This article is part of the Sunday Runday series.
If you’re new to running or returning to the sport after a break, it may be tempting to grab your running shoes and strike while the iron’s hot. But Kelsey Sobol, MS, NSCA-CPT, with ProMedica Wildwood Athletic Club says there are major benefits to doing some preliminary planning and screening before hitting the pavement.
According to Sobol, here are three things every beginner should do before running. And experienced runners could benefit, too, by doing these regularly:
1. Check in With Your Doctor
“Running is a little more abusive in nature,” warns Sobol. “There’s a higher rate of injury because you are doing thousands of repetitions of the same thing.” Even if you seem perfectly healthy, Sobol says your doctor can evaluate your health to see if there’s anything you should take into consideration of your running plan. Seeing your cardiologist is especially important, especially if you have a heart condition that could be affected by your new exercise.
2. Have a Functional Movement Screening
A functional movement screening is an examination that can be done to see how your body is working, and to find subtle things that could affect your running or potentially cause injury. Through movement-based testing, a professional can check things like muscle imbalances and alignment. For instance, a slight dip in the knee while squatting may not seem like much, but after thousands of running steps, this dormant issue could lead to a substantial injury.
“Testing is just scratching the surface of what a functional movement screening is designed for,” says Sobol. Then, you have to “fix” what you find. Sometimes this is a list of recommended exercises a person can do at home; other times, it may require more extensive therapy. It all depends on the person, their health history and their goals.
In addition to avoiding injury, another key benefit of the screening is improved efficiency. Certain exercises and stretches can help propel your functionality so that you are less fatigued and more efficient in your runs. Another reason why even experienced runners could benefit from going back to the basics.
While some doctors are able to perform a functional movement screening, you may be referred to a physical therapist or certified trainer, like Sobol who performs these screenings and a gait analysis on clients.
3. Develop a Training Plan
“Winging it” may seem like an easier and faster approach to running, but you probably won’t get the results you’re looking for, and you could be setting yourself up for injury.
“Your body is a responsive organ,” says Sobol. “But it’s only responsive to certain things. A thoughtful, progressive plan that’s specific to your goal is important for everyone.” That means that someone who is prepping for a 5k will have a very different program than someone who wants to lose fat mass. And someone who wants to lose fat mass will have a very different program than someone who wants to strengthen their heart health.
If you’re looking online for a running plan, check out various sources and use a plan very similar to other plans, so you have a better chance of following a solid plan that’s not too drastic. Just keep in mind that nothing beats going directly to an expert. “There’s a huge benefit to having a real human being across from you, talking with you,” says Sobol. A person is more likely to know your history and your goals so they can tailor a plan just for you. Sobol recommends a local running coach if you are able to have one.
With limited equipment and plenty of opportunities to do it anywhere and anytime, running may seem like an easy sport. However, it requires just as much preparation, practice and learning as other sports.
“Just because you have a human body, doesn’t mean that you’re an expert in how it works,” reminds Sobol. So don’t be afraid to find expert help to make sure you’re running on the right track.