How to Condition Before You Run
Slow and steady wins the race to fitness
It is easy to get excited when you finally find that a workout regimen that works for you. But too much exercise and a lack of cross-training can spell trouble if you’re not careful.
Dr. Mark Tenholder, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in hip and knee replacement and sports medicine at Orthopedic Associates in Fort Walton Beach, has seen his fair share of overzealous fledgling athletes.
“I would say probably the most common types of problems arise in those who aren’t conditioned to advance to the type of exercise they’re trying to do,” Tenholder said. “Runners, for example, frequently experience what’s called IT Band Syndrome (ITBS). This involves a tightness of the tendon that runs along the side of the pelvis to your knee.”
Most runners, he said, will attempt a challenging terrain or distance too quickly. The weak muscles around their hips and core cause the iliotibial, or IT band, to constrict to the point it rubs against the thighbone, making for a painful few weeks of recovery.
According to Tenholder, patients with ITBS are referred to a physical therapist, who teaches them how to strengthen essential muscles and properly complete pre- and post-run stretches to loosen the tendon.
“People who love to run derive a lot of physical and mental health from it but often neglect to cross-train with weights or participate in any body-strengthening boot camps,” Tenholder pointed out. “But it’s important to work on your core strength and gradually increase exercise regimens so you don’t suffer overuse injuries.”
Of course, this applies to all manner of exercise. Those with poor core strength who participate in the rigorous activities of CrossFit, Pure Barr or cycling class commonly incur back and abdominal injuries.
“I think with regard to most injuries or athletic exercise-induced problems, it’s people advancing too quickly and not properly conditioning themselves for those activities,” Tenholder said. “But, for the most part, people are exercising a lot smarter than they used to.”
Tenholder said he was surprised that when CrossFit and plyometric classes caught on, he didn’t see as many repercussions as he expected.
“This may have to do with the science behind developing these routines and training the participants, but people are more educated now,” he said. “There’s more material online discussing injury prevention and better resources available for each type of exercise.”
With age comes increased vulnerability to injury. Among men who are over 40, torn Achilles and biceps tendons are commonplace.
Younger individuals may be susceptible to microtears and full-on ruptures due to intense exercise or diving headfirst into a new routine their bodies aren’t yet accustomed to.
Frequently, people with minor injuries or strained muscles tend to try to work through them or wait until they go away.
“If it’s a minor injury and you want to give it a week or two, it’s the classic treatment of what we call RICE: rest, icing, compression and elevation,” Tenholder said. “That will treat acute injuries to muscles, ligaments and tendons and allow swelling to go down. If you do that and can gradually return to activities without too much disability, then it’s OK to treat on your own.”
But don’t ignore nagging aches and pains.
“If you have pain in a joint area that persists for more than four weeks, you need to have it evaluated,” Tenholder said. “If you let things go, the dysfunction grows worse, the pain gets worse and the muscle atrophies. The farther you let it go downhill, the harder it is to climb back up and rehabilitate it.”
Stay Loose – When unstretched for extended periods, muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on them for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains and muscle damage. Sitting in a chair all day results in tight hamstrings, which inhibits walking or running. Periodic stretching during the day is helpful. Source: Harvard Medical School