Tag Archives: injury

Strength Training to Cure IT Band Pain

I have spoken with quite a few runners recently that have IT band pain.  After watching their running form, I come to the conclusion that many of the IT Band issues stem from two types of problems: weak glutes or extreme pronation.

weak gluteus medius (2)

Research shows that people with IT band pain tend to have weaker glute muscles than the average runner.  This being the case, many people’s IT band issues can be cured through strength training. Weak gluteus medius muscles cause excessive hip drop, which allows the knee to buckle inward, putting stress on the IT band by squishing it.

overpronation

Extreme pronation can also cause an imbalance that puts pressure on the IT band in similar way.  Beyond the typical pronation issues, extreme tends to cause the runner’s knee to buckle inward as they land.  This buckling towards the inside causes pressure on the IT band as the outside of the upper leg (the home of the IT band) is shortened.  In these extreme cases, wearing shoes that are designed to prevent pronation are not enough to stop it.  This, too, can be addressed with strength training.  The goal in this case is strong and flexible feet, ankles, and calves.

Here are the exercises that I recommend for alleviating (and eventually eliminating) IT band issues:

Glutes/Abductor

Lower Leg, Ankle/Pronation

Both AreasMAKE SURE YOU FOCUS ON BALANCE AND FORM

If you have not been doing these exercises regularly, then take it easy on yourself.  Start with just a few repetitions on each exercise.  Gradually build up the number of reps and/or the distance.

For most people, this strength training will gradually alleviate and eliminate your IT band pain.

Make sure you focus on good form.  Doing them in bad form may aggravate your injury or even cause a new one!

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“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”

    — P. Mark Taylor

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Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup

&

Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

Stretching Before Running

wise running logo 7_25_12

When I was young, I stretched because my coaches told me to stretch. I have never been that  flexible, but I never really understood the benefits. Here are the things that we are typically told about stretching:

  • Stretching prior to any type of exercise gets the muscles ready for the more intense exercise that follows.
  • A well-stretched muscle moves through a full range of motion with less effort. Therefore, stretching prior to physical activity will help you conserve energy and thereby improve performance.
  • Because our muscles get cold and tight from hours of sitting or standing at our jobs, periodic stretching will keep the blood flowing and allow the muscles to move through a full range of motion.
  • A muscle is more flexible when it is warm and stretched, and it is less likely to tear or overstretch from an abrupt movement.
  • Stretching increases the blood supply to the muscles and joints.  This keeps the muscles supple and healthy.
  • After a workout, stretching your muscles will keep them from immediately shortening and tightening as they cool down.

stretchingIn high school, I ran both cross country and track. My cross country coach had us stretch before running and encouraged stretching after the workout. Our head track coach, however, made us run a mile first and then stretch. Both seem like pretty good ideas, but which is right? I have great respect for both of those coaches, so I am going to say that I agree with both coaches MOST of the time.

Right now, however, I am suffering a round of tight muscles in my calves. Over the past few weeks, when I stretched BEFORE the run it felt very artificial.  My muscles would not stretch unless I forced them. Bad idea! They just would not budge until I pushed to the point of pain… and the led to more pain and more tightness. In short, stretching a muscle that will not cooperate is a bad idea.

Does that mean that I should run without stretching? I tried. Bad idea. It just forced the muscle to stretch under duress, just like stretching before the run. That led to worse pain and increased tightness.

How do you stretch a muscle that is firmly against the idea? Stretching first is bad and stretching after a mile is bad… where do you go from there?

The Technical Truth about Stretching

An extensive meta-analysis of the research on stretching reaches two unavoidable truths:

  1. Static stretching, the old method of stretching and holding a stretch before your run, can reduce your power by as much as 5.5%.
  2. Dynamic stretching through gentle movement and gradually attaining your full range of motion is much safer and more productive.

You can find a lot of dynamic stretching ideas out on the web, but here is what is working for me:

  • Warm up the sore & tight muscles by slowly and carefully moving through their comfortable range first.  Not by running, but just gently going through your comfortable range of motion.
  • After the muscles begin to warm up, the comfortable range of motion will begin to gradually increase.
  • Take that warm-up/stretch combination as far as your muscles will comfortably allow in a few minutes.
  • Begin to run at an easy pace and gradually increase your speed.
  • Stop to do a little more dynamic stretching if you feel the need.

