While discussing a plan of action with a new client the other day I made an analogy that you might find interesting. I equated 'the little things' like soft tissue work, to playing good defense. Your defense allows you to keep playing. In the end, if you're sitting on the sidelines, you're not improving and you're not having any fun! Therefore, we can break our training down into two parts: offense and defense. Our offense is, of course, our running. Any form of running is going to be offensive to our body. And that's a good thing! It causes several markers of physiology to breakdown slightly and, after some time to recover and absorb the stress, we become healthier and are able to run better.
Our defense is anything that enhances our ability to continue running at an acceptable level. This side of the equation is the side that everybody nods and says they know about, but somehow forgets to implement... until it's too late. In my experience, Type A personalities more frequently neglect this stuff because once they've checked 'RUN' off of their list it's on to the next item. You know who you are.
Granted, playing defense is not as fun, it's not glamorous, and sometimes it can be downright boring. But so can missing out on that one cool, crisp, oasis of a morning during an endless hot, humid summer. Get it? You wanna be a runner? These are the rules of the game.
Here are my 5 favorite, must-do, highly effective defensive strategies:
Hydration – Listen, if you're not hydrated, nothing works well. At the cellular level hydration is critical for energy to be produced and for your body to be in an optimal state. Your muscles and fascia must be well lubricated to allow excellent movement with minimal restrictions. If you're training, consider 80-100 oz per day. Drink throughout the day, not all at once.
Clean Eating – Whether your goal is to race fast or to look better, you need to chose your foods wisely. I know people who think that because they run, they can eat whatever they want. Huh? So, because you move your body, you can eat crap? That makes absolutely no sense and demonstrates a serious disconnect (not to mention lousy relationship with food). Here's what's on my plate for dinner: 2-3 servings of veggies, 1 serving of lean protein, 1 serving of healthy fat. How simple is that? If I just trained, then I'll throw a starchy carb into the mix. Always seek out real, unprocessed, whole foods.
Soft Tissue Work – Sure, you can spring for a massage as frequently as possible, but for the rest of us there's a more affordable option: the foam roller. (Or the Stick, Tiger Tail, lacrosse ball, tennis ball, Trigger Point Therapy...) With an investment of 2-5 minutes a day, you get happy, reliable muscle function. Nice! Also: Frequency trumps intensity here. Go gentle and be consistent. I like to do this before bed as a way to relax and maintain high tissue quality.
Sleep – This is really where the magic happens. Every marker of health and fitness depends on sleep for improvement. Whether you want to burn fat, gain muscle, increase speed and endurance, or just give a kick-ass presentation at work tomorrow you can't afford to miss 'a few hours here and there'. So, rather than simply having a goal of getting more sleep, set a goal of turning off your TV, computer and cell phone one hour before sleep. Habits like sleeping 8 hours regularly actually depend on other habits like shutting off electronics well before bedtime.
Yoga / Meditation /Zoning Out – I don't care if you just stare out a window for 10 minutes, you need some time everyday where you allow your parasympathetic nervous system to become dominant. Wait, what? I'm just saying that between running, working, planning, organizing, texting, socializing, medicating, drinking, caffeinating, etc. we are stressing the heck out of our sympathetic (“fight or flight”) nervous system. We need some balance to the system. Try “stressing” your parasympathetic side (“rest and digest”) more and you will feel better. By combining ancient movement training and relaxation into one package, you can't go wrong with a dose of yoga. Simply practicing a Sun Salutation sequence daily will reinforce good postural and movement patterns that would otherwise degrade due to our predominantly sedentary lifestyle.
There you have it- my top 5 daily defensive strategies. At some point you may find yourself coming down with some running related pain. Always cover your bases and look at your defense. Are you employing these basic, but effective strategies? There's a good chance that you've neglected yourself.
Life can take over and you may find yourself thinking, “I just have to squeeze my run into my schedule”. Well, I understand. Just know that running is only half the game and if you only play offense, you're gonna get beat eventually.
Do YOU have any tricks that you feel have helped you stay injury free? Share below, please!
(There are a million sports related cliches I could have injected into this article. You're welcome!)