This post is written by Randall Steinfeldt. (See contributor tab for more details)
My doctor told me that I should get in shape, that I should improve my fitness level, but how do I do it? I see other people out running and it looks really fun and I would like to do it. How far should I run? How hard should I run? Are these questions that you’ve asked yourself? Are these questions that you wonder if you’re doing correctly? I would like to take the opportunity and try to answer some of these questions.
The first thing that I think any new runner should understand is that patience is not a virtue in running, it is a must. If you started up running and have not prepared your body, you are going to have some problems. Remember that the biggest most powerful engine in the world will not make a car go fast if the chassis and body is not capable of utilizing that power. Our bodies are the same, we need to prepare our bodies for a running program.
In this post I don't want to go through a step-by-step approach for preparation. Instead, I would like to refer you to a training center that specializes in returning to sports. These are available in many locations just ask your physician or local physical therapist if they know of these facilities. These type of clinics or facilities are able to look at how you run and determine if there are any deficiencies in balance or flexibility before the athlete were to start a running program. There are a couple of quick evaluations that each athlete could perform to determine their balance or stability. One such test would be how long are you able to stand on one leg without moving and trying to regain your balance? If you stand on one leg and begin to bend at the knee does that knee go straight up and down over the foot or does it deviate inward or outward? Make sure both legs are tested. These two things, the one leg stand and the one legged squat are simple and though not inclusive give you an idea of your stability or balance. If you are unable to stand for 3 minutes without needing to touch and adjust, simply continue practicing one leg it stands until you’re able to do so. If you notice that your knee either deviates to the inside or to the outside when you do a one legged squat, I highly recommend some physical therapy to get some specific exercises to improve the muscles necessary to prevent future injury. Balance or stability usually responds very quickly and you will probably notice significant improvement in your balance within a two to three week period.
Mobility/flexibility is also important, how flexible are you? Remember that being overly flexible is as dangerous and causes as much increased risk for injury as being less flexible. A simple test for heel cord flexibility can be done by placing your foot on the ground with toes touching a wall and flexing the knee forward to see if your knee can touch the wall without the heel coming up; if you’re able to do that, are you able to do it 3 inches from the wall and still keep the heel down and touch the knee to the wall? The other muscles and tendons that should be checked are those of the hip flexors. These are the muscles that are in the front of our hip or groin , they are the ones that remain flexed while we are sitting at our jobs. Kneel down on one knee, inside a door jamb, such that the femur (thigh bone) of the leg you are kneeling on is vertical and the tibia (shin bone) of the opposite leg is vertical. In this position, you’ll naturally have a bit of space between your lower back and the doorjamb. Tilt your pelvis backwards (keeping the upper back against the doorjamb) so that the hollow between your lower back and the doorjamb disappears. Do you feel a stretch? If the answer is no, you likely have all the hip extension you need. If there are deficits in flexibility, it would be a good idea to visit a physical therapist who can give you some stretching exercises to be able to improve this mobility. Generally speaking improvement in mobility takes 6-9 weeks of consistent stretching before you get a significant and noticeable improvement.