How to Be a Better Runner Without Taking a Single Step

If you’re like me, you think the fitness world has come to an end if you can’t run. Silly. Ridiculous. Nonsense you say.

Well of course that’s nonsense, but try telling that to someone who uses running as more than just exercise…it’s therapy. You can bike and swim and elliptical all you want, but it doesn’t give you the same mental release or emotional freedom that running does.

The hardest part about returning from an injury is not being able to go out and pick up where you left off. You can’t always run through an injury, but there are some things you can do to keep you ready to hit the pavement when you’re all healed:

Yoga

Balance is essential for running. The act of running involves switching your entire weight from one foot to the other over and over again. Add in a couple potholes, a tree root, or a piece of debris in the road, and you’ll be relying on your sense of balance more than you know.

Having good balance helps you run smoother and more evenly, saving you precious energy for later in your run.

yoga poise

Pilates

Your core is the center for your running. A strong core holds the rest of your body in proper alignment, which helps prevent injury and helps give you a more powerful stride. Any ab workout will help, but make sure you focus on the entire core, and not just the lower abdominals.

BodyPump

(Or other strength training.)

While a strong core is essential, a strong upper and lower body is important too. Sure, running works the muscles in your legs, but it doesn’t target every single muscle- it tends to focus on the big ones. Actively targeting all the muscles in the legs will help improve your stride, prevent fatigue, and my favorite, help prevent injury.

A strong upper body may seem unhelpful when it comes to running, but it’s just the opposite. Strong arms and shoulders help you keep good form when running. Plus, it’s one less set of muscles that can get tired during your run.

women weight training

Stretching

Not many people like to stretch. If you’re not naturally flexible, it can be pretty uncomfortable. Activities like yoga and ballet can make it more fun, but sometimes you just have to do it on your own.

Not only does improved flexibility keep you from being sore after a run,  it increases your range of motion, which can make you faster or more efficient. Stretching also increases blood flow, which helps you recover faster.

runner stretching

What do you do to improve your running, not including running?

Sports Massage Therapy 101: Interview with an Expert

Today’s post is brought to you by Nic:

Nic Ebright is a Sports Massage Therapist and Corrective Exercise Specialist in Columbia, MD. He is a Multi-Sport enthusiast having participated in several running and triathlon events. He is a member of Ulman Cancer Fund’s Team Fight & Mid-Maryland Tri Club and volunteers for local events like Columbia Tri, IronGirl Columbia and Half Full Triathlon. You can learn more at www.nicebrightmassage.com

Ever since I had the pain in my back alleviated by a therapist after a race, I’ve realized sports massage is more than pampering & relaxing- it’s therapeutic & restorative.

Nic’s the one that taped up my knee during 24 Hours of Booty– he took one look at my horrible taping job, shook his head, and fixed me up in a matter a minutes. I felt great the rest of the ride.

I just had to pick an expert’s brain. Winking smile

1. How did you get started in massage therapy?

When I interned as an Athletic Trainer at Maryland (College Park 2001-2005), I was shown basic massage techniques to help athletes deal with swelling that resulted from my sprains and strains as well as help reduce scar tissue formed from healed abrasions and  surgical incisions. After 3 years, I graduated and become a Sports Performance Coach, specializing in recovery, injury prevention & rehab. While other colleagues focused on the strength and condition aspect, I developed programs that addressed an athletes need to recover from challenging workouts and the high intensity demands of competition. Aside from nutrition, rehab exercises and mental mapping – I used massage therapy. I was really happy doing it and it worked for my clients, so I went to receive training, got licensed and have been loving it for the past 4 years.

2. What exactly is “sports massage”?

Sports Massage to me is the expert application of basic massage techniques (Gliding/Stretching, Compression/Kneading, Friction and Vibration) used separately or in combination to help an athlete “feel better” – whether it’s from muscular pain or performance-related stress. The “Sports” part involves having a deep academic and practical background of athletic injury, rehab and performance knowledge. It’s important to know about injury patterns and about how the body response to exercise (or lack of) and injury so that I can determine which techniques are appropriate per individual.

3. Who would benefit from a sports massage?

Anybody who participates in any activity. Whether you lift boxes or lift weights, Run errands or run marathons, ride the desk 9-5 or ride the bike 5-9. If you have muscle pain are tightness, you should try massage.

4. Is there anybody that should stay away from sports massage? (Such as any particular injuries, conditions, etc.)

In general, sports massage is not appropriate for severe or sudden injuries and conditions like fever, fractures, severe inflammation (grade 2 or 3 sprain or strain), hernia, and contagious skin conditions. My first rule is “Do no harm”, so if it’s something that you need to see a doctor for first, then I wouldn’t recommend massage.

