The IT Band is a running mystery. A frequently experienced injury, many runners don’t know what it does. The illiotibial band (ITB) is a large fibrous group of fascia that runs longitudinally down the outside of the upper leg. Anchoring at the iliac crest and tibia, it’s a bunch of passive rubber bands that extend, abduct and rotate the hip laterally. It also helps stabilize the knee while storing energy to support running and walking.
IT Band syndrome (ITBS) is an inflammation of these tissues and typically presents with outer knee pain. That is the area where the ITB should slide over bone and muscle easily. If it’s not sliding due to inflammation or tightness, pain will result. Sometimes the pain can be felt along the entire length of the outer thigh and it’s often a result of overuse. Two examples of exercise patterns that can lead to overuse are increasing mileage too quickly or adding lots of plyometrics.
There is good news, however. There are several ways to treat and prevent ITBS. The first step in treatment is to rest long enough for the inflammation to subside. Second is to work on improving mobility of the hip and knee. Limited range of motion in either joint can cause extra stress to the ITB and lead to inflammation. Foam rolling and proper warm up to increase circulation to these fibers before a workout will help it slide painlessly.
Strength training with a qualified coach is one of the best solutions to ITBS. Having muscles strong enough the support your increase in mileage or the strain of a downhill marathon will help prevent ITB irritation. Hip, glute and abdonimal core strength are paramount to any solid strength training plan for runners who want to stay healthy. These muscles also ensure your IT band gets the support it needs.
A final possibility is that it might not be it your IT Band at all. The ITB is so passive it’s hard to know how it might get injured. Since that research isn’t ready yet take a look at the muscles around it: your hamstrings and quads. When these muscles get tight or damaged they can put stress on the IT band. Relaxing the tight muscles through improved mobility or foam rolling can release stress on the ITB to reduce or eliminate pain.
Want to stay ITBS free? Take good care of all the muscles it works with. Be sure to strengthen, stretch and warm up properly.
It’s hard for runners to slow down. There’s nothing more fun than running fast and knocking out a good, hard sweat session. How would you get faster without them? Unfortunately your body can’t handle strenuous workouts all the time without breaking down. Alternating challenging workout days with easy run days, or even more than one between, is the structure of any solid training plan. Here are three reasons Team ECRP loves their easy run days just as much as workout days.
Build – You’ll build a foundation on easy run days. This foundation is how your body adjusts to the stresses of distance running over time. Easy running will help you earn stronger bones, tougher joints, improved running economy, develop slow twitch, fat burning muscles and increased aerobic capacity.
Relax – Easy days are low stress. They’re for running with friends, checking out new routes or trails and forgetting the trials of the day. You need fast workouts to improve turnover, create more mitochondria and increase VO2max but those sessions aren’t exactly relaxing or fun. Easy days remind us why we love running.
Recovery – Going fast is hard on your body. After tough workouts it has to repair damaged muscle, expand blood vessels and learn to process more oxygen. An easy workout helps clear out waste from muscles, improve circulation and might actually help speed muscle recovery. If you push all the time those processes never get to finish their jobs and you’re inviting over training and burnout. Easy or recovery runs give your body a chance to make all of the positive performance enhancing adaptations it can.
The most important thing is to make sure your easy running is just that. Easy. Aim to be at least one minute slower than your goal race pace for the duration of an easy workout. As your fitness level increases it can become hard to slow the pace down. Keep the goal of each workout in mind and you’ll learn there’s no such thing as a ‘junk mile’.
Upper body strength is just as important for runners as lower body. When those legs get tired something has to support continued movement and that’s going to be your upper body. Having a strong back, powerful shoulders and a stable core will all help you run faster and with lower risk of injury. Here are four of Team ECRP‘s favorite ways to earn them. Each one will help you improve running form and stay strong over any distance you cover.
Banded Pull A-parts – This simple banded exercise strengthens your shoulders and upper back. Strong shoulders lead to better posture and running form by setting the shoulders in an externally rotated position. That means arms will travel forward and back without wasting any energy crossing the mid-line.
