The feeling of your feet moving rhythmically along the ground, the wind whipping past your face, your favorite music blasting in your ears–there’s really nothing quite like running.
And the cool thing about running is that it can be incorporated into your training routine in a lot of different ways, and used for a lot of different purposes.
Whether you’re always training for your next marathon, or you run occasionally to support your other goals, you likely face some of the most common challenges that can hold you back from getting what you really want out of your training.
Things like runner’s knee, shin splints, heel pain, and overall burnout can not only put the brakes on your running, but can prevent you from gaining the physical freedom you want from your efforts.
Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:
The biggest monkey wrenches for runnersHow to improve your running and avoid those issuesA routine to help you get on the right footMore tools for your success
Let’s hit the ground running! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)
The Biggest Problems Runners Face
Running is one of the most convenient forms of exercise–you can just throw on your sneakers and go, wherever you are. That’s a big part of why we love bodyweight training too. Being able to do your training whenever and wherever removes a big barrier that holds a lot of people back.
But runners are notorious for having a host of nagging injuries and other issues. Let’s go over the most common concerns and how to address them.
Unfortunately, injuries (big and small) seem to be a part of the game in running. All sorts of possible injuries loom over avid runners who aren’t properly managing the stresses of logging mile after mile.
Common issues are:
Shin splints and heel/arch pain–Both of these lower limb syndromes can be addressed by strengthening and mobilizing your feet, ankles, and calves. This article can help with foot and ankle mobility.Knee injuries–This article and routine will help you get your knees properly conditioned for the stresses of running.Hamstring strains–This article will help you improve your hamstring flexibility, which allows for better movement in the hamstrings as you run.
Runners are always looking for the best footwear to try to avoid these injuries. Footwear is definitely important, but addressing some underlying issues can have a much bigger impact on your overall performance and prevention of problems. Don’t try to shortcut strength and mobility work with fancy new shoes.
Other major concerns for runners, which are probably more at the forefront of most runners’ minds than even injuries, are performance related–such as speed and endurance.
Of course, many things can impact a runner’s speed and/or endurance.
Nutrition, sleep, footwear, weather conditions–these can all have an impact on one’s running performance on a given day. But the same weaknesses or limitations that can lead to the injuries just mentioned can also have a negative impact on your performance, even if they haven’t led to any injuries just yet.
For instance, if your calves lack strength-endurance you may end up heel striking more than you’d like and that force gets transferred to your knees.
Also, running (leaving aside sprints for a second), is primarily a “mid-range” activity.
This means that your normal jogging, or even 5K pace doesn’t require you to go through most of your muscles’ and joints’ complete range of motion. This can tend to reinforce our current restrictions, as we tend to run at the same paces and with the same form. This lack of movement variation can set you up for repetitive strain.
Last, but not least, mental stamina is huge when it comes to running, especially when you’re working to maintain a fast pace over a period of time and the pain becomes harder to bear.
The gremlins in your head telling you to slow down or stop altogether get louder and louder with each passing minute. You may love running, but if thoughts of “when is this going to be over?” start entering your head early in a run, it’s likely not going to be your best day for running.
That’s okay–not every day is going to be a winner–but there are some tricks to help you do your best and not succumb to mental fatigue.
In his excellent new book, Endure, Alex Hutchinson explores the research and findings on how we can push ourselves to our limits. And that is directly related to our ability to handle and manage the mental aspects of our training.
Learning how to relax and “embrace the pain,” and re-frame the burning sensations in our lungs and legs as part of the process of exerting ourselves to our fullest–or simply smiling when the going gets rough!–these are all ways to keep ourselves trucking on down the road, even when we want to stop and just lie down on the grass.
How This Guide Will Improve Your Running Performance
However you use running, you want to get better at it. I’m right there with you, along with about half of our team.
We all incorporate running in different ways and do it for different reasons. Personally, I run because it’s a good excuse to get some alone time outside, and listen to music uninterrupted.
Some people on our team use running to support their other training goals, like Rachel (content manager) who uses it to improve her stamina for Muay Thai or Sidney (graphic designer) who uses it to supplement her climbing work. Others use it for more specific goals, like Chris (Alpha Posse coach) who’s been using running to improve his conditioning and for meditation purposes.
Our reasons for running may be different, but we’ve got one thing in common: We want to be able to keep running for as long as possible without injury or burnout. And I’m sure you do too.
