Although running is a popular form of exercise advised for weight loss, not many know the reason for its effectiveness. In truth, running is an incredibly dynamic exercise working many parts of the body simultaneously, thus contributing to its efficacy as a full-body workout.
The importance of footcare is highly underestimated and frequently neglected by many runners. The foot is composed of four layers of muscle, some of which begin exogenously from the foot and in the leg itself.
Being the first point of contact between the body and the ground, the foot receives the most shock impact. To absorb the majority of the shock, runners are advised to wear well-cushioned running shoes suited for their feet curvature. A flat-footed person shouldn’t be wearing shoes with a high arch and vice versa. This form of ill-fitting will only result in inevitable injuries. On top of that, it’s also crucial that the bones and muscles surrounding and within it are steady, strong, and well-supported — for example, wearing guards, bands, or braces for your ankle, knee, and hip if needed.
For those with poor ankle strength or support, this can cause unnecessary stress on the foot by compensating for the immobility. It could lead to potentially painful medical issues such as Metatarsalgia, Plantar Fasciitis, or Bunions.
Nonetheless, protective or supportive gear are limited in their effectiveness. Strengthening the relevant muscle groups and joints through remediation exercises such as foot stabilization exercises can guarantee more effective results in the long term. These exercises typically focus on strengthening the big toe since it works in tandem with the glutes to enact the “push-off” movements during running. Such examples include “playing the piano” with your toes or alternating between raising your big toe and other toes off the ground.
The quads consist of four muscles located at the anterior thigh, namely the vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and rectus femoris. Out of these muscles, the rectus femoris is arguably the most injury-prone one due to its intersection at the hip joint.
Thus, whenever the rectus femoris contracts, it also inhibits hip mobility. As a result, some quad-dominant runners might endeavor to overcome this restraint by extending their gait further and using their hip flexors to propel themselves forward. However, this potentially overstrains and injures the anterior hip.
To prevent such injuries, experts advise people to learn proper running techniques where the foot is directly aligned with the pelvis. Additionally, extensively stretching your quads prior to a run is immensely helpful in improving its overall flexibility and mobility. Such examples include quad stretches which can be performed either standing, half-kneeling, or laying on one side. The main goal is to pull and tuck the foot beneath the glutes while maintaining a direct, perpendicular alignment between your pelvis and the ground.
3. Hip Flexors
The hip flexors are another major part of the body involved in running, mainly responsible for propelling us forward. This muscle group is especially critical in sprinting. The hip flexors comprise five muscles, where four of them are found in the pelvic region.
Again, no muscle group is complete without its most injury-prone muscle out of the bunch. In this case, the honor (or notoriety) goes to the iliopsoas. Stretching from the lower posterior hip and notwithstanding its role in back-posture stabilization during sitting and standing, it’s often the culprit for hip pains.
To prevent hip flexor injuries, it’s advised to harmoniously strengthen the hip flexors, glutes, and hamstrings collectively to avoid overexertion. Once the iliopsoas is compromised, stretching would do little benefit in helping its recuperation. Instead, better recovery might stem from targeting the glutes or hamstrings. Nonetheless, prevention is better than cure for this muscle.
Helpful stretches for the iliopsoas include adopting a lunge position while resting your back leg on the ground. Next, gently lean forward with your hip and raise your arm opposite to the raised, bended knee into a deep overhead stretch.
The hamstring is the muscle connecting the pelvis to the back of the knee. Its primary function while running involves facilitating the bending of the knee and hip extensions. Over-reliance on the hamstring without proper hip extensions can lead to pain and muscle swelling around the affected bones called Tendinopathy.
If this condition develops, patients are advised not to stretch the overstrained muscle and should instead consult a physical therapist to decisively locate the source of the strain. Through a pelvic tilt assessment, these specialists can then determine the exact source and proceed to prescribe the relevant strengthening exercises (usually the core) to treat it.
Thus, this in turn leads to the importance of good core strength. Without a strong core, the entire body is jeopardized because it’s pivotal in maintaining overall balance while running.
The core can be separated into the intrinsic and extrinsic regions. The former can be deconstructed into three components: the diaphragm (regulates breathing), pelvic floor muscles, and the transversus abdominus (muscles encasing the abdominal wall). The latter involves the larger and more popular muscle groups such as the obliques and the rectus abdominis (the abs).
Overall, the fact that good core strength is so fundamental in running proves why running is a full-body exercise. In fact, experts argue that intrinsic core muscles are more pertinent to extending support than the extrinsic muscles. Without sufficient core strength, runners wouldn’t be able to sustain good running posture and expose themselves to otherwise preventable/minimizable risks.
Therefore to prevent core injuries, experts recommend practicing dynamic balancing exercises inclusive of resistance training. Resistance can be incorporated into the balancing exercises through resistance bands. This dynamic balancing exercise is similar to the hip flexor lunge stretch but with added weight emphasis on the back, kneeled leg.
Next, the dynamic element comes in when you deeply inhale and press against the band using your hand. The inherent challenge of this is to maintain your balance by ensuring your core is stable. Upon exhaling, release pressure from the band and revert back to the original position. Repeat two to three sets of 10 reps for each leg for maximum benefits.
If you weren’t convinced before about the scientific effectiveness of running, we hope you are now. For those with weight loss as their fitness goal, running is especially useful since it holistically targets multiple muscle groups at one go. You reap many benefits from just one form of exercise. However, apart from shedding weight, running is equally capable of building and shaping muscles in the body for that toned look. Indeed, there’s something to be gained from running regularly for everyone.