Self Recovery Techniques for Runners
Spring has sprung, well at least on the calendar if not in the forecast! Runners are itching to get out and start to shake off the winter cobwebs, increase their distance, prep for goal races take on new challenges. However along with each of these comes the potential for injury. Injury happens with any quick increase in mileage and/ or speed. Injury is also possible when attempting a new activity, particularly if that activity is introduced too quickly or with poor mechanics or form. Over time the body stops adapting and leads to breakdown.
One question I ask all of my active clients is “do you stretch”? Interestingly, the majority of the “XY” chromosome make up say NO! (Not that I am singling anyone out!). Perhaps this is a lack of time after a workout, or a misunderstanding of whether it is actually going to benefit you and your running. Whatever the reason, I am here to help you weed through the best self -recovery techniques for runners and get you on to a healthy program of prevention and treatment.
You may be able to get by without stretching when you are 20-30 yrs old. But with most clients I see, it catches up with you in your 40’s and 50’s. Those pesky hamstrings, quads and ITB’s not to mention angry calves will let you know when they are so tight they can’t function appropriately. For this reason, I recommend a short post run stretching routine. Some people will require longer sessions, but for most runners 2-3 repetitions of the major muscle groups will suffice. The repetitive nature of running, leads to muscle shortening with each step. If you neglect to do any stretching afterwards, your muscles will stay in that shortened position throughout your day. You won’t exactly be bent over and unable to use those muscles, but they will not necessarily return to baseline. Overtime this could lead to injury. You will be using muscles that are not at their optimal length. One over-stride, one too many intervals, one too many hills, or bending over to get your morning paper and you could find yourself with an injury. There are some genetically gifted individuals who can get through their entire run careers without a single stretch, but this is the exception and not the norm.
The following is a guideline for stretching:
Which muscles do I stretch?
Hamstrings (back of thigh), quadriceps (front of thigh), calves, ITBs (that pesky band down the side of the hip), hip flexors (front of hip), and piriformis (butt muscle). You can look these up on many internet sites with photos and videos.
How long should I hold it for?
This varies among the research and amongst professionals, but I usually tell my clients that 30 seconds at least is a good amount of time to get some tissue lengthening. Time yourself, 30 seconds is longer than you may think. Be careful to stretch to the point of the onset of tension. Do not go much beyond this as overstretching can lead to injury. Our muscles have built in sensors when we overstretch them, so pay attention to that feeling of “ouch I can’t hold this” and stop before you get there.
Dylan Wykes, Canadian Marathon Olympian
Do I need to stretch before or after I run?
Always stretch after you run. Not before. Before you run, do a slow gradual dynamic warm-up. Easy jogging, or walking to warm up the body for what it is going to do. Your muscles work best with a little stiffness in them. That provides the spring in your step. Muscles that are too long will be unstable and have a harder time contracting. Take note, if you have done a very long run or race; take some time right after to cool down before stretching. Stretching very tired or sore muscles can lead to injury. I would recommend waiting about 15-30 minutes after a race to stretch and then ease into it. Consider a longer session later on in the day and certainly in the days that follow.
For years I was one of those who cursed yoga. I found it boring, I kept pulling things I did not know I could pull, and I did not want to go to any extra classes or pay any extra money for something so “unaerobic”!
Enter chronic hamstring tendon injury. Fifteen years in fact. Off and on this injury would rear its ugly head. Last summer I decided to give yoga a go. Being someone who prefers solo workouts vs. classes or group activities, I looked into many online yoga downloads and other DVD’s. I happened upon yogaglo.com and I was hooked. I can choose how long I want my class to be (my limit is 30-45 mins for the boredom factor), who the instructor is that I want to learn from ( I say away from the “chanters” J , which purpose I want it for (hamstring classes !), what level I am at (Level 1-2), and what type of yoga I like (vinyasa flow) . All I can say is my hamstring/hip issue has gone from chronic to pretty much gone (unless I do things I know it can’t handle, like hill repeats.) At first I was unsure as to whether that strong forward fold was going to rip my hamstring tendon in half, but as I adjusted my positions and kept at it a couple of times a week, I found that it became easier and it helped my running too! Yoga is not for everyone, but I highly recommend it once or twice a week either in a class (if you like to workout amongst others or are totally new and want more guidance of a live person!), or at home in front of your computer/tv/ipad/iphone etc! Word to the wise: respect your flexibility limits and ease into it! I have had more than one client injured (mostly lower back) from getting into the poses a little too aggressively, or allowing an instructor to put them into a position they were not ready for. Get good class recommendations from others or try out yogaglo.com (small monthly fee attached).
- Foam Rolling
The foam roller……friend and foe. This long cylindrical torture device can be a great addition to any runner’s arsenal. Think tissue therapist in a cylinder. There are also alternatives to this such as the Acuball (www.acuball.com) which you can find at your local runner shop or some physio/chiro offices.
What these do for you is provide a massage and deep tissue friction. This promotes healing by increasing blood flow and breaking up adhesions in the muscles/tendons. It can also help to promote recovery for tired muscles.
How often should I foam roll?
Daily is great, a few times a week is great. But like anything there can be too much of a good thing. I usually recommend rolling a body part for about 10-20 passes (the ITB may be one where you just do it till you say “uncle” and that often comes at 3-5 if they are tight!!!). Your body weight aids in the loosening of the muscles and the rolling enhances the flow of the blood and the breaking of adhesions. Over rolling can lead to aggravation of injuries, if you are using it for injury rehab vs. general recovery. Give it a try and you may just reduce your need for visits to healing professionals for injuries!
There are other self- recovery techniques that have been touted in the literature as helping to reduce lactic acid and promote recovery in our muscles. Examples of these are: compression socks, light active recovery workouts, and cross training. Whatever you use, try to take a proactive role in your own recovery and you may find your longevity for running increase and your time in the physio/chiro/massage/doctor office is greatly reduced.
Stay healthy on the roads and here’s to a Mezamashii run!
Elise is a long time competitive amateur triathlete and Physiotherapist with 20+ years experience treating runners and athletes of all kinds. She also has an online coaching business for runners and triathletes looking to reach that next distance goal or PB. She is very passionate about biomechanics in running and does gait analysis and shoe recommendations as part of her practice. Elise also has a self admitted running shoe and apparel fetish. She is mom to an active 10 year old girl and is married to a man who also runs and races.