Runners do a repetitive pattern of movement that can result in problems if they're not careful. Repeated frontal plane contractions (the same muscles working in the same direction over and over again) will result in tightness and/or injury unless runners do a few good things to prevent that.
Even though I was at the peak of fitness as a marathoner and had a career of physical therapy behind me, I still had problems from running. Stabbing pain at the side of my knee curbed my running addiction for a while. Had I been smarter about my training I could have avoided this repetitive stress injury altogether. The problem with running (or any one-planed sport, for that matter) isn’t the activity itself. It’s the lack of varied movements.
Sports like running and biking, which require you to move on one side of your body more than the other, puts repetitive stress into one set of muscles, in one position, or by moving in the same pattern over and over again, causes asymmetry.
To keep your runner's body healthy as you train and age, think about these five important things:
1. Remember, it’s not all about running.
Keeping a runner's body healthy means you need to cross-train in movements that are more varied so that your muscles don’t develop asymmetrically and become strained and injured. Runners flex in a forward motion. They need movements that counteract that, in all other planes, to stay flexible and strong but especially to avoid injury. Yoga and swimming are examples of two excellent cross-training activities that will vary your routine and keep your myofascial system healthy.
2. Stretch every time you run.
If you run, you need to stretch, and the kind and timing of your stretching is important. Active stretching is an ideal warm-up; it's any movement that warms up the muscles and isn’t held for long periods of time: Think jumping jacks, a slow jog, easy squats, or calf raises. Static, long-hold, myofascial-release types of stretching will be necessary on off days to keep the body tissues relaxed and healthy.
3. Listen to your body.
Body awareness is key to staying fit, healthy, and injury-free. If you tend to ignore your small aches and pains (most runners do) and push through your run, you’ll likely end up with an injury sooner or later. The body changes as you age. Honoring that process and rolling with the changes is important. Listening to the body is the most important tool you have for keeping your body healthy and strong.
4. Take rest days.
Recovery time is vital to good running performance and can even help you improve performance. Planning recovery days varies depending on what you are training for, but for every one or two days of hard runs, it's nice to have a rest day. Try restorative yoga if you just have to do something. But meditation, breathwork, or a good old nap is awesome too.
5. Get bodywork regularly.
If you are a motivated athlete and want to stay fit, healthy, and injury-free into old age, good bodywork by a skilled practitioner will help you. My favorite type of bodywork is John F. Barnes Myofascial Release because it’s proven to be more effective and longer lasting than regular massage. Other forms of bodywork that can be helpful include massage, acupuncture, Reiki, and structural integration or Rolfing. Bodywork is best to get on off days and never before a run or competition. If you can’t afford regular bodywork then invest in a body ball or foam roller and a good book about soft-tissue restoration or self-treatment.
Try incorporating some of these tips into your routine and you’ll enjoy your fit, healthy body well into old age. Have questions about injuries, conditioning, or training? Ask them in the comments! Here are some more tips to keep your runs healthy: