It's OK to Take it Easy While Running

By: Andrew Rathjen, PT

As a runner and physical therapist, I understand that injuries can be part of the equation for those involved in running. An injury can be an unfortunate setback that pops up at the most inopportune time and may occur whether you are training for your first race or your 50th. It could also be when you have initiated your first experience with a running program. In any of these situations, it is very unwelcome and can be rather defeating. There are many pieces of advice on how to avoid injuries through gait training modifications, preventative exercises such as strengthening, flexibility, as well as the warm-up and cool down. Today, I want to focus on some obvious, but under-utilized approaches to remaining healthy and reaping more enjoyment out of the sport. A well-thought-out plan for how to progress distance, intensity, and frequency is essential.

I want to focus on intensity. A common mistake that recreational runners make is performing a majority of their workouts at a high intensity. I would equate high intensity to the fight or flight instinct that we all have to utilize from time to time. It can be helpful if you are under a great deal of stress or in an emergency, but this instinct is not meant to be turned on during the majority of our workout sessions. Many have asked or been asked, “Are you a runner?” with the response, “Well, only when chased.”

There may not be another single factor that contributes to burnout and taking the enjoyment out of running than overdoing the intensity. This approach can lead to runners prematurely quitting the sport or coming to the conclusion that they’re not cut out to be a runner. Now to those of you who have been running for years and competing consistently, the same advice applies. By running the majority of your workouts at an easy and conversational pace, you will race faster. Higher intensity training, such as intervals, has a place in a runner’s arsenal but should be used sparingly. Much of the research from elite runners demonstrate that no more than 20% of the week’s mileage should be above conversational pace.

Another mistake that many of us make is not taking the day or days off to allow proper recovery for our muscles and joints. Our ability to benefit from any given workout must have a corresponding period of rest to allow the tissue to adapt and become stronger. It is difficult at times, but necessary to give yourself that day off. “Take it Easy” by the Eagles would be an appropriate selection to cue up on your playlist next time you hit the road or treadmill. It just might contribute to having a more enjoyable experience and be a first step in remaining healthy. Tune in next time for more tips on how to minimize injuries and stay on the road.

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