Push-ups – There are lots of variations for push-ups and they’re all good. Starting with a basic push-up to strengthen your shoulders, chest and core you can use them as part of a warm-up or any strength workout. Whether you modify them by dropping to your knees or maintain a plank position all the way through, push-ups will help train your shoulders to maintain good position when the going gets tough.
Renegade Rows – This key push-up version combines strength on both the anterior and posterior chains by adding a row. Using a light dumbbell you’ll train for good posture and a strong core with this one. Try to avoid round headed dumbbells, especially in the beginning, because they’ll want to roll and make you work a whole lot harder to stay in a good position.
Squat to Overhead Press – A fantastic combo move, the squat to overhead press works the whole body in one motion. Building power, improving coordination and getting stronger all are benefits of this simple exercise. Start with light weights and make sure you’re keeping your chest up without letting your knees fall in for 10 reps before stepping up to heavier dumbbells.
Add these four movements to your routine to build the stability and strength your upper body needs to carry you over every distance you cover with good form.
Loose hips are very important to any athlete. Unfortunately they often get overlooked in favor of large muscle groups like the quad, hamstring and calf that are easier to stretch. With hip extension being a major player in quality running form, tight hips can really hold you back. Not any more! Loose hips mean your glutes, piriformis, hip flexors, hamstring and quad can all move through a full range of motion with ease. All of those muscles play a big part in strong running and keeping them happy can lower your risk of injury while improving speed. Here are four simple hip stretches that will open you running powerhouse up.
Low Lunge. This simple hip opener is a classic. It opens the hip flexors and gets them ready to allow that all important hip extension. Beginning in a lunging position with your back knee on the ground, push the front foot away, engage your glutes and drive your hips forward.
Figure Four. Hit major muscle groups including the glutes and lower back along with your hips in Figure Four. Being laying on your back. Raise both knees over your hips and cross one ankle over the other knee. This is one of the best stretches you can do after a workout to aid recovery and stay ready for your next session.
Piriformis Stretch. The piriformis is often mistaken for the glute. Instead, it’s buried deep behind the gluteus maximus and rotates the hip outward. While you’ll also hit this muscle in a Figure Four but the spinal rotation here is a nice touch. Begin with both legs out straight. Cross one leg over the other and place the foot flat on the ground. Use your elbow on the outside of your bent knee to rotate away from the flat leg.
Pigeon. This tough movement will open your hips right up. To perform it begin in a plank or downward dog position. Cross the leg of the hip you want to open in front of the other, aiming your foot towards the opposite hip. Rest your elbow on the floor as you ease deeper into the stretch.
Adding these hip stretches to your warm-up, post run or strength routines, even all three, will not only feel great but make you a more mobile, injury resistant runner.
All athletes know their next workout is only as good as their recovery from the last one. If you’re not able to bounce back from a tough session the next one will certainly suffer. No matter what type of event you’re training for, proper recovery is key to continuing progress. While we can’t always be perfect, here are four pitfalls you’ll want to avoid if improvement is your goal.
Starve. Eat! Eat something as soon as you can. Waiting too long will lead your body to breakdown rather than rebuild mode. Protein bars, chocolate milk, your favorite protein powder or a nut buttered bagel can get you through in a pinch but you’ll definitely want some protein, carb and fat within 30 minutes of wrapping up. Next be sure to get a full, well-rounded and nutritious meal within two hours.
Get cold. An ice bath might feel good but it’s not always the best idea. Dropping your core temperature too soon after a session shuts down the body’s all important inflammation response and prevents damaged muscles from getting the nutrients they need. This study found that heating muscles improved post recovery performance more than cooling them with a few exceptions. When working out multiple times a day cooling can speed the recovery process between sessions. Cooling can also aid in lowering core temperature before bed time, leading to higher quality sleep. So go ahead and take that hot shower, it won’t hurt.
Booze it up. That’s not to say you should skip the post race party. The entire list of pros and cons for a post run beer are covered here but if you’ve just finished a marathon, focus on giving your body something good for it first. It wants it! On the other hand, if all you were accomplishing was an easy fun run with pals, you can probably get away with a cold one along side your glass of water.