This may not be new to you, but I was never told to warm up the muscle and stretch simultaneously. I suppose you could say that I am employing a combination of the advice of both of my high school head coaches. It just goes to show that the lesson that you teach to youth may be lost on them in the moment, but they can keep learning from that advice years later.

I continue to have some tension in those muscles, but it gets better every day. When my muscles rebel, I placate them with my new process of warm-up & stretching.

If you have been struggling with a tight muscle and just can’t find the right process to loosen it up, you might give it a try.

Be careful. Don’t overstretch.

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The other item to add is about devices for stretching.   Here are the two products that I use to aid in the stretching process, not before a run but hours before or after.  They are both designed to work out knots in your muscles by rolling – like rolling out dough with a rolling pin.  You lay on the foam roller and use your body weight to apply pressure.  A lot of runners have found relief.  I most recently rescued my knees by using the foam roller.

foam roller

View Foam Rollers

the stick

View “The Stick”

The Stick, on the other hand, has handles and you press down to apply pressure.   I found this tool especially wonderful for my calves.  Oh, yes!

I hope these work for you as well as they have worked for me.  :)

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“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”  — P. Mark Taylor

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Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

 

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & future runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup

&

Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

 

Ask P. Mark: Finding Your Running Form and Stride

Today’s question comes from a newbie runner who has just started using the “walk to running a 5K” plan from your book The Gift of Running.

Question:   How do you find your perfect stride?

P. Mark’s Answer:  I will give you the same answer that I give to experienced runners.  It is a bit unorthodox, but it is very effective.  In fact, I have to work on my form from time to time and I always use this method.

Remember This:

The quickest way to find good form is to run barefoot.

No, don’t run your entire workout barefoot.  Just find a nice clear path on some concrete or asphalt/blacktop and jog a few hundred feet.  Don’t sprint.   That might do some damage to the bottom of your feet.  Just start to jog and gradually pick up the pace – just for a few hundred feet, relaxing your body as you stride.  That relaxing is highly critical.  This will not work if you are not relaxed.

We choose a hard surface for a reason.  Your body will naturally tend towards moving in ways that protect your feet and knees, absorbing the impact as best that it can.  We are counting on that.  Its called Good Form.

As you begin to pick up the pace, pay very close attention to your barefoot form:

1)  How is your foot is making contact with the ground (footstrike)?

In your relaxed barefoot jog, you should find that your foot will begin to contact the ground very lightly on the front of your foot, as if you were testing out the ground.  As you shift your weight onto that foot, however, you will gradually place your entire foot flat on the ground.  This distributes the weight to ALL parts of your foot:  a little on the front,  a little on the heel, and a lot on the middle part of your foot.  You should find that:

  • Every part of your foot made contact with the ground in a gentle way.
  • No part of your should foot take more weight than it can hold.

2)  How long is your stride?

In your relaxed barefoot jog, you will probably find that you have shortened your stride.  The majority of runners have strides that are too long.  The consequences of overextending your foot too far ahead of your body are large:  sore knees and other joints, heavy wear and tear on your body, and a slower pace.  Yes, sticking your leg to far forward actually puts the brakes on.  You can run faster with the exact same amount of effort and a shortened stride.  You will find yourself moving to a faster cadence as well.  In perfect form, with your new shorter stride, the number of steps you take during each minute of the run will tend to be somewhere close to 180.  That is true of newbie runners and elite runners.  You can actually find playlists of songs for runners in which every song keeps the beat at 180 beats per minute.  :)

3)  How is your body positioned in this relaxed running state?

In your relaxed barefoot jog, you will probably find that you have very erect posture.  The most common mistake made by runners is to lean forward at the waist when they are trying very hard.  This actually slows you down and takes more effort.  You do need to lean forward a little to run faster, but you lean at the ankles, not the waist.  In other words, you don’t lean the top half of your body, you lean your entire body.  From your ankles to your head, your body should be fairly straight.

I have found myself doing short barefoot runs at least once a week, either on rest days or just before a run.  It reminds me of good form, saving me energy and saving my body from injuries caused by bad form.

Check your form frequently.  Be good to your body and it will be good to you.

Enjoy the run!