5. What types of injuries do you see the most?

Since I work with a lot of endurance athletes these days, they tend to come to me for chronic overuse injuries like Plantar Fasciitis, Runner’s Knee, Low back and neck pain and Sciatica. These injuries are occurring with well seasoned athletes as well as beginners.

6. I’ve heard getting a massage right after an endurance event isn’t good for you, but there’s always massage therapists at races…can you clear that one up?

This is a matter of individual preference, really. If your body is well adapted to the event, you might not be sore at all compared to someone who isn’t as well adapted (most beginners). I believe it’s the therapist who can hurt not the therapy. A well skilled therapist should be using lighter gliding, compression and stretching techniques to help with cramping and calm the nerves down.

Personally, even though I’m a therapist, I didn’t want anybody to touch my legs after my first Marathon. I had to wait a few days for the pain to subside before I made an appointment.

Contrary to popular belief, massage doesn’t prevent or reduce DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscles Soreness), training and adaptation is more of an influence with that.

7.What’s your favorite part about being a massage therapist?

Knowing that I can contribute to the success of my clients. Some times I’ll see a client on TV or in the newspaper and think, “I helped him or her get to Kona or the Boston Marathon or be able to play on Sunday night.”

8. Least favorite part?

Bargain Hunters. In general, people who only visit when I have a discount or promotion (I don’t invite them back) . I tend to think most of my clients respect my profession and appreciate the investment that they make. Athletes usually appreciate that aspect because they make their own investments into their training. If they appreciate it and  I know that cost is an issue, then I usually adjust my fees to accommodate their budget.

9. I’m a big fan of the foam roller and the stick- any advice you could give for someone interested in self-massage? (Any major do’s or don’ts?)

Do try it. I encourage clients to do self-massage for maintenance in between sessions. That means you can go longer in between “tune-ups”.

Don’t press too hard. applying to much pressure can cause bruising and even more tissue damage.

Do go slow. If you do want to apply more pressure, do it gradually to let the muscles adapt. Muscles tend to contract more when pressure is applied too suddenly.

No Gain with Pain. It should never be painful. Your goal should be to relax tight muscles or stimulate tired muscles, but not cause pain to the muscles.

10. Seriously, how bad is it giving massages to people that have just sweat for 4 hours in a marathon? Winking smile

It’s not bad at all, just as long as I clean and wipe everything down before the next athlete, I’m fine. I’m usually the best thing that happens to a Marathoner after 26 miles of running.

Anything else you want people to know?

Ultimately, it comes down to choosing the Therapist not the Therapy. Try out different types of massage and Massage Therapists and find the one that works for you.

Thanks Nic!

Have you ever gotten a sports massage? What did you think?

3 Common Running Injuries & How to Stop Them Before They Stop You

It’s pretty apparent that I’m no stranger to injuries. I do my best to prevent running injuries, but sometimes it’s not enough. Plus, most of us are stubborn enough to think an injury won’t happen to us.

But if you feel an injury coming on, the best thing you can do is take care of it right away– don’t expect it to disappear on it’s own.

Injury: Shin Splints

What: Pain in the front of your lower leg, usually towards the inside.

Intervention: Stop running. Rest. Ice. Cross train. Slowly rebuild mileage.

Stretching your calves, running on softer surfaces, and making sure you’re in the right running shoe (not too stiff) can get you back up and running faster.

Compression sleeves or kinesiotaping may help as well.

shinsplints

Injury: IT Band

What: Pain on the outside of the knee (or hip)

Intervention: Rest, ice, stretch, foam roll, strengthen. Cross training can help reduce some of the running-specific friction of the IT band rubbing against your knee.

Alternate running on the “wrong” side of the road- many roads are slightly curved, which can make one leg need to reach farther than the other.

Stretching and foam rolling are key here- loosening the IT band will help prevent so much friction.

IT band

Injury: Runner’s knee

(patellofemoral pain syndrome; chondromalacia)

What: Pain under & around the knee cap; may cause grating sensation.

Intervention: Reduce mileage, strengthen muscles around knee (especially quads). Be cautious about deep bending knee activities such as squats and running on hills & hard surfaces.

Straight leg lifts can help focus building the small part of the quad muscle just above your knee cap on the inner side, which can help hold the patella in a more comfortable position. Using tape to hold the patella in the proper position can help too.

runners knee

Notice some common themes? Rest or cut down on mileage, ice, & get the right shoes for your gait. Don’t power through it!

The Self Massage Showdown: The Foam Roller vs The Stick

Since I hurt my knee running 3 months ago, my foam roller and I have become attached at the hip- almost literally. The minute the words “IT band” were even whispered, shouts of “foam roll, foam roll, foam roll!” could be heard from all directions.

self massage tools : foam roller or the stick

 

And those shouts were right: foam rolling makes a huge difference in injury recovery, and even more importantly- injury prevention.

foam roller



My foam roller is almost as well traveled as I am- it’s accompanied me on many adventures this summer, from MD to VA and all over NC.

But lugging a 3 foot plus foam tube around with you isn’t without its difficulties- and strange glances. And though it probably deserves to, the foam roller isn’t exactly the best use of the 2 carry-on bag restriction on planes these days.

Enter The Stick.

the stick

The foam roller’s baby cousin.

Both the foam roller and the stick are meant to serve the same purpose: self massage.

More precisely, myofascial release. The poor girl’s daily sports massage.

Stretching is great, but it doesn’t get rid of knots in the muscle (known as trigger points).

The foam roller & the stick can. But when to use which one?

self massage tools

Let the showdown begin:

The Foam Roller The Stick
Uses body weight for pressure Uses hands to push stick into muscle
Good for holding over trigger points Good for rolling across muscle
Comes in different firmnesses Comes in different lengths
Good for use at home or gym Good for travel or portable use

In the end it comes down to personal preference, but each has it’s own benefits.

For me, the stick travels with me; the foamroller stays home. I prefer the foam roller for specific trigger spots, and the stick for general muscle massage. The foam roller works better for hips, and the stick works better for the neck & back.

Sometimes it’s awkward to hold yourself up to use the foamroller, so the stick can come in handy for those times- I think it’s less awkward (and feels better) to use the stick for calves than the foam roller, but I think the foam roller feels better on quads.

(Plus, your friends will thank you when you travel bearing massages in the form of the stick:)

stick massage

So until they start packaging up sports massage therapists and selling them for under $25, the stick & foam roller it’ll be.

Are you a foam rolling fan or a stick/tiger tail fan?

5 Tips to Stop Running Injuries Before They Start

Two months ago I came down with the infamous runner’s knee during a trail race. IT band syndrome coupled with patellofemoral pain syndrome. Fun. I didn’t know what it was at the time, just that running was out of the question.

To celebrate 8 weeks of being run & [almost entirely] exercise free, I ran.

And I rannnnn……. (Sorry, can’t help but singing that song every time I say I ran ;))

It’s day 2 of my orthotics, and by following the rules of slowly breaking them in, I need to wear them for 4 hours today. I essentially sit all day long- even though that counts as “orthotics time”, I wanted to actually experience what they feel like.

I stretched, I foam rolled, I warmed up. I walked. Feeling good…

So I ran. I only planned to do a loop around the neighborhood- less than a mile.

But instead I did 5 miles.

running

Jussssst kidding. I didn’t even make it a 1/2 mile before the evil knee pain struck. Not the “I haven’t done this in a while pain”- injury pain. I stopped.

Apparently the reason I’ve been doing so well and “healing” so well has been because of my diligent rest. Fact of the matter is, I’m a lot further behind than I thought I was. *Sees tri fizzle into thin air.*

You can bet Mr. PT man is hearing about this tomorrow. To be sure, I marked where it hurt when I was running since it eases up after I stop. Yes, I’m a little psycho.

knee markings knee

Nothing like running pain to remind you that you didn’t have to be here in the first place. I thought I did everything right, but still ended up injured, so obviously there was room for improvement.

Tips for Running Injury Free

1. Know your limits. Setting your goals high is admirable. But get there slowly- build mileage, intensity, and frequency gradually. You can always do more tomorrow.

2. Wear the right shoes. Get your gait analyzed at a running store. It’s free & doesn’t take long. A running shoe expert can point you in the right direction- neutral, cushioned, stability, minimalist, barefoot, whatever. Tell them what you’re looking to accomplish. Most importantly, your feet & legs need to feel good in the shoes you’ve selected.

3. Listen to your body. This seems obvious, but is often overlooked. If something hurts, take note of it. Determine why it’s hurting- is it sore because you overworked it, or is it the beginning of injury? Do not ignore it.

4. Warm up, cool down, stretch. Yes, these are the boring parts of running. It makes each run take a little longer. But it’s what’s going to keep you running.

4b. Ice & foam roll if needed. Ice doesn’t make you a wimp. It reduces inflammation and can nip an injury in the butt.

5. Rest. Rest is what lets your body recover and heal. It will not ruin your fitness or your training!! If you have trouble knowing when to rest, build it into a training plan.

Common training plan guidelines: don’t increase by more than 10% each week & every 4th week, cut back a little.

What’s your best injury prevention tip?