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Becoming a Better Runner Without Actually Running

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I used to be a runner. Even typing that sentence in past tense is still a little bit difficult, but at least I can finally say it. Used to be a runner. For a long time, I couldn’t identify myself without running. I couldn’t figure out how to get that cardio-induced mental release, the stress relief, the therapy, without actually running. But a few years ago an injury forced me to rediscover my exercise-identity. I’d destroyed my knee in such a way that I couldn’t run a single step, but hadn’t yet lost the sense where I identified myself as a runner. I still wanted to train and improve. Simply cross-training wasn’t doing it for me. While I learned to love other sports like biking and swimming, my heart was still set on being a runner. Swimming and biking were keeping me in shape, but they weren’t getting me any closer to being able to run again. Finally, with much resistance, I figured out what was really going to make me a better runner while I waited for my knee to heal, and turns out, it wasn’t running or cardio at all. Here’s what helped me get my running ability back without actually running:

Yoga

I’ll be the first to admit that I hate yoga, but the benefits ended up being undeniable for me. Balance is essential for running. The act of running involves switching your entire weight from one foot to the other — over and over again. Add in a couple potholes, a tree root, or a piece of debris in the road, and you’ll be relying on your sense of balance more than you know. Having good balance helps you run smoother and more evenly, saving you precious energy for later in your run. Part of my injury stemmed from an unbalanced alignment; yoga helped me pull it back together.

Pilates

Your core is the center for your running. A strong core holds the rest of your body in proper alignment, which helps prevent injury and helps give you a more powerful stride. Any ab workout will help, but Pilates allowed me to target my core as a whole, not just my lower abs from doing my old standard crunches.

Strength Training

While a strong core is essential, a strong upper and lower body is important too. Sure, running works the muscles in your legs, but it doesn’t target every single muscle; it tends to focus on the big ones. Actively targeting all the muscles in the legs will help improve your stride, prevent fatigue, and my favorite, help prevent injury. By intentionally strength training as opposed to just letting it be a by-product of running, I was able to let some of my less-used muscles catch up and help play their part.

Along the same lines, a strong upper body may seem unhelpful when it comes to running, but it’s just the opposite. Strong arms and shoulders help you keep good form when running. Plus, it’s one less set of muscles that can get tired during your run. (Hidden bonus: I don’t blink when I toss my 35 pound toddler over my shoulder.)

Stretching

Not many people like to stretch. If you’re not naturally flexible, like me, it can be pretty uncomfortable. Activities like yoga and ballet can make it more fun, but sometimes you just have to do it on your own. Not only does improved flexibility keep you from being sore after a run,  it increases your range of motion, which can make you faster or more efficient. Stretching also increases blood flow, which helps you recover faster.

Foam Rolling

Ouch with a capital O. Foam rolling (sort of a form of self-massage) helps work out the kinks and knots that form in your muscles from repeated use. Foam rolling is a great practice to get into after runs to aid with recovery and prevent future injury, but for me it was also a great way to keep things loose and in working order while I rehabbed the rest of my body.

Any tips or tricks to improve your running when you aren’t actually able to run?

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Article Posted 5 years Ago

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