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The Gift of Running is now available in both paperback & e-book

Paperback Version – Amazon.com $9.00

Ebook Version – Kindle Store $2.99

Ebook Version for Nook $2.99

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Ask P. Mark: Dealing with Shin Splints

Question 3 :   I’m currently using the “walk to running a 5K” plan from your book The Gift of Running. But I’m running into a minor problem and need some advice.   My shins are starting to feel sore during the running bits.

P. Mark’s Answer:  Shin splints come from a combination of poor form, running on hard surfaces, and changing intensity levels too fast.

As for form, the idea is to set your foot on the ground gently as you land.  A good guideline for this is the sound you make.  The quieter your foot is when it makes contact with the ground, the better your shins will be.

As for running surfaces, a nice rubber track is a very kind surface for running.  If that is not available, then remember this progression:

  • Grass and dirt are softer than gravel.
  • Gravel is softer than asphalt/blacktop.
  • Asphalt/blacktop is softer than concrete.
  • Stay away from concrete when you have shin splints!

If you are suddenly training much faster and/or farther than you have recently, this can also cause issues.

Remember: 
Fast progress leads to injuries!
Slow progress leads to health, happiness, & achievement!

It can take as long as two weeks before shin splints completely fade away.  To begin the process:

  1. Address the inflammation by icing your shins and taking anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen.
  2. While running, shift to softer surfaces & slow down, being careful to land gently.
  3. Make sure you stretch all muscles properly before and after running and walking.

You can run with some pain, but it should not be severe and it should not get worse.  In the case of shin splints, the old adage of “No Pain No Gain” makes no sense.  If the pain is too intense, skip the running for a few days.  Taking the time now will pay off down the road.

Be good to your legs and you will once again enjoy the run!

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The Gift of Running is now available in both paperback & e-book

Paperback Version – Amazon.com $9.00

Ebook Version – Kindle Store $2.99

Ebook Version for Nook $2.99

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Barefoot Running: Why, Where, and How

I have started running barefoot again.  For the last few days, I have run at least 1 mile each day with no shoes or socks on my feet.

Why am I running barefoot?  Because I want to improve my form.  The logic is this:

    1. We were created to run.
    2. We were not born wearing shoes.  We added that later.
    3. Hence, our natural running style will emerge if we run in bare feet.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not giving up shoes.  Shoes were created to protect our feet from a variety of things that can cause pain.  Shoes are good.  The problem is that it has been so long since I ran without shoes, that my feet and legs have adapted to running in them.  Too much support and protection has allowed my naturally active foot and calf muscles to relax and take it easy.  My form has suffered.  Eventually, I became less efficient.

This was not always the case.  When I was 8 years old, I would play outside for hours with no shoes.  I specifically remember sprinting down a hot blacktop street in the middle of summer.  I could make it as far as Johnny Williams’ house before my feet were too hot to continue on the pavement.  I clearly remember the relief of stepping into the cool grass and eventually into the shade under the big tree in John’s yard.

How is this relevant to my current goal of running a marathon under 3 hours?  Simple.  When I sprinted down the street at 8 years old, my form was natural.  I leaned at the ankles, not the hips.  I didn’t put my foot too far in front of me.  My strides were short and efficient.  I landed near the forefoot.  None of these things were true of my form when I turned 44 a few months ago.

After decades of running in shoes, I knew that I needed to get back.  For the last few months I have studied books, web sites, videos, and anything else to find out what the best form for running would look like.  I tried to emulate the best ideas that were consistently in the most trustworthy resources.  Nothing felt natural.  It all felt forced.  I ended up pulling muscles trying to force myself into an efficient stride and footstrike.

How can I return to my natural, efficient running stride?  As I studied, one of the themes that emerged was that the most efficient stride is our natural barefoot stride.  Once I gave up the fight and accepted that I needed to try barefoot running, I stepped out on to the hot blacktop.  That is when my memory was triggered.  I could see that bright summer sun back in my old neighborhood.  I could feel the heat coming up from the driveway of my old home in St. Louis County.  I could feel myself start into a sprint, driven by the intense heat as I stepped onto the blacktop surface of Fairmeadows Lane.  I remembered the thrill of accelerating to a full sprint and being in wonder at how fast I was passing the mailboxes that lined the path to Johnny’s house.

