Today we are going to start a 4 part blog series focusing on Running Injury Free. This series will go over SMR (Self Myofascial Release) of the legs, proper warm up techniques/movements and drills for running. These are especially important for endurance athletes to keep up with throughout the winter months when you are not running as much. We will go over Foam rolling in part 1, Lacrosse ball work in part 2, then a proper dynamic warm up in part 3, and some running drills as a warm up in part 4. Be Sure to watch the Video at the end of the post.
Recreational Runners tend to be the most immobile of athletes. This is mainly due to most runners think warming up is just get up and go. They tend to run or jog as the warm up and when they feel good and warm they pick up the pace. The problem with this is the runner is staying in the same ROM for their warm up, activity, and their cool down. This practice tends to contract and shorten the ROM over time causing tight hip flexors, IT band issues, as well as forward head and shoulder positions.
The typical recreational runner sits at a desk for the majority of the day. Sitting at a desk already creates the same immobilization issues that running without warming up causes. So most runners are starting from a disadvantage from the get go. We must increase the ROM over time to combat the disadvantages that sitting all day causes.
Mobilization techniques are especially important to do through the winter months. As soon as the nice weather hits you will want to just get out and go. Be ready for the run by working through the winter months on your mobility deficiencies.
Let’s start with some taking care of our muscles.
SMR (Self Myofascial Release):
If you do not have a foam roller and a lacrosse ball at home please get them. They are not that expensive and are very useful to have for any downtime you have to work on mobilization, such as during commercials when watching TV or hanging out on the floor with your kids. These techniques can be used anytime of the day but are best as part of your warmup. Here are some Foam rolling drills specifically for runners:
Foam rolling x10 or 1-2 min each
- Back (low/mid/high)
Let’s start with the calves and move up. The calves can handle a stiffer tool than some other parts of the body. I personally like to use the top of a Kettlebell or PVC pipe to “roll” out my calves. I find that it really helps keep my achilles tendon healthy and my calves from cramping. I go side to side on the KB while pointing my toes and pulling them back, and then roll up and down the calf with a foam roller.
The hamstrings are the muscles on the back of the thigh. I start sitting with the foam roller under my knee and then roll my body forward/backward over the foam roller. I also like to rotate to the side to get the “inside” of the thigh. This might be a tender area for some people, so take your time and be gentle.
Next we move up to the glutes. This area will take some leaning to the side to get to. Sit on the foam roller and cross one leg over the other. Lean to the side of the crossed leg and find the “pocket” on the side of the glute. You will know when you find it. Roll forward/backward and vary your angle of leaning.
After the glutes we will lay down on the foam roller. The foam roller will start where you hips meet your low back. Lean to the side so you are hitting the erector muscles and not the bony part of the spine. Roll about 4-6 inches and switch sides.
Move up to the mid back. Here you may have to lift your hips off of the ground. There may be some popping and cracking here like a visit to the chiropractor.
The upper back can use a few different positions. I like to start just below the scapula (shoulder blades) and go to just above them. Here you will change the positions of the arms after a couple of rolls. I like to start with my arms stretched out with my biceps by my ears (Overhead position), and the cross them across my chest. When I cross them I like to alternate leaning to each side.
After the hamstrings flip over to the front and work on the quadriceps. These are the muscles on the front of the thighs. Roll from just above the knee to just below the hips. Here you can also lean side to side to get a few different muscles of the quads. The quads can also take a bit more pressure than you think. You can graduate from a foam roller to PVC to a barbell. When you start using the end of the barbell to roll out you will want to go slowly and move it with your hands. Eventually you will start to feel good and may have to apply some pressure to the barbell to get a bit deeper. While you can’t really roll out your IT band, it does feel good to do so every once in awhile. This is the outside of the thigh and can help with nagging IT band or knee issues.