We all know the word rehab. Whether it’s a house or our running body, it’s working with something that has fallen apart, or at least not functioning properly, and making it whole or materially better – restoration! Prehab is something of a contraction of preventative rehab. Meaning, if we do things to ward off injury, we may avoid the need for rehab. Makes sense, of course, and we could agree nobody wants to deal with an injury. We just want to run! So, what to do?
First, there are some pretty basic exercises that can/should be done on a near-daily basis. They include eccentric heel dips — (see November 10, 2015 blog post), against-the-wall calf stretches, standing quad stretches — pulling your bent leg back from the ankle and feeling the stretch in the hip flexors, rope pulls – lying on your back and pulling your leg up with three progressive 15-20 second pulls, weighted knee extensions – most easily done on the leg extension machine, and goblet or wall squats. See the Runner Resources – Resistance Exercises section on my website for descriptions of several of these. Nothing really fancy with this battery, but they strengthen and stretch multiple muscles in the hip and lower extremity, i.e., our drive train for running.
An often overlooked way to employ prehab is regularly doing non-running aerobic exercises. Especially as we age, our bodies need a change of pace. For masters, running more than five days a week is an invitation for injury. I have gravitated more towards four days a week, with one of those days a long run and another on hills or the track. The other two are easier efforts, though with some change of terrain built in and running drills (see Runner Resources – Form Drills) twice a week. On non-running days, I can be found in the pool doing deep water running, Stairmaster, or on the bike — all non-impact.
Covid-19 has proven a challenge for runners in various ways. Some have actually found themselves running more during the pandemic. Perhaps to escape boredom, and with so much uncertainly, running was an activity we could control. Others found with access to many fitness facilities closed or populated by potential Covid spreaders, they avoided the gyms, further curtailing non-running exercise. For some, this led to the near-daily running syndrome. A problem, as suggested above.
The last aspect of prehab involves racing. There is built-up demand in all of us to race in person: to see friends and challenge ourselves against the competition. Thus, after 18 months of virtual racing there is a tendency to over race. This is even more likely with favorite spring and summer races moved to the fall, creating a racing logjam! I’ve noticed a few senior runners racing almost every weekend. This is a setup for injury! Rather than race more, the need is to be very selective and, if anything, race less as we work our way back into racing form. When we race, we tend to put the hammer down. This stresses every system in our body. And while good periodically, maybe every two or three weeks, the aging body is not equipped to handle a weekly race menu.
For sure, there are individual differences in all of this. One size does not fit all. If we truly listen to our bodies, they will tell us what we can do. In any event, keeping these various aspects of prehab in mind will go a long ways towards helping us avoid rehab.