Skip the Nap. If you’re not planning a nap after your long run you’re going to miss out. Sleep is paramount to proper recovery. There are big benefits to a little snooze. Those include muscles being repaired, blood pressure dropping and your brain being recharged. The best idea is always to get a good, full night’s rest with 8+ hours of sleep but a nap is a great way to kick off the process.
Focus on recovering properly from every single workout and you’ll see progress.
Runners need strong hips. They’re the driving force behind every stride you take and the better they are able to perform the faster you’ll cover ground. Tight hip flexors and weak glutes are common and contribute to a myriad of injuries from IT Band syndrome to runner’s knee. Strengthening your hips and glutes helps prevent injuries while improving running form and increasing speed. Here are four of Team ECRP‘s favorite hip power building exercises.
Fire Hydrant. This simple body weight exercise is a winner for working the hip abductors. Start with your hands and knees on the ground in an all fours position then lift your leg away from your midline. Be sure to keep your hips still while focusing on the activation of hip and glute muscles. Pause at the top then repeat for your desired number of reps and sets.
Clam Shells. Another uncomplicated exercise, clam shells also work the hip abductors. You can step the difficulty up by adding a resistance band above your knees but that’s not necessary to get the benefits. Begin lying on your side with a neutral spine. Bend your knees to 90 degrees and hips to 45 with your top leg stacked directly on your bottom one. Keeping your feet together raise your top knee away from the bottom one (abducting your hip). Pause at the top then repeat for your target number of reps and sets.
Seated Band Hip Abduction. Use this move to earn strong hips and glutes. Begin sitting on a bench or chair with a flat back and feet flat on the floor shoulder width apart. Place a resistance band around your legs above the knees. Grip the front of the bench with both hands and maintain good posture while you pull your knees apart. Do not let your knees cave in after you pause and return to the starting position for your goal reps and sets.
Strong hips are important and using these three exercises will help you earn them.
Winter. Summer. Each comes with its own set of weather based challenges. From high temperatures to icy roads anyone can get forced into an indoor workout once in a while. While it might seem like the dreaded treadmill is your only option there are plenty of alternative choices that are equally as effective at working you out. As long you’re not ditching all your miles trying one of these alternatives will keep you safely inside and ensure a quality workout.
Water running. If you have access to a pool water running can be a great option. Frequently used as a tool for injured runners to stay in shape while the heal, running in deep water with the aid of a floatation device is a great alternative to dangerous outdoor conditions. Pushing through the water will strengthen muscles and hip joints while still getting your cardio in.
Strength training. Every runner needs strength training. It provides tons of benefits from increased endurance to better form and faster times. There are thousands of options for exercises and classes out there so find something you like. Focus on higher intensity activities with weights on the heavier side to build running muscles. Perform exercises that strengthen your entire body so it can support you for as long as you want to run.
Plyometrics.Plyometrics can fall under strength training or it can be performed on its own. Jumping is a great way to build running power. Whether it’s box jumps, jump rope or lateral bounds jumping around will get your heart rate up while making your quads, hamstrings, hips, knees, ankles and feet stronger.
Yoga. With the massive variety of yoga classes available at most studios you’re sure to find something that will get your heart rate up. Mobility is a big issue for lots of runners but having a good range of motion is incredibly important. This indoor workout will help you stretch, open up joints and relax all at once.
Every runner dreads injury. Not only can it derail all of your recent training effort, it can be painful, uncomfortable and come with a potentially hefty medical bill. The best way to keep logging miles without some sort of boo-boo or broken bone sidelining you is to use preventative care. That can mean lots of things but here are Team ECRP‘s favorite ways to run injury free all year long.
Strength Train. Strength training and cross training are extremely important elements of a training plan that helps you steer clear of injuries. It will help you build muscle to support the pounding your body takes from running. Strength training also makes you a more durable, injury resistant, athlete. No matter what kind of strength training you choose make sure it’s something you like. There are tons of options available out there from Crossfit to spin class so you’re guaranteed to find something fun.
