Training By Art Carey -
State College, PA Centre Daily Times
Don't Let Early Season Zeal Work You Over
At Bryn Mawr Running Co., spring is always
the busiest time of the year.
Bob Schwelm, owner of the running-gear
store, knows how the equation works: the more customers in March, the more
injuries in April and May.
This spring, Schwelm and other informed
observers expect to see a bumper crop of overuse ailments as mobs of weekend
warriors and recreational athletes hit the jogging trails, the bike paths, the
tennis courts, and the softball diamonds.
"You could call this story 'Adaptation,'"
says Havertown orthopedic surgeon Nick DiNubile. "Can the body adapt quickly
enough to what people will be throwing at it in a very short period of time?
... Many people have been sedentary all winter. Probably a majority have not
been working out and taking preventive measures. Now, suddenly, they want to
change, they want to shift their bodies into high gear."
So many are about to learn a hard lesson:
The body has limits and does not react kindly to sudden change. Go out and run
10 miles after a four-month layoff, and you'll be hurting the next day. Rapid
change in any aspect of the exercise trinity -- intensity, frequency, duration
-- almost ensures injury.
"The amazing thing about the body is that it
does adapt and it does get stronger," says DiNubile, "but if you ramp up too
quickly, your body breaks down before it has the chance."
Some folks are more prone to breaking down
"All of us bring weak links to the game," he
Age, obviously, is a factor. So are genes,
old injuries, improper rehab, inadequate conditioning.
Then there's what DiNubile calls "the weak
link in the executive suite." In other words, some people are "really stupid,
with all the body awareness of a stegosaurus (which was so dim it is believed
to have needed a separate brain to operate its tail).
Running the risk
Schwelm sees three types of customers come
The fair-weather runners. They
hibernate over the winter. Once the vernal equinox arrives, they bound
outdoors, eager to resume where they left off. Typically, they knock themselves
out of commission by breaking the cardinal commandment of fitness: Thou shalt
not do too much, too soon.
The hothouse runners. Good boys and
girls, they kept running through the arctic siege, but on a treadmill. Now,
they're trying to log the same mileage outside, except they've forgotten that
running outdoors is much tougher, what with the unforgiving surfaces, uneven
terrain, uphills and downhills, and wind resistance.
The rookie runners. They're stoked
and eager to test themselves. They have no idea how to train or what their
bodies can handle. Their enthusiasm is about to collide with the reality of
The body was designed to be used, not
overused. Among walkers, hikers, joggers and runners, overuse typically
presents itself as one of the Big Three: plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis
and shin splints.
Plantar fasciitis, or heel spur, is
inflammation of the band of connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the
foot. It hurts like the dickens; the first step in the morning can feel like
stepping on a hot spike.
Achilles tendinitis is inflammation
of the Achilles' tendon. Like PF, it is usually caused because the legs are
tight. The leg is a chain of muscles, tendons and ligaments that runs from the
toes to the hips. If that chain becomes too taut, sooner or later injury will
occur at the weakest link -- the plantar fascia, the Achilles' tendon, the calf
muscle, or hamstring.
Shin splints (tibial stress syndrome)
is inflammation of the shin bone. The usual suspects: muscle constantly pulling
on the bone (often because of faulty foot architecture and lousy leg
alignment), and/or too much shock, or at least more shock than the bone can
absorb. The result: hairline fractures.
So much for the bad news. The good news: It
doesn't have to be. The wisdom of the ancients still holds: moderation in all
things. Beyond that, heed this sensible advice: Listen to your body.
"If something doesn't feel right, it
probably isn't," says Huntingdon Valley podiatrist Ira Meyers, who won the
Philly Marathon in 1986. "If you haven't done anything in a while, it's normal
to wake up and feel stiff. Stiffness is not a bad thing, but swelling is a
warning sign you shouldn't ignore. Never run with a swollen Achilles tendon.
Never run on a swollen knee."
What should you do? Rest, ice, compression
Adds DiNubile: "What I tell my sedentary
patients or those coming back from an injury is: Make sure you feel good not
only the night after exercise but also the next day. Sometimes, the red light
doesn't come on right away. Sometimes, the message that you've gone over the
limit is delayed."
Savvy doctors know that exercise is
medicine, and subject to the same dose/response principle. The right dose can
be a cure; too much can be poison.
So start slow. "In the beginning, you
probably shouldn't run any faster than you can walk," says Joan Osborne of Fast
Tracks, a women's running club. "Intensity is not the issue; duration is more
DiNubile goes further. "Don't run to get in
shape," he declares. "Get in shape to run."
"If you're overweight or deconditioned,
running is a pretty heavy-duty activity that subjects the joints and
cardiovascular system to a lot of stress," he says.
His recommendation: Try to get in shape
"before you run by losing weight and building strength and a cardiovascular
base through low-impact training (cycling, rowing, exercising on an elliptical
When you're ready to run, begin by walking a
mile briskly, DiNubile suggests. How does your body feel that night? The day
after? Then gradually incorporate some running. Walk a third, jog a third, walk
He advocates the 10 Percent Rule: Don't ramp
up more than 10 percent per week.
The go-slow approach applies to more
advanced runners, too.
"Elite runners hire coaches not so much to
motivate them to run faster, but to put a chain around them and slow them
down," Schwelm says. "Running is the one sport where if you go hard every day
you're going to get hurt."
His advice: Run hard twice a week. The other
days are for recovery.
Rest is just as important as exertion.
Exercise is physical stress that literally rips up your body, causing untold
microtears in your muscle and connective tissue. Without adequate rest, healing
won't happen. Body parts wear out, become injured and inflamed.
And let's not forget about stretching. When
it comes to locomotion, walking, hiking or running, it boils down to your
"prime movers" -- the calves, the quads and the glutes.
The key to injury prevention is bringing the
body back into balance. How? By working the muscles opposite the prime movers.
To stretch the calves, you work the shin muscles; to stretch the quads, you
work the hamstrings; to stretch the glutes, you work the hip flexors.