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Save Your Feet & Ankles: Return To Training Slowly

Thursday, 14 May 2015 14:17

Like clockwork, every spring we hear the same complaint in our office:

"I had pain in my feet/ankles/toes after I ran. And then I ran the next day and they hurt more. I can't understand it, because I'm running exactly the same route I did as last year."

protect your feet and ankles when running

Each spring, every athlete is anxious to jump right back in where they left off. But we forget just how quickly our bodies get out of condition, especially as we age.

Your body has de-conditioned over the winter months (assuming you're not working out regularly at the gym). Ligaments, muscles, bones, and interconnective tissue have become much weaker from lack of use. When we demand the same from them as we did when we were in peak condition at the end of last season, the disconnect between desire, endurance and strength becomes obvious. The result is soreness, stiffness, tendonitis, sprains, fractures or worse, which could sideline us for months.

Whenever we have a significant break from our training schedule, even a few weeks, it's important to build back up slowly to pre-break levels. This is especially true when we lay off all winter, or when we're recovering from an injury or an illness.

In fact, your hard-earned fitness can begin decreasing in as little as 2 weeks, especially if you're in peak condition. According to Dr. Edward Coyle, the director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin, the maximum oxygen that an athlete can uptake and utilize (your endurance) plunges in the first month of inactivity and continues to decrease for the next 3 months of inactivity. Even the enzymes involved in metabolizing energy become less active. In fact, for the casual athlete, all the benefits derived from the previous season -  the ability to uptake and utilize oxygen - may be completely lost when they lay off their routine for 4 months or more.

And after your endurance decreases, your muscle mass and strength also take a hit. Which is when you feel ankle pain or heel pain pushing that last mile.

runner forgot somethingThe good news is, if you've been a runner or otherwise training for 10 years or more, you can maintain fitness longer than those who've been at it for less time. And highly trained athletes don't decline to the same levels as the casual athlete, even after a long layoff.

So how do you get back into condition?

  • Take it slow and don't go BIG right from the start. Begin by working below your break point and don't push
  • Warm up for longer periods before your workout. Make sure you've stretched your legs, feet and ankles sufficiently
  • Allow 1 day of rest between each run or workout. More if you have pain or soreness in your knees, shins, feet or ankles.
  • Focus on consistency and good habits, not speed
  • Progress gradually and extend your workouts by a small amount each session
  • If you feel any pain, stop immediately. Resume your training only when the pain has completely subsided
  • Wear a new pair of athletic shoes to support your feet and legs properly

Breaks are an important part of training, as they're important for your physical and mental health. They can also help you come back stronger and faster. Your best bet is to rest when injured or ill and do some cross-training in the gym during your downtime to maintain strength and endurance. That's a far better strategy than hurting yourself every spring.

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