Running is an excellent form of cardio, but to stay safe and strong as we age, we’ll want to keep these tips in mind.
How to Improve Your Running Form
Poor running technique can lead to inefficient form and injuries. Before poor form starts to negatively affect your runs, incorporate these techniques:
- Posture: Lead with your chest and hips together, keeping your shoulders straight so that they don’t roll inward. As you run, keep your torso straight, leaning very slightly forward to direct your body in a more aerodynamic motion. Straight shoulders allow for fuller, more open lungs.
- Relaxation: Keeping your torso, shoulders, and arms free of tension is key to efficient form and eases up stress on your joints.
- Footstrike: While this topic alone can get complicated, keep it simple by being aware of how you land on each stride. Virtually all runners have a heel strike, midfoot strike, or forefoot strike. None of these positions is perfect, but all three have their pros and cons. Make sure that you’re not landing on the outside or the inside edge of your foot.
- Stride: Your legs should not be overstriding and reaching too far out in front of you to grab the ground. Your feet should strike the ground as they are under you, not in front. Your knees should be flexing at a 90-degree angle once you are warmed up.
- Arm position: Your arms should counterbalance your leg strides. Keep them comfortable and fluid and not overly crossing your body. Take care not to pump your arms too hard, thereby wasting valuable energy. Keep them at a 90-degree angle.
Start out by focusing on these basics, and you’ll see some improvement in your form and endurance!
[Related: Guide to Fitness Shoes for Baby Boomers]
How to Stay Safe While Trail Running
Even the most experienced road runners will tell you that trail running can seem like an entirely different sport. One issue that is less relevant with road running is personal safety due to the backcountry challenges as well as varying and challenging terrain.
To stay safe while trail running, keep these tips in mind:
- Good form translates to safety: On a typical run, you don’t need to worry about catching your toe on a root or rock when you tire at the end of your run on uneven and unpredictable terrain. It is a different story on the trail. Take care to lift your feet and shorten your stride. When running downhill, keep your center of balance lower and your arms looser and down at your sides for stability.
- Let someone know where you are: Leave a note, send a text, or even post to social media. If you end up needing help, people have to know where to go.
- Consider trail running shoes as opposed to regular runners: They are engineered for more support and the soles have traction designed for the trail environment.
- Know your surroundings: This is not the time to wear headphones. Be alert and oriented to the route. Trails tend to look similar and even on a trail you run frequently, it can be easy to take a wrong turn or miss a landmark. Make mental notes as you go along of particular trees or large boulders.
- Know your route: Study a map ahead of time and carry a copy with you, especially if you are trying a new trail system.
- Adapt constantly: The trails change often and repeatedly; you cannot expect to hit your stride and rhythm as you do on road runs. It is a completely different beast and you need to adjust accordingly.
- Be ready for the hills: They can be steep and long, and you may need to “power hike” some of the tougher ones instead of running.
- Protect yourself: Carry a form of personal protection, such as pepper spray.
- Stand out: Wear bright colors or reflective strips, especially if it is hunting season.
- Wear a fanny pack or small backpack: You never know when your one-hour run could take some unexpected turns, and you’ll want to be prepared. Your pack should be big enough for some food, water, and a basic first aid kit.
- Have your cell with you for safety: Better yet, download a running app and set it going not only to log your run, but as a safety backup in case you get lost.
- Watch out for bears: Although bear attacks on runners or hikers are extremely rare, you need to be prepared:
- Bears would much rather run the other way, so make noise by clapping, whooping, hollering, or blowing a whistle to send them packing.
- If you run with a dog, keep it leashed. Most dogs will aggravate an otherwise timid bear.
- Bears are less likely to bother groups, so run with a buddy.
- Avoid running trails at dawn or dusk, when bears are more active.
[Related: Hiking Guide for Adventurers Over Age 50]
Why Runners Need to Do Strength Training
Like so many things, our running speed tends to slow down as we age. However, that might not be totally due to the speed at which our legs move and our bodies function. A 2015 study suggests that it may be due at least in part to shorter strides and lessening use of the lower leg muscles:
“With each passing decade, the runners’ stride length and preferred speed dropped by about 20 percent.Gretchen Reynolds, “Why Runners Get Slower With Age (and How Strength Training May Help)”
Meanwhile, runners older than about 40 displayed much less activation of and power in the muscles of their lower legs, especially those around the ankle and in the calf.
Consequently, Dr. DeVita and his colleagues found, these runners pushed off more weakly with each stride and did not rise as high into the air as younger runners, a change in form that accelerated as runners reached their 50s.
Interestingly, the scientists did not see any accompanying increase in the activation of the runners’ hip muscles, as they had seen in walkers. The older runners used their ankle muscles less but not other muscles more. Instead, they simply slowed down.”
While this study is very limited and an early look at this issue, it clearly shows that as we age, our strength and stride are affecting our running speed. Endurance athletes should incorporate strength training into their workouts to balance out their long-distance running, cycling, and other cardio workouts because it:
- Increases output of power, allowing you to last longer: We know that proper form allows you to move more efficiently, which extends your limits on movement and energy. Stronger muscles prevent your form from degrading and are more efficient at doing their jobs, which extends your endurance.
- Reduces stress triggered by fatigue: Endurance runners all experience fatigue, and when it sets in, their posture can slip, putting stress on the neck, shoulders, and hips. However, runners who have trained the appropriate muscle groups for strength can maintain a more powerful posture and avoid that stress.
- Develops better resistance to injury: Strength training improves your technique, posture, joint function, and bone density — all of which are strong contributing factors to your body’s resistance to injury and ability to recover.
[Related: Weight Training Tips After Age 50]
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