Anytime you’ve been sidelined, it can be daunting to find the motivation to step back into running. As a general rule, the less time you have taken off, the easier it will be to find your way back to peak performance, but anyone contemplating a return to running should proceed carefully. Running requires a significant amount of aerobic capacity. Aerobic strength happens when you have red blood cells speeding oxygen to your muscles and mitochondria that create energy-rich molecules for your cells. After time off, these stores will be notably depleted.

Running can be tied to powerful emotions for some people. Having to take time off for whatever reason can be disappointing at best, and may even stir up feels of depression, irritability and uncertainty. Diving back into it can also be exhausting to both the body and mind.

Athletic trainers play a significant role in the rehabilitation of injured athletes, from the professional level all the way to the weekend warrior. Most of them have seen it all; from aches and sprains to total rehabilitation. Here are nine tips from our OrthoCarolina athletic trainers to get back to running:

  • Invest in a good pair of running shoes. Try to get a running evaluation to see what shoe is right for your running pattern.
  • Supplement strength training with your running routine. Seek out a professional if you don’t know how to get started.
  • Remember to incorporate “rest days”. Rest days are an essential part of your running routine that allow your body to properly heal and should be followed just like other training days.
  • Go for distance not time. Remember to progress slowly. Don’t be afraid to begin with a walk/jog sequence.
  • Have a plan: Do your research on appropriate running progressions. Don’t just start running without educating yourself first. Progressing a running program without any rationale and within two to three weeks means people may start to develop problems with their feet, knees, and/or hips.
  • Consult with a physician, physical therapist, athletic trainer or personal trainer about possible muscle imbalances that may lead to injury as you progress your running program. Do this early enough that you can start to fix these imbalances before starting or progressing your program.
  • Choose an appropriate training surface. It is highly recommended that you start your running program on a flat surface until you build up enough cardiovascular and muscular strength and endurance to alter your training surface. If you start running in a hilly area first you may cause excessive muscle soreness that will limit the progression through your program.
  • Maintain proper nutrition and sleep patterns. Seek out help from appropriate personnel, such as a nutritionist, who can educate you about what type of food, how much of it you should be eating, and the timing to correspond with your running schedule. You should be getting at least eight to nine hours of sleep a night, which is sometimes very difficult to do. However you will notice early cardiovascular and muscle fatigue the day after a short night’s sleep.
  • Foam rolling is a great way to start and end your run. This prepares your muscles for activity and recovery. Some of the main benefits include increasing blood flow to the muscle, increasing tissue extensibility and ROM, and helpful for prevention of injury. Try to target the quads, hip adductors, hamstring, ITB and calves.

Pamela Brown, Alexa Rooney, ATC and Ray Beltz, ATC are athletic trainers with OrthoCarolina Huntersville. Brown and Beltz are part of the OrthoCarolina Motorsports Program and work with NASCAR athletes and Rooney is part of the OrthoCarolina Wellness team.