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Run to the Rhythm of your Feet not your Heart

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Posted by Ellis T under Running on 15 February 2012 at 11:00 AM

Ellis T has been helping us out through some great advice in the Disaster I'm Injured Tribe. Here's his article with some top tips on how to get back into running after a break or an injury:

For some people the prospect of running for fitness is fraught with the fear of the aches and pains that they suffered the last time they ran, or indeed the aches and pains that they might expect if they were to run!

It’s said that some people are‘built’ for running and others not so, but it’s a saying that describes those people that can run far and fast, it doesn’t mean that other body types can’t run for fun and fitness. When we’re asked, as physiotherapists, whether or not someone should run or not and if it would be bad for their knees for example, the immediate and simple answer might very well be no, but a more considered answer is usually yes. Confused?

When we’re looking after someone with knee pain, we probably would say no in the short term. Most knee pain is usually caused by pressure travelling through the knee that has been excessive and uncontrolled in some way. In the long term though, we would expect that with a little bit of awareness, the pressure travelling through the knee could be controlled sufficiently to reduce the pain in the knee, and so we would say yes...but we wouldn’t say to run ‘til your heart’s content! Not yet anyway.

It might come as a shock to say that most people have a better cardiovascular capacity than they might expect, particularly if they do some indoor cardio at the gym. It’s actually the muscular endurance of their legs that won’t be on par when running outdoors and this is the discrepancy that gets people in trouble with their knees when they start running.

Typically someone starting out at running, or returning to it after a long break, will run until they’re huffing and puffing, start to reach their cardiovascular limits, then they’ll stop and walk a bit before setting off again at a run. By this stage they have usually sailed past the muscular endurance of their legs and their core with reckless abandon to burn those calories and tick off the miles, all to the detriment of their knees. This is what you’d call running to the beat of your heart, and it’s not a great way to start.

The safest way to get into running is to run to the beat of your feet. For your first few runs, don’t run with headphones blaring in your ears but listen to your feet instead. They should be quiet and soft. As soon as they start to get loud and ‘slap’ the pavement that’s when you need to stop and walk. This will be well before you’re properly huffing and puffing. Walk for just a couple of minutes then get back into a ‘quiet’ run again until you get noisy once more.

When your feet are nice and quiet, the muscles of your legs are working well to absorb the shock of each step and protect your joints. Once your feet are ‘loud’ then the pressure is going to be excessive in your knees and other joints and that’s when you’re likely to experience pain.

The trick then is to gradually build up your running time and distance based not on your level of cardiovascular fatigue - huffing and puffing - but more the quality of your steps, as judged by the sound of your feet.

With this approach to building up your mileage you’re far less likely to be pulled up short with debilitating injuries to your foot and ankle, your knees or your hips, and you’ll have a hell of a lot more enjoyment from each run then you might have otherwise expected!

And just one last thing to keep in mind. When will you stop exercising? Think about it. It’s a daunting thought that you might still be running  for 30 or 40 more years, so enjoy it while you can and don’t sacrifice quality for quantity, it will only make you stop sooner in the long run.

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