At that moment, as this memory overwhelmed me, all of that running research made a lot more sense.  Run like a barefoot kid on hot pavement.  Don’t worry about form.  Just take your shoes off and run.  I realized that I do not need to work on my form.  I need to run barefoot and allow my form to emerge.

How do you run barefoot without pain?  I don’t.

Skin:  My eyes guide me around big rocks and other dangers, but I can’t avoid the tiny rocks that scrape my feet.  Over time, my feet are getting acclimated.  There is less pain every day.

Joints/Muscles:  As for the support that shoes provided, I am a pronator and always enjoyed soft cushioned shoes with motion control.  Barefoot allows for none of those things.  What pains have I experienced because of that?  Very little.  That is the point.  Shoes actually caused the need for all of that support.  My natural stride and footstrike have emerged as I run barefoot and try to avoid these pains.  My muscles are getting stronger.  I do not pronate because I have no shoe to lean on.  I have to stand up on my own.  If I run barefoot with poor form, a pain will start to emerge.  I naturally begin to tweak my form based on the feedback from my body.

In short, better form means less pain and more gain.  This is the reason to adopt barefoot running as a part of your training regiment.  I am not forcing myself into good form, I just listen to my body and naturally move towards good form.

My transition was made much easier because I have been running in Vibram Five-Fingers shoes.  I started using these for the same reason that I run barefoot.  Vibrams are very thin and have no support, so training in them has moved me towards good form.  I am adding barefoot runs to keep me moving in that direction.

It is worth repeating:  Better form means less pain and more gain.

I am using barefoot running to move me that direction.  If you can manage to improve your form without going barefoot, then do it.  If you are struggling to find that good form, then think about trying some barefoot running.

Important guidelines for Barefoot and Minimalist running:

  1. Start slowly.  VERY slowly.  Many experts suggest going barefoot 3 times a week to start.
  2. Start short. VERY short.  Your first few weeks should go from 50 yards gradually up to a quarter-mile.
  3. Build lower leg & foot strength.  Exercise your feet by picking things up with your toes.  Do calf raises.  Stretch your calves and feet regularly.

I have worked on  these three things on and off for months before I worked up to doing a daily mile in bare feet.

I have not decided how far I will end up running in bare feet.  I may build up to doing a few 5k races, but I have no intention of doing my long runs in bare feet.  My goal is better form, and that is starting to work.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  :)

Happy Running!

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The Gift of Running is now available in both paperback & e-book

Paperback Version – Amazon.com

Ebook Version – Kindle Store

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Ask P. Mark: Dealing with Plantar Fasciitis

Question 2 :  How can I recover from plantar fasciitis while training for a race?

I have been running mainly on a treadmill and yesterday after 4 miles my foot started to hurt. I had been sensing PF for a while, and tried icing, switching shoes and so on.   My plan is to take a week off, stretch, foam roll, ice, Advil and so on but is there recovery from something like this? I want to run this race so bad I feel it may be my last so I can focus on getting better since my prognosis has been dwindling.

P. Mark’s Answer:   I understand your pain all too well!  I have short calves, so I am always dealing with Plantar Fasciitis at some level. Every morning I spend the first 10 minutes trying to relax my calves enough to walk normally.  It is 10 minutes of PF pain.  It sounds like you are doing all of the right things with the stretching and icing…

I am not convinced that rest will really do the job. Rather than full rest, I would suggest running less and exercising your calves and feet more.

http://www.realsimple.com/health/fitness-exercise/workouts/4-foot-exercises-00000000013639/index.html

Most importantly, before you start running, your calves and feet need to be gently warmed up and as flexible as possible.  Start by working through your range of motion at each joint while bearing no weight on those joints!  Then, warm up the muscles through simple movements while bearing no weight on the legs.  Finally, warm up the muscles while bearing weight.

If you take the time to do these things before a run, the damage to your plantar fascia should be greatly reduced and it should begin to heal, even while you are still running.

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Please visit the Ask P. Mark page to post a new question.  Thanks!

