One of the main benefits of exercise that I often express to middle age and older clients is the potential ability to live pain free. I explain that a stronger, more flexible body will likely curb common aches and pains that often accompany an aging and inactive body. I emphasize the fact that in more ways than one, exercise WILL provide an overall better quality of life.
Needless to say I find hilarious irony in the fact that more often than not, my active lifestyle leaves me in physical pain. At least once per week I find myself limping, hobbling, or dreading reaching for an item on a top shelf. Sitting down in a chair or reaching my arms over my head to put on a shirt become incredibly challenging and painful feats. And as much as it hurts, I can’t help but laugh. I not only choose this pain, but I bring it upon myself.
I remember clearly the day my exercise physiology professor told our class that with proper and gradual programming in a training plan, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) did not need to occur. In other words, post workout soreness is not a given, if your training is done properly. While I absolutely believe this to be true in theory, it seems laughable in practice. At least in my practice.
When something becomes easier, I push myself harder, as we all should. 10 burpees don’t suck as much, so we do 30 instead. 13 miles seems to feel effortless, so we run 20. The satisfaction of being able to easily complete a task that was once difficult makes us feel powerful, and motivates us to see what we are truly capable of, thus, we push harder. It’s a never ending cycle of soreness. The athletes curse.
Lately though, I have begun to wonder at which point all of this soreness for the sake of satisfying gains will reach the point of diminishing returns. I am by no means old. At 33 I still consider myself a spring chicken. But the other day I had the crazy realization that I have had a drivers license longer than I haven’t had a drivers license. Such a strange self realization to have, but a compelling one considering most days I still feel like I’m 16 years old, never mind the fact that it has been 17 years since I actually was. But I digress…like it or not, I am aging. We are all aging. Every minute of every day is a little bit more wear and tear on our bodies.
In my line of work I interact with a lot of older adults (50+. And if you are 50+ I’m still not calling you old. Just older than you were at say, 18.) I’ve seen the impact that a lifetime of inactivity has had on peoples bodies. Joint issues, muscle stiffness, lack of mobility. Sadly these ailments are the norm. But I’ve also seen the impact that a lifetime of self inflicted physical abuse has had on bodies. Men and women who spent decades logging 50+ miles a week with no crosstraining or strength training, who now have severe joint issues. People who lifted heavily and ruthlessly with no plan of attack – or more importantly, rest – and have done permanent damage. Certainly genetic predispositions are to blame for many of these cases. But others are simply cases of those who didn’t think about long term preservation of their body.
It seems the majority of us don’t think about injuries until we are injured. We focus on rehabilitation and healing, but more often than not ignore preventative measures that could have spared us the need for rehab in the first place. And I am no exception. If you’ve been with me for the long haul, you know that over the years I have caved to the temptress that is FOMO and I’ve raced a number of events less than trained…or sometimes not trained at all.
Running as a whole is NOT bad for you (don’t believe the people who claim it is “bad for your knees”. ) But that said, running, specifically road running, can cause injuries due to the fact that the very repetitive motion can cause imbalances in our body as a whole. I often see hamstring weaknesses, and of course, upper body weaknesses in runners (pick up those weights!) But I find solace in the fact that I spend a good bit of time in the gym and cross train a lot out of necessity as an obstacle course racer.
But is any of it done with specific injury preventing purpose? Ehhh…no. As I currently cram for my longest race ever attempted, I am already fearing the race pain my body will surely endure, and feverishly brainstorming how I can set my body up to incur the least amount of damage.
Recently I got my hands on a copy of Dr. Jordan Metzl’s Running Strong: The Sports Doctor’s Complete Guide to Staying Healthy and Injury-Free for Life. * Dr.Metzl is an award winning sports medicine physician as well as a runner and triathlete himself.
Running Strong is a “choose your own adventure” style book for runners with injuries. You start with “Uh oh, what’s that pain?” and identify the possible injury you are experiencing. From there you are given suggestions on what to do next, and more importantly in my opinion, prevention options for the future.
The exercises and stretches demonstrated aren’t overly complicated, nor are they the traditional single muscle group strength training exercises you expect to see. Instead Dr. Metzl walks you through a number of stretches and strength exercises that could essentially be done anywhere, as long as you have a set of dumbbells, a resistance band, a swiss ball, and a foam roller.
But if you’re in a gym, you can utilize that equipment too.
Running Strong contains easy to follow plans for all types of runners that aid in preventing injuries, fixing injuries (and knowing when it’s time to call the doctor). increasing flexibility through foam rolling and stretching, and even contains sections on eating right and harnessing the power of the mind.
The book as a whole has been a real eye opener as to the small, yet imperative steps I’ve been lacking in my training as a whole. Namely, stretching, but also focusing on strengthening the specific muscles, ligaments, and tendons imperative to my career as a runner. This of course is opposed to simply focusing on the large muscle groups I want to make stronger simply to have a higher PR on the bench press. Not that there is anything wrong at all with wanting to workout for overall strength and , let’s face it, aesthetics, but as I attempt to ramp up my mileage, it’s time to really start thinking about the big, long term picture, rather than simply crossing the finish line here and now.
HOW ABOUT YOU, fellow runners? What is your preventative plan of action to ensure you are running for years to come?
*Amazon affiliate link