Listen. Pay attention to what your body is telling you on a daily basis and you’ll be able to head off any injury before it happens. Injury free running isn’t a dream. It’s a reality if you’re able to pick up on what your body needs. A day off? An adjusted workout? What about that massage you’ve been waiting for? Stop waiting, rest up and tone it down. No one know what your body needs better than you if you’re willing to listen to it.
Gear Check. From chaffing to shin splints worn out, poorly fitted gear or improper gear can lead to disaster. If you’re tackling trails, don’t wear your track spikes. Be aware of training environment and dress appropriately. Check in regularly with your clothing and especially your running shoes. Crummy old shoes love creating problems from lack of support. Stay injury free by having the right gear in the right condition.
Eat. While every runner has different nutritional needs, eating is important. Eating too much can lead to weight gain and numerous health issues while eating too little means your body can’t recover or build muscle like it wants to. Poor nutritional habits can result in stress fractures, excess fatigue and bad workouts. Consult a professional when designing your meal plan to make sure you’re taking in enough calories to stay injury free.
Can I run? Should I run? Wondering if you’re too sick to run is a common questions for runners. This is a tough question to answer. Everyone reacts to feeling badly differently and we all recover at different speeds. What one person can do with a slight head cold might not work for another. Here are a few tips to help you determine if you should hit that session or stay inside.
Weather. Take into account the weather. Bad weather isn’t going to help you get well. Heading out into cold, windy or wet conditions when you’re feeling crummy isn’t a good idea. Working out can put a lot of stress on your body so don’t make it even tougher but adding adverse outdoor conditions. Have an indoor or cross training session instead of braving the elements if possible and don’t worry about one or two missed workouts. You’re better off being healthy!
Move Around. Sometimes getting up and moving around can help you feel better all on its own. Increasing circulation and putting muscles to work will kick your body into repair mode. We tend to be idle when we aren’t 100% and that can make things worse. If it feels more like lack of motivation than actual sickness, get up and move.
The Neck Rule. If your symptoms are above your neck, say a runny nose and mild headache, you’re good to go. When symptoms present below your neck, such as coughing or weakness, you should probably skip out. The single exception to this rule is a fever. If your temperature is climbing, stay put and enjoy some chicken soup with a movie.
Activity Level. Many tapering marathoners catch colds. Their bodies are so used to repairing and fighting during months of training that when they take a breather the immune system goes bonkers. You’re probably not too sick to run if that’s your situation. You won’t be doing any incredibly challenging workouts anyway, so enjoy those few light weeks even if you’re not 100%.
Professional runners across all disciplines get an off season. Whether they’re choosing to compete at certain times of the year or their sport predetermines it, they are sure to take time off between seasons. For those of us who aren’t professional athletes, however, options to compete carry on all year long. You can run a 5k every single weekend if you want to but you can’t race one.
If you’re just out there to get moving every time you toe the line, odds are you aren’t training at a very high level. You might run for fun. You might just run with friends. If, on the other hand, you’re an age group or contending athlete your training is intense. The more intense each training cycle is the more likely you are to need an off season. Here are three reasons why.
Recover. Injury prevention is a big reason to take an off season. Our bodies cannot continue indefinitely to be beat up the way they are when we train and race hard all year long. Work load is dramatically decreased, especially running, during the off season. Both our minds and bodies need a break from the constant barrage of stimuli that come along with a hard training cycle.
Repair. Take the time now to deal with any lingering issues. See that physical therapist you’ve been putting off. Get massages and take bubble baths. Build strength in the muscles that got you through race season. Eliminate weak spots and work towards strength goals that will help you run faster next race season.
Plan. Goal setting is incredibly important. Use this down time to look back at how your season went. Why did it go that way? Put time and effort in determining what went well and what didn’t rather than nailing each workout. Decide what races you’ll target during your next training cycle and how to best prepare for them. Set realistic goals based on past performances.
Taking an off season can be a wonderful training tool and a welcome break. It’s the time to relax and have fun while letting your body heal and prepare for the next cycle of hard work.