hours and then use heat after that time to bring more blood flow to the area. Tendons heal through diffusion so the more blood you can get to the area, the more opportunity it has to heal. Contrasting between heat and cold can be good for the area too.
All of the tips above may seem like a lot to do but once you hit your goal having not had to take off any time from running, you’ll be glad you took that extra time to keep your body in good shape. Keep your focus on the end goal and what you can do today to make sure you can achieve success tomorrow.
Check out all of McMillan Running’s Strength and Prehab routines.
Andrew Lemoncello (Coach “Lemon” as we call him) is a McMillan Running Coach. Learn more about our Personal Coaching where you can train with a coach like Lemon by your side to plan your training and talk about race strategy, performance nutrition, injury prevention, stretching, and much more.
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