How to Run Without Pain

Since 2017 is just around the corner, droves of people will be lacing up their running shoes to shed what was gained in 2016. Yep, come January 2nd everyone will love to run…until about January 15th. That is about how long it takes before shin splints or knee pain really kicks in.

First, I stand by the assertion that you should get fit to run, not the other way around. Whether you’re jogging or sprinting, a high level of strength is required throughout the ankles, knees, and hips. Running is an advanced exercise because it requires much more single-limb stability strength than most people have. Indeed, people that are relatively unfit would be much better off doing 200-300 fast, quarter squats with no additional load, spread over 15 minutes as their “cardio.”

But telling a guy or gal not to do something as simple, and seemingly effective, as running in the new year is a lesson in futility. Hundreds of thousands of people will start doing it in January, so I might as well outline the steps they can take to minimize joint stress.

Limit running to 20 minutes at first: It is tempting to go balls-to-the-wall at first in order to hasten fat loss, but that’s the quickest route to injury and pain. Most people want to start jogging 45-60 minutes in the new year, and unless you’ve been a consistent runner in late 2016, that’s a bad idea. Limit your duration of running to 20 minutes, every other day for the first few weeks. Also, run slower than you think you can go. When you’re out of shape it takes very little exercise to ramp up your metabolism and burn fat. Take advantage of it, and your joints will thank you.

Wear Hoka One shoes: All the technique and training advice will do little if your shoes are worn out, which causes faulty running mechanics. You can tell a lot about how people run by looking at their souls…er, I mean, soles. Do you see considerable wear on the corners? If so, it’s time to get a new pair. I suggest Hoka One running shoes since my clients favor them most.

Increase your step rate approximately 10%: Start by running at a pace that’s most natural for you, and then shorten your stride so you have to take about 10% more steps without slowing your speed. Research by Heiderscheit et al 2011 and Luedke et al 2016 demonstrate that a shorter stride length (i.e., increased step rate) will provide three benefits:

  • Less impact forces to the knees, shins, and hips.
  • Less impact forces that can cause knee valgus.
  • Greater metabolic demand while running.

So increasing your step rate will minimize stress to your joints and augment the amount of calories you burn while running. You can’t beat that combination.

Roll your plantar fascia with a lacrosse ball: Research by Novacheck 1998 demonstrates that stress forces within the plantar fascia can reach triple your body weight while running. Since that thick band of tissue on the bottom of each foot takes a real beating, spend a minute or so rolling each bare foot over a lacrosse ball before and after running to keep the plantar fascia supple and healthy. Furthermore, the bottom of each foot has 150,000 or more nerve endings that, when stimulated, can relieve tension throughout the hamstrings and low back.

Now you have four tips that will help you run pain-free well into the new year.

Stay Focused,
CW

2 thoughts on “How to Run Without Pain

  1. I must confess, I’m amazed that you recommend Hoka shoes. TONS of research from Harvard’s Daniel Lieberman, Irene Davis, and Casey Kerrigan show that the more padding you have in your shoes, the more force you put through your joints (I know it can sound paradoxical).

    More, padded shoes encourage overstriding, which means you’re applying braking forces with every step, which is less efficient and, again, puts more stress on the joints.

    Overstriding and heel-striking can lead to plantar fasciitis, since you land with the plantar fascia fully stretched and then ask them to provide force and strength in the stretched position.

    Plus, the Hoka have a VERY high “stack height”, which can lead to balance issues, rolled ankles, etc. If you already land far on the outside edge of your foot, this could be exacerbated with a thicker sole.

    CW: Steven, the overstriding you mentioned will not be an issue if readers do what I say in the article: increase step rate (i.e., decrease stride length). But to each his own regarding shoes. I just go by the results I see with my clients – and they all seem to really like Hoka shoes.

  2. Interesting recommendation for running shoes. I used to love the low profile ones, specifically the Saucony Kinvara, but after 2 hips surgeries and a blown L5/S1 disk, I can’t do much running any more. But I am thinking about getting a a pair of Hoka’s for walking – not sure if they’ll have as much impact for walking vs running, but worth a try…

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