In the past we have previously spoken about our recommendations on running with a disc bulge. Normally we would recommend to not run if you have a disc bulge, and to switch to a much lower intensity exercise, you can read that here, but we understand that for some people running is their exercise of choice. If your heart is set on running, there are certain things you can do to make the transition back into running after an injury easier.
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Boosting your Fitness Before Running
Running is a very high-impact sport, especially if you tend to choose pavements to run on. As your feet strike the ground, impact occurs from your feet up to your knees, hips and spine. The impact experienced in running is much higher compared to some other forms of cardio exercise. It’s important when you’re progressing back into a sport after an injury, that you take the time to begin slowly. If you have been running for years, it can be tempting to throw yourself back into the sport running a similar distance to what you have been used to. You might even try to run at the same speed as before. But it’s better to start off easier at the beginning and build up your fitness level. In the interim you may need to use a lower intensity exercise to initially boost your fitness.
Using a cross-trainer is an excellent first step back into running. A cross-trainer mimics the movements you would make while running, while at the same time being low-impact. Depending on the amount of time you have been absent from the exercise as a result of the injury, and your fitness level before, will influence how long and how often you should spend on the cross-trainer to begin with. If you weren’t training intensely beforehand you may wish to spend around 10-15 minutes at first and progress from there. Between 3 and 4 sessions a week on the cross-trainer should be enough at first. The idea here is to boost your fitness enough, to improve your speed while you’re running.
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Running Faster for Less Impact
It’s important to increase your speed in a low-intensity setting to begin with because running slowly outside can actually be even more impactful on your spine. When we run slowly we tend to plod along the ground. On hard surfaces outside like tarmac or concrete, plodding along on these can potentially irritate your spine if you’re recovering from an injury. Choosing the cross-trainer at first can help you build up fitness and endurance in the kindest way to your body. This means when you’re able to start integrating running outside into your fitness routine, you should be able to run quicker.
When you run faster, you’re more likely to have better form than if you were to run slower. This is because running faster requires you to pick up your feet much quicker. For that reason you’re much more likely to run on the ball of your feet rather than heel-strike, as again heel-striking can be high-impact on your spine. Starting with 3 to 4 sessions a week on the cross-trainer it would be ideal to build up slowly by seeing how you feel after each session. Once you have built up your fitness slightly, you can then start to gradually introduce running outside to your routine. Start by introducing one training session running outside into your routine, replacing just one of your cross-training sessions at first. Running outside is preferable to a treadmill because you tend to strike the belt with a high-impact akin to training on concrete. If possible, try trail-running on flat terrain as trails tend to be lower impact on your body.
The biggest fear when you go into training again after being injured is the risk of reoccurrence. As a result, going back into exercise after you’ve been absent from training for awhile can be difficult, as you may not be sure how much effort to give. Start off with an easy effort on the cross-trainer for between 10-15 minutes and you should be able to judge from how your body feels whether you can increase the time – or the effort. However, if you start to experience pain in your back after the sessions, that isn’t related to delayed onset muscle soreness, you should either decrease the amount of time you’re spending on the cross-trainer (if you’ve increased the time already from 10-15 minutes) or you should decrease your effort.
Therefore, if you start to experience pain when you have started to integrate running days into your routine, drop down your running days again, or if you are still only doing one day running you can reduce the distance or amount of time you’re out and gradually increase as you get stronger.
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Finally, if you’re a runner in general you may find benefit in integrating cross-training or strength-training into your fitness regime to fend off injury. Strength-training, in particular for your core, can help you to maintain good running form, especially if you are aiming to run longer distances. Likewise, if you are a slower runner, you may find strengthening your leg muscles beneficial in generating power so you can increase your speed without incorporating high-intensity interval training.
Consequently, cross-training in general can help to balance your muscle groups out – if you traditionally only ever ran you may find that you have an imbalance of muscle in the body that may result in you being more prone to injury. Helping the weaker muscles become stronger will reduce your chance of injury, while maintaining (or even improving) your cardiovascular fitness and resting your running muscles to provide extra recovery time.