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Running for Fitness
The ideal running surface is flat, firm, smooth and provides some shock absorption.
Surfaces in the order of most to least desirable are listed in the scroll box below:
Surface 1 (Best): Soft, smooth cinder track, unbanked
Least likely of all to aggravate biomechanical injuries. Change direction frequently on any track to reduce mechanical problems.
Surface 2: Artificially surfaced track, unbanked
Provides less shock absorption than the cinder track.
Surface 3: Soft smooth dirt trail
Provides reasonable cushioning and holes and ruts are clearly visible.
Surface 4: Flat, smooth grass
Grassy areas including golf courses make relatively poor running surfaces since they hide uneven areas.
Surface 5: Asphalt street or path
Poor surfaces since typically sloped to facilitate rain water run-off. Surface slant causes one foot to pronate more and other to supinate more. Biomechanical problems are aggravated especially if runner tends to run in the same direction each time. Changing directions is highly recommended.
Surface 6: Hard, dirt track or trail
Watch out for ruts, holes, loose stones.
Surface 7: Concrete sidewalk or road
A very hard surface: wear good shock absorbing shoes.
Surface 8: Banked or cambered surface
Severe incline puts stress on the knees.
Surface 9: Hard-sand or soft sand beach
Beaches are slanted and can aggravate biomechanical problems. Do not run barefoot.
Surface 10 (Worst): Rough, pot-holed, dirt trail or grass
A particularly hazardous surface. An unexpected hole or rut can result in ankle sprains.
Running Surfaces (Continued)
Other running surfaces include treadmills and water. Most treadmills are state of the art in terms of cushioning and you can control the speed and intensity of your work out. Perhaps the biggest problem when working out on a treadmill is the boredom that is often associated with the monotony of the unchanging environment and the consistent pace. A portable cassette player or radio may be helpful, particularly during longer runs.
Deep water or aqua running is mainly used for rehabilitating injured athletes as it takes the pressure off of injured muscles and joints while providing cardiovascular benefits similar to those obtained with running on surface. This type of running is becoming popular at various swim centers.
A warm-up to lengthen short, tight muscles before running is crucial for preventing injuries that may result if muscles are “cold”.
A longer muscle is less likely to get injured than a short, tight muscle because it can exert more force with less effort than a short muscle. Another benefit of warming up is that it protects tendons.
Warm up by slow jogging or walking for five to 10 minutes before you run.
After you warm up you need to stretch your hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, groin, calves, achilles, and the iliotibial band.
Cool-Down and Stretching
It is not a good idea to sprint at the end of your run and then come to a complete stop; this practice may result in an injury.
After completing your run, walk for a few munutes to cool-down. Cooling down helps to shift the blood flow from the muscles to the heart and other vital organs.
A cool down lets your heart rate slow down and your body gradually return to its pre-exercise physiological state. Cooling down properly and stretching after your run will go a long way towards preventing injuries.
Running Gait or Form
Different runners may have different running styles. Running is a function of footstrike, forward stride, body angle, and arm drive. The key is to run naturally and remain relaxed.
For most runners, other than sprinters or very fast runners, the heel-ball footstrike method works well. This method provides good shock absorption:
The outside of the heel strikes the surface.
The foot rolls inwards to the ball of the footwhile the knee is slightly bent.
The foot lifts off from propulsion provided by the big toe.
The point of foot contact should occur in line with the knee which should be slightly flexed.
As you improve and get faster, the length and frequency of your strides will increase and you will begin lifting your knees higher. Do not overstride such that your foot hits the ground ahead of the knee flex (i.e. leg should not be straight at point of impact).
Overstriding is hard on the knees, back and the hips and can cause injuries. Short, choppy strides, which usually result from tight or inflexible muscles, require more energy and are inefficient.
Run with a relaxed stride and do not exaggerate the knee-lift or back kick.
Keep your back as straight as naturally possible, your head up and look ahead. Of course, depending on the terrain you may have to look down to avoid tripping or landing in a hole or rut. Lean forward only when going uphill or sprinting as this motion will put stress on leg muscles and may cause back pain and shin splints.
Leaning back is not recommended as this puts tremendous pressure on the back and legs and has a “braking effect”. The key is to run “tall” and remain relaxed; allow your shoulders to hang in a relaxed manner and let your arms drop from time to time.
While running relax your shoulders, elbows, wrists and fists and occasionally let your arms hang down at your sides and loosely shake them out. Whereas vigorous pumping of the arms helps sprinters, it is unnecessary during distance running.
Common Running Injuries or Problems
Most running injuries are due to “over use” from running too much, i.e. too fast, too far, or too often. The table below shows the incidence of various running injuries that were reported by male runners in a recent survey.
Table 1.1. Frequency of Running Injuries Reported by a Sample of Male Runners
Achilles Tendon/ Calf
Hip/ Groin/ Toenails/ Blisters
Plantar Fascia/ Heel
Nerve/ Quadriceps/ Hamstring/ Back
If you train sensibly there is no reason why you should not be able run injury-free.
Injuries are not uncommon during intense physical training. Most injuries can, however, be prevented. Many injuries are caused by overuse, that is exercising too much and too often and with too rapid an increase in the workload. Most overuse injuries can be treated with rest, ice compression and elevation.
The most common running injuries occur in the feet ankles, knees and legs. Although they are hard to eliminate, much can be done to keep them to a minimum. Preventive measures include proper warm-up and cool-down. Failure to allow recovery between hard bouts of running can lead to overtraining and can also be a major cause of injuries.
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