When contemplating a running program, the question that often comes to mind first, is “Where do I start?”
I mean, you inherently know you cannot just go out and run a marathon on day one.
So you vow to be sensible. You grab the latest issue of Runners’ World or Google the best beginners’ 5K program you can find.
You might even buy yourself brand new Nike’s to protect your joints or a cute new Lululemon outfit to get motivated.
You promise to follow the plan and take things slow.
You think you’re doing all the right things. You’re being responsible.
But, what if I told you, you’ve likely already jumped the gun?
Hold up, WHAT?
Your Body Needs Preparation
September is like the second coming of the new year for fitness. The weather is just right to lace up your kicks and get outside. It feels unquestionably like the perfect time to get started on some new goal.
Your mind is definitely poised for the challenge. But maybe your body is not is not so prepared.
Just as a football player needs to have a certain amount of skills to cut down the field, a runner also requires some foundational strengths to traverse the trails or hit the pavement.
Like any other sport, running is stressful, and in a repetitive fashion.
Your body needs to be resilient enough to withstand that stress and strong enough to power you through the mileage with relatively good mechanics.
So before we get into what you need. We must talk about what running actually is.
What Is Running?
As we said, running is repetitive. One run of any distance, is a very, very, very long series of single-leg hops from one leg to the other.
That means you’ve got to be able to complete a real nice hop. And repeat.
So you need all the components of this skill. Lower body joints that work really nice. Hamstrings and calves that can withstand heavy loads. Trunk stability to keep you from leaking efficiency. And then the related strength to keep executing it well.
These components of preparedness are necessary to ensure that along the way of your fitness journey, you don’t hit the wall with an unexpected injury.
As many of my new clients were surprised to discover, running does not have to, and should not hurt. And it is absolutely possible to get more fit without that seemingly inevitable breakdown.
You Need Skills
So I’ve enlisted the help of my good friend and colleague, Dr. Kyle Balzer, to compile a list of skills that we believe, are good indicators of a potential athlete’s readiness to run. And this includes the more casual recreational runner as well. You don't have to be a competitive athlete to call yourself a runner.
It all starts with showing up to the line with the right running requisites. How do we know what we're talking about?
Kyle is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Board Certified Sports Clinical Specialist, with specific expertise in ensuring athletes return to the field or gym in better condition than ever; and helping clients who are injured, continue to train.
I myself am a highly qualified running coach. I’ve studied intensively under the LSU track coaches with special focus on the sprints. I’ve been around Olympic athletes in the gym. And I’ve coached cross country and track and field teams with great success, due mostly to getting my high school girls STRONG.
Before you begin to run…
You should be able to forward lunge…
And what we’re really focusing on here is ankle mobility. If your ankles are locked up tight, you’re going to find lunging and running to be very tough endeavors.
How can you be sure that your joints are working well? Use a simple half kneeling assessment. Position your forward foot 4 inches from the wall. While keeping your heel down and the knee moving straight forward, can you reach the wall?
Kyle adds that perhaps asymmetry between the two assessments is even more important. ROM in both should be within 5-10% of each other.
What to do if they are not symmetrical or close to that 4 inches? You might want to check in with a good clinician like Kyle, or even an experienced and educated trainer to figure out why your ankles aren't moving adequately.
If you are not experiencing pain, you can also try working on the following mobility drill.
You should be able to load up a deadlift…
And what we’re really focusing on with this one is your ability to hinge well from the hips (as opposed to the waist), to ensure stride efficiency. And the ability to load up the legs and build strength to withstand the stressful and repetitive nature of running.
The deadlift, and all it's lateralizations, is super important for building that posterior chain strength that many runners are lacking.
Kyle points out that the single-leg version has even greater carryover. Runners should have great balance on both legs independently prior to getting started. If that stability is present, single-leg deadlifting is a great way to build capacity within the tissue involved in single-leg landing.
Here is my absolute favorite cue for a successful single-leg deadlift.
You should be able to land a single leg hop…
Once you can balance and then deadlift on a single leg, you can progress the challenge with jump training. We said running is a series of single-leg hops. So you better be able to execute one.
Kyle says plyometrics are great for creating the adaptations runners need for their sport, like creating power and absorbing stress. Hopping, bounding, and skipping are all great progressions that you can practice in the gym.
The video below is from my exercise library on YouTube. Hop out to a distance you can land successfully. Push the limit a little bit further when the hop becomes easy.
You should be able to dead bug like a pro…
As Kyle points out, running doesn’t require a whole lot of upper body strength. But it does require you to be able to dissociate or separate your shoulder and arms from your torso. And specifically in a reciprocal and alternating fashion. That means you need to be able to move your arms independently of your body. A dead bug requires you to do just that. Can you say core stability?
Here I show you what to focus on in your dead bug practice.
Now let's be clear! Kyle is a doctor. But this check-list by no means serves as a doctor's clearance. If you've got major issues going on, or you're working through an injury, be sure to check in with a qualified professional IN PERSON.
We do however, wholeheartedly believe, that for the average recreational to competitive runner, proficiency in these skills can keep you much happier and healthier on the path to fitness or performance.
And contrary to current trending beliefs, running is a completely valid and useful way to increase your fitness. You just better be ready for it.
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