4Men - Health

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Running Without Pain

By Alex James

There's nothing like a good run. It's calming. It’s like meditation: put on some music (or run in silence), check out mentally and enjoy yourself. You’ll cover a lot of ground, see new settings and really take advantage of a beautiful day. Afterward, you'll feel refreshed and energized. Oh, and lets not forget about those health benefits.

It would seem that running has it all. Except when it starts to hurt - then it sucks. Pain in your knees, ankles, hips and back all put an end to that morning jog or weekend stress relief. Worse, continuing to run without correcting the problem only leads to more pain. Ultimately, the day may come where you have to hang up your running shoes for good. Forget that. Follow these running tips to improve your situation, end your pain and regain your love for the outdoors. Stay consistent and you'll return to those relaxing runs in no time.

Speed Up Your Cadence

Most people run too slow. I don't mean speed. I mean how many times their foot hits the ground every minute, also called "cadence".

A slow cadence ruins your technique and forces you to take longer strides, which puts more stress on your knees. By taking fewer steps per minute than you should, each step requires more energy to propel you forward and slow you down when you land.

Aim for 180 beats per minute or three foot-strikes per second. Is that faster than you normally run? Well, shorten your stride and concentrate on matching that pace.

Strike Your Mid-Foot

Find a nice field of grass or even an open area in your house or backyard. Now, remove your shoes and start running.

What do you notice? You strike the ground on your mid-foot. That's how we're supposed to run. (It looks kinda like you're trying to stalk someone.) But watch most people run on the street or in the gym and you’ll see something quite different: they slam on their heels with every stride.

This creates all sorts of problems because the jarring force of each stride hammers all the joints and bones in your body. By landing on your mid-foot, however, the muscles and ligaments in your ankles will function as shock absorbers -- as they should -- to minimize the wear and tear on the rest of your body.

There are two quick fixes:
First, run as quietly as possible.
Second, jump rope to feel where you should land on your feet.

Soft-Tissue Therapy

Stretching improves muscle length and working out improves muscle size. Soft-tissue therapy (self massaging the muscles involved), however, improves muscle quality. And that's exactly what we need.

With soft-tissue work, you’ll release all those awful clumps of ultra-tense muscle fibers called “trigger points” or “knots” that develop over time. Those tiny SOBs create uneven pulling and stress on your joints and steal your flexibility if untreated.

If it hurts, keep doing it -- that means you need it. Just breathe and stay as relaxed as possible.

Lift Weights

Sometimes you hear men say something like, "I don’t train my legs -- I just run. Or play soccer. Or whatever." Don’t be that guy.

The only way to strengthen your joints, bones and shock-absorbing ligaments, tendons and muscles is to lift weights. Better still, doing smart exercises with weights will eliminate any imbalances or weaknesses that caused your running pains in the first freakin’ place. But before you go to your gym and sample every leg machine they have, you still need to do the correct exercises.

Ditch the calf raises, knee extensions and bodybuilding exercises for movements that specifically bolster your running. First, target your hips and legs. (Most guys are weak here.)

Stretch Better

OK, this one seems obvious, but it's not, because everyone still stretches the same way: take a muscle, stretch it and hold it for time. But that doesn't prevent injuries. That's an outdated method called "passive stretching," which actually relaxes your muscles, reduces your power output and makes you weaker. Instead, use “dynamic” stretches to open your joints and activate your muscles to get ready for a long run. Target these two problem areas with a few, easy drills.

Ankles/Feet

  • Wall Ankle Mobilization
  • Rocking Ankle Mobilization
  • Big Toe Mobilization

Hips

  • Walking Lunge with Overhead Reach
  • Walking Knee Hugs
  • Walking Leg Cradles
  • Inverted Hamstring
  • Alternating Lateral Squats

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