Many of our clients, trainers, and staff members use running alongside their GMB training because they work really well together. GMB training emphasizes addressing weaknesses so that you can have the physical freedom to do what you want with your body, so if you love running it’s a good fit.
We have plenty of clients who use our programs to get stronger, more mobile, and reduce pain associated with running. For example, Elements can be used to increase flexibility and improve strength throughout your whole body.
And then others who were already strong but tight would often use Mobility to loosen up their hamstrings and calves that can get tight from lots of running.
The routine in the next section is a small sample of how we help you address common underlying weaknesses and restrictions that can make you susceptible to injuries, while negatively impacting your performance.
Addressing these issues now will give you the freedom to continue using running to support whatever goals you have.
Running Exercise Routine to Avoid and Fix Injuries
The following routine can be used either as a warm-up before you go out for a run, or after a run to mobilize areas that tend to feel stiff.
Incorporating these exercises into your routine can make a big difference in how you feel and perform.
Let’s look at the details for each of these exercises, and how they will help your running performance.
This fundamental exercise can be used in so many different ways. For the purposes of impacting your running, we’ll be emphasizing your range of motion in the squat.
The squat will help your running by improving hip and ankle mobility, along with glute and core activation.
Do 5 active repsOn the fifth rep, drop to the bottom and hold for 10 seconds
Squat with Hip Internal Rotation
Here, you’ll go even deeper with your squat, emphasizing even more hip action.
This exercise is good for running performance because it improves hip and ankle mobility, as well as hip position awareness. When you’re more aware of your hip position while you run, you’ll be better able to make adjustments to your form and stride, changing up repetitive motions that can aggravate your joints.
Do 5 reps per side, working within a range that is comfortable for you
This exercise is important for counteracting the built up tension that can occur from running in the same pattern over and over. Good hip rotation is essential to keeping the hips moving well. The modified pigeon helps address this issue.
Sitting on the ground, bend one leg in front of you at a 90-degree angle. Let the other leg bend behind you at whatever angle is comfortable. Feel free to use pillows or props to find a comfortable position.Keeping the chest up and bending from the hips, lean forward over the front leg and hold for 15 seconds. Then switch sides.
Upper Thoracic Extension
Many runners have a tendency to ignore their upper bodies, focusing primarily on their foot strike and other lower body concerns. But your spine/posture plays a big part in how the rest of your body works together as you run.
This exercise is an important one for improving postural awareness and spinal mobility.
With your elbows on a table or other elevated surface, press down into the surface for an active stretch 5 times, then hold for 10 seconds on the last rep
This is another perhaps unexpected exercise for improving running, but it accomplishes many things that can help you become a better runner. It improves spinal mobility and positional awareness, activates the core, and done correctly, it can help with hip stabilization as well.
All of these things will help put you in a better position for your running.
On all fours, bend one elbow behind your back and twist your body up toward that directionDo 10 twists in one direction, then switch to the other side and repeat
Here’s one you may have done in the past, but we’ll emphasize the calves and hamstrings with this variation. A good stretch in these muscles can go a long way for your running performance. Plus, this exercise is good for hip and ankle mobility, not to mention spinal extension, which can help with your running posture.
Get into an A-Frame (downward dog) position and bring one foot forward a bitPress the heel down actively 5 times, then hold for 10 secondsSwitch sides and repeat
More Ways to Improve Your Running Performance
Making this running routine a regular part of your training can have a big impact on your running performance, and can help you avoid injuries and mental or physical burnout.
Because you want to be able to do this–and enjoy it–for as long as possible.
Many runners talk about how they love running because it makes them feel “free”–whether that’s because they’re not beholden to a gym or class to get in a good training session, or because it’s a flexible way of supporting their other goals.
Either way, you want to feel free in your body, but you don’t want to lose that freedom by wearing your body down with running–the very thing that helps you feel free.
So, we put together this free Body Maintenance Guide to help you address the most common restrictions that might get in your way, with your running or with any other training goals you might have. Use this guide alongside the routine above, and you’ll be well on your way to physical freedom.
Author Info: Jarlo Ilano, MPT, OCS
Jarlo Ilano is a Physical Therapist (MPT) since 1998 and board certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS) with the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties. He’s undergone extensive postgraduate training in neck and back rehabilitation with an emphasis in manual therapy. He has been teaching martial arts for over 20 years, with a primary focus on Filipino Martial Arts.