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The Gift of Running is now available in both paperback & e-book

Paperback Version – Amazon.com

Ebook Version – Kindle Store

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Ice Bath for Runners: Benefits and Recommendations

Since I have been dealing with some minor injuries lately, one my friends suggested that I take ice baths after my runs.  She specifically mentioned it as being beneficial in terms of my plantar fasciitis.  I have heard of ice baths, but had not followed through up to this point… mostly because I have not had any significant injuries.  With the luck that I have had lately, however, it sounded like a good idea.

ice bathAs I was taking my very first plunge, I began to wonder:  “Is it worth it?”.  I resolved then and there to search for the scientific foundation of this method of treating injuries.  Here is what I found in therms of benefits and recommendations:

Benefits:

Many elite runners and not-so-elite running enthusiasts that consider ice baths to be beneficial based on their own experience.   They claim that it leads to a quicker recovery and less pain.  So how does it accomplish this?  After about 6 minutes in the icy water, your blood rushes to the area to rescue you from the cold.  This rush is what helps to flush out the metabolic debris that might otherwise take days to flush out.  In the meanwhile, the cold is reducing the inflammation in the area.  This combination makes ice cold baths after a big workout a hot idea!

Recommendations:

While the current research does not tell us what protocol is ideal for ice baths, we do know a few things.  The most important thing to remember is that ice baths of over 20 minutes can be detrimental.  You body will actually begin to break down after 20 minutes in ice cold water.  Most experts suggest that runners submerge their legs for 6-10 minutes, just long enough to feel the blood rush in to save the day.

Possible Con:

One study found that ice baths after 90 minutes of exercise actually hindered the refueling process.  This is really only an issue if you plan back-to-back days with long runs, which is not a good idea anyway.

Conclusion:

From my experience, the recommendations of friends, and the scientific evidence, I would conclude that it is a good idea.  I will continue the ice baths as I recover from runs over 90 minutes.

What experiences have you had with ice baths?

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“Train hard, race easy, & enjoy the run!”  — P. Mark Taylor

_____________

Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

 

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup

&

Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

.

Stretching, Injuries, & Overstretching

I have never been able to easily touch my toes.  Even when I was young and running the fastest times of my life, touching my toes was quite an ordeal.  On many occasions, I have managed to overstretch and not be able to reach peak performance just because I wanted to touch my toes.  Its probably because of my calves.

I have had several doctors tell me that my calves are too short.  I went to an orthopedic specialist for my knee problems.  He said that my knees would always be bad because of my short calves.  He prescribed short mileage and no hills.  Seriously?  This is what you tell a cross country and road runner?  You know I am not going to follow that advice, don’t you Doc?

Despite my issues with short, tight calf muscles, I put in many long runs training for marathons and I do hill work to get faster.  The question is not whether or not to do these things.  The question is how to manage the associated difficulties.

The things that everyone does, I need to do more carefully and better.  Warm-up, stretch, start slow and ease into a rhythm.  That is my routine when I am doing it right.  Unfortunately, I lost my momentum on that and have been having difficulties for a few weeks.  First, it was the soreness stemming from metabolic accumulation.  Lactic acid and other waste products were not being removed as fast as they were being produced.  I slowed down my running, but the tightness this caused continued the back-up.

I finally started stretching more carefully again and that begin to help.  Unfortunately, I was so excited by the results that I became overzealous about stretching.  My stretching fixed one problem and caused another.  The tightness in my lower calves went away, but my plantar fasciitis was activated.  I have faced this nemesis before, which may also possibly be related to my short calves.

My attention shifted to easing the pain and doing stretches for my plantar fasciitis.  There are several great stretches, but I again went too far, too fast.  Now I am nursing a sore spot at the bottom of my Achilles tendon on both legs.

This whole situation is a lot like the wreck that my daughter had on a rainy, winding road.  She had let the car go a little to far towards the side of the road and over-corrected a little bit.  The car was now over the yellow line with a car quickly approaching from the other direction.  She finally ended up hitting a tree on the side of the road that she first tried to avoid.

The lesson that my daughter and I have both learned is that over-correcting to avoid a slight problem can lead to a much larger problem!  A better strategy is to make small changes in your routine in order to correct problems.  If a problem comes on gradually, the solution and healing process will also be gradual.  Lesson learned!

Now, if I can follow my own advice, I should be running without any of these issues in about a week.  Patience is not just a virtue.  It is a necessity.

Happy Running!