Running is one of the most efficient physical exercises for staying in shape, but many runners eventually struggle with injuries related to the impact sustained by their joints. Overuse injuries are common (and can prevent you from running entirely), but they can be prevented if you learn to take proper care of yourself before, and especially after a run.
What to Do After a Run: Five Steps
Whenever you’re done with a run, use these five practices to significantly reduce your chances of injury, improve your body’s capabilities, and improve your performance on subsequent runs:
- Cool down. Before you head inside or go back home, make sure to cool down. Continue your workout session at a lower level of intensity, so you can gradually acclimate your body to be at rest. It’s a good way to catch your breath and keep your muscles warm, while relieving the tension they receive during heavy exercise. If you’re running, a brisk walk or light jog would be an appropriate way to cool down.
- Tend to your dry or damaged feet. Running can take its toll on your feet, especially if you’re going heavy distances. Take off your shoes when you can and take care of your feet as soon as possible. That could mean tending to blisters, fungal nails and trying a foot renewal product to improve the appearance of your feet.
- Stretch your muscles. Next, take the time to stretch all the muscles in your lower body (and your upper body, while you’re at it). Slow, progressive, deep stretches will help relieve some of the lactic acid that builds up in your muscles during exercise. More importantly, it will keep all your tendons, ligaments, and muscles elongated, flexible, and loose; that way, you’ll be less susceptible to injuries in future runs.
- Log your time and distance. Take a moment to log the distance you ran and how long it took you. If you use a running app, this may be done on your behalf automatically. If not, write it down in a notebook. This is a good way to keep track of your progress toward your goals, as well as a way to ensure you aren’t scaling up too quickly. It’s important to build distance and speed gradually, so you don’t injure yourself as you improve.
- Refuel. Part of being successful as a runner is paying attention to your nutritional intake. After every run, drink plenty of water so you can rehydrate. Depending on the distance you traveled and how much you sweat on the run, you may also need to replenish your electrolytes. It’s helpful to eat at least some simple carbohydrates so you can restore your muscles’ glycogen, and a suitable amount of protein so your body can begin to recover.
Other Important Strategies to Keep in Mind
Post-run strategies aren’t the only things that stand between you and the possibility of injury or inefficiency. These strategies can also improve your health and the sustainability of your running initiative:
- Pre-run strategies. Post-run strategies are great, but you’ll also need to consider pre-run strategies. Before you go on a run, take the time to warm up with a light jog or a quick walk around the block. It’s also a good idea to eat and drink enough to keep you going on your run; simple carbohydrates (like those in fruit) are a good choice, and make sure you have a way to rehydrate during your run. Think carefully about how you want to scale your running distance too. Running too much or too quickly will almost always result in injury. You can follow a running training program online, or devise one on your own, but either way, make sure you’re not increasing your total distance by more than 10 percent per week.
- Cross-training. Cross-training is important to make sure every area of your body gets some physical exercise, and it can help you condition some complementary parts of your body so running is less likely to lead to injury. For example, you could take up cycling to substitute for running on occasion or use swimming and lifting to fill in other days of the week.
- Equipment replacement. It’s also important to pay attention to the condition and quality of your equipment. Depending on how much you run, you’ll probably want to replace your running shoes once every season. Good, fresh running shoes are one of the best ways to prevent injury.
Running has a high impact, and can lead to injuries, but it doesn’t have to. Pay close attention to your body and your running regimen, and be proactive in managing your progress. The more sustainable your training approach is, the more successful you’ll be.