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How to return to running after an injury or pregnancy

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

How to return to running after an injury or pregnancy

There’s no other workout that can make you feel as tested and as accomplished as a good run.

But running is a complex sport, so how do you go about returning to running safely after you’ve been sidelined?

If you have had to take some time away from your beloved workout of choice, I know how hard that is and how it may feel like you can never get back to where you were.

Physical Therapists, like myself, exist to help you get there!

Let’s go over what mistakes not to make so you can make sure you have a safe return to running strategy.

Top 5 training errors runners make

Running is a highly skilled movement that requires a great deal of stability, core control, mobility, and impact absorption.

It’s basically controlled falling over and over again.

runner, running, return to running

With repeated falling, landing, and pushing off one leg at a time, a solid foundation is critical for safety.

Let’s take a quick look at 5 common training errors that you’ll want to avoid as you make your return to running:

Inefficient form

Posture from head to toe matters here.  Take a look at your alignment in a mirror:

  1. Start at your arches, are they lifted or flat on the floor?

  2. Do your kneecaps face forward over your 2nd toe, or do they roll inward?

  3. Is your ribs cage stacked evenly over your hips?

When posture falls apart during a run think of it as creating energy leaks.

One common error I see all the time is the head falling forward looking down.  This strains your neck muscle and reduces breathing capacity, so it takes more effort to keep going.

Keep your head tall and shoulders soft when you run.

For post-partum mamas, it’s super important that you keep that ribs-over-pelvis alignment to keep your abdominals in a position to support your torso.

Pair this posture with a proper stride.

Studies show us that a higher step-rate of about 180bpm paired with a shorter stride and good mid-foot strike reduces the load and therefore the risk of injury.

When in doubt, get a running analysis from a qualified PT who specializes in running mechanics (that’s me!)  Especially if you are seeing lower extremity alignment faults like rotated knees or collapsed arches.  You’ll need some additional strategies to stay safe.

Inefficient breathing

Breathing goes hand-in-hand with posture.  It’s all about those energy leaks.

Establishing a good diaphragmatic breathing pattern is key for maintaining that relaxed, easy posture.

It’s also a critical player for core stability, so if you’re making a comeback after babies listen up.

Using your diaphragm maximizes the amount of oxygen you can pull in, and therefore gives you greater lasting energy to run.

It also works in conjunction with your pelvic floor and abdominals, giving you the stability and power you need.

Upper chest breathing is inefficient and makes the muscles of your chest and neck tight.  This creates discomfort and you will not be pulling in enough air to power you through a strong run.

Spend some time in a mirror watching how you breathe.  You should be able to take deep breaths without your shoulders rising and falling.

If you get stuck, which is more common than you might think, get to a good PT who can diagnose where and why you are unable to access that diaphragm.  Usually within 1-2 sessions you can see significant improvement.

Not strength training

Do you feel like running strengthens your legs, therefore you don’t need to strength train?

I hear this all the time, and I used to think this way myself.

We need to strengthen our muscles in order to absorb impact correctly and have the power to propel us. 

Especially if we are coming off an injury or pregnancy.

For women, our stabilization and landing strategies change in our pubescent years, and most of us never know it.

No one teaches us how to balance our frame on our new long legs and wide hips.  This can create big problems if we try to log miles on our feet.

You don’t need to lift super heavy weights or strength train more than 1-2 days /week, but do focus on building hip and hamstring strength, as well as your core.

A few great tests to see if you have enough strength to run are: 

  1. Single leg squats

  2. Single leg calf raises

  3. Jump squats to 90-degree lands

  4. Plank with rotation without breath holding or bulging abdominals

I watch people’s mechanics all the time, so feel free to reach out if you’re not sure if you are doing these correctly.

As with all exercises, it’s not what you do, it’s how you do them that matters most!!!

Not stretching

This is a big one.  When the hard work is done it seems like a monumental task to get down on the ground and stretch.  I know know it’s super important.

In the old days we used to ask you to stretch before your run.  Today we know that we need a good pre-run warm up, but traditional stretching is best done after your runs.

Most runners do a quick stretch of the quads and hamstrings, and maybe the calves. Do me a favor and add in a hip flexor and hip rotator stretch.

Your hips work incredibly hard to keep you stable when you run, and they get tight and tired easily.

You know I’m a big fan of yoga, and here’s why.

Not only does yoga give you the total body stretch that you need as a runner, it also provides the strength AND the breath control.

Try adding one class a week to your schedule and see how great you feel! 

Here’s a sample yoga-inspired post-run stretch routine you can try - be sure to let me know how you feel afterwards:

Not following a plan

Running is popular because it’s super accessible, which is awesome.

However, it’s all too easy to get out there and run without a plan.

You don’t always have to be training for a specific race, but you should have a basic plan in place of how frequently and often you are running vs how many rest and cross-training days you have built in.

Again, this is something a PT can help you put together, especially as you are getting back into your groove.

Remember pain, pressure, stiffness, tightness, or leakage are all signs of a suboptimal strategy somewhere in your kinetic chain. 

It could be your stride, your landing strategy, your pelvic floor, your mobility or flexibility…your symptoms can be coming from a number of different root problem areas.

Make a triumphant comeback means having enough strength to run without pain, and a plan that continues to address any imbalances and improve efficiency and performance.

If you need help figuring out how to put such a plan together, hire an expert!  I help runners by analyzing their stride and their movements all the time. 

PT’s who specialize in running are out there, give us a call and save yourself a lot of time and frustration.

Best wishes to you as you return to the pavement!!

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