Whether you’re training for a race or use running as a part of maintaining your fitness, it can take a toll on your body. When you exercise and stress the body and don’t give yourself enough rest or recover properly you can burnout real quick. As a runner it’s not only your mileage and the intensity of your runs that you need to take into account—how’s your sleep, stress at work/home, nutrition to fuel your exercise, daily movement habits, what do your rest days look like?
Let’s dive into the importance of post-race care
There is good reason massage therapists are part of a runner's entourage- especially post-race. Science has proven that massage can’t “flush toxins or lactic acid” but what massage does do is apply moving pressure to muscles and other tissues such as tendons, ligaments, and fascia (which sheaths muscles like casing). The energy from that work does soften the fascial structures in the body and makes those muscles relax. It also helps to mitigate adhesions and reduce the buildup of scar tissue which will ultimately allow optimal range of motion. That's especially great news for runners, who rely on limber joints and muscles for pain-free peak performance.
While there’s many things you can do for post-race recovery out there, but what’s missing are self-assessments to help you understand why you are sore or not recovering from your race or long run that you can do to keep yourself in check.
Post-Run/Race Recovery Assessments
Tightness and restrictions, especially in lower extremities, might be impacting your running performance – let’s look at two quick tests and mobility to help alleviate the restrictions
Post-Race Recovery Assessment 1: Forward Bend
Stand with your feet together right under your hips, knees straight, and try to reach down toward the floor. Keep your spine tall, some people will create a false sense of range by flexing their spine. If your fingertips don’t reach the ground, you likely have hamstring or low back tightness that can impact your posture during running, which could either lead to early fatigue and possibly injury. Alternately, if you can palm the ground you don’t have enough tension in your hamstrings and are missing strength & stability in your glutes and hips. Hamstrings are a pretty resilient group, while they should be able to achieve proper range of motion, they should not be a super flexible.
Post-Race Recovery Assessment 2: Lunge Test
Here we are checking hip flexor (quad and psoas) and ankle mobility. Tight quads can induce large anterior pelvic load. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Take a big step forward with your right leg. Make sure your front foot is in neutral (arch is not collapsing toward the floor), your left glute is squeezed tight, and your hips are squared forward. Now slowly drop your left knee straight down to the ground. You should be able to do this keeping an upright torso and tall spine, without the hips twisting and without the front knee falling in toward midline. Switch sides
Post-Race Recovery Mobility
Now that you know where you’re feeling tension, try these two techniques to address the tightness and speed up your recovery!
Your Quadratus Lumborum muscles (QL) are found on either side of the lower back and are crucial in stability of the low back, especially when seated. Connecting the lower spine to the pelvis, the QL is a busy muscle, its actions include bilateral flexion, extension of the lumbar spine, respiration (helping the diaphragm to contract), and it’s an elevator of the hip.
If we get a tight and grumpy QL, we have to look at the bigger picture. This muscle never works alone, and if he is overworked and overlooked it’s because his neighbors are not doing their job. Many of you may know about these muscles in relation to back pain, and they are often the source of great discussion when trying to identify lower back issues. However, they are sometimes unfairly blamed as the sole culprit for pain and we can easily forget that the QL is just one part of a whole system of muscles that work together to support, stabilize and mobilize the spine.
In order to look after our QL we need to understand its relationship with the muscles around it, its anatomy and what we can do to strengthen it and release it. So, let’s do a quick crash course of anatomy. The QL is found on either side of the lumbar spine. They attach to the iliac crest (top of the hip bone), the transverse processes of the L1- L4 (lumbar vertebrae) and the twelfth rib (your last rib).
What can you do to make the QL happy?
Work Your CoreThe QL is often overworked when we are sitting. So anybody out there who works in an office chair, this is especially important for you. A strong core is very important in stabilizing your lower back when sitting for long periods of time. If your core is not that strong, your QL (the marathon runner of muscles) works overtime in supporting us. This means it gets tight and tired. So work on your core to protect your QL!
Work Your Glutes
Your deeper gluteal muscles (medius and minimus), among many other things, help to stabilise your pelvis during walking. So the QL and the glutes work together to stabilize our posture when moving. If your gluteal muscles are weak, again your QL will overcompensate.
Work Your SpineThe erector spinae are a group of muscles that run along either side of your whole spine. They extend the spine and when only one side is contracting, bend your spine to the side. Immediately you’ll recognize the identical actions as our QL. They are very close co-workers. If your erector spinae are weak, again your QL has to take up the slack.
As humans, it’s a fundamental trait to our survival. We adapt to our surroundings. We fall back into patterns, if just feels normal and comfortable.
Sadly, it is a trait that can throat punch us. I would argue, when we become settled and comfortable we get “soft” and vulnerable. You start to see things as your are, not how the world is. PERCEPTION. This is a perfect time for injury to sneak itself in. With that being said, pain is also perception. 10/10 subjective. Hear me out, Rick Flair walks up and pops you in the face, I’d cry and you may laugh. Same external stimulus, different response.
Pain is your body’s way of begging for change! Changing how you move ultimately will change how you think 🤯 brain and body are really good friends.
How can we make change?
Simply put: get out of your own way. keep it simple, it really is that easy
• get on the ground, move with your kids, sit and read
•Exercise outside: go hike, go rock climb, paddle board. Get out of the Sagittal plane
• hop to your car after work? I don’t know, you may make friends?
• stop taking the elevator, maybe walk sideways up the steps
• kneel or stand at your office desk
•squat during office meetings, again you may get some weird looks
As you are reading this, get off your seat (I assume you are sitting) and drop into a squat with feet flat on the floor, now stay there for 5 minutes.
Humans were designed for movement. Movement is ancient. Hiking, running, dancing, squatting, climbing, throwing, these are all movements our bodies are built for.
Mobility is the most critical piece of the programming. One more time, mobility is the most important piece of the programming. When I say “mobility”, I do not mean the 5 minutes before class that you unintentionally roll around on the foam roller. I am speaking to finding your weakness in range of motion and being disciplined in addressing them. Before you pull the trigger on me and say “But, Sara, well, what about strength training, endurance, gymnastics, and all the other foundational movements of CrossFit? Yes, those are critical and we should be keeping things varied. It is not just about how strong you are, but how strong are you in good positions? How efficient are you in endurance so it doesn’t affect your cardiovascular system aka your heart! But, for me, functional movement at its core comes down to mobility. It is the meat and potatoes of CrossFit, and I would argue, of life.
I am so passionate about this topic, because for me, mobility and getting into certain positions (mainly squatting) was a HUGE limiting factor. It is something that I still manage and is a challenge for me. I believe to my bones, that if people focused more on moving well and getting into better positions, there would be far less injuries and much more longevity of life and in the sport. You may have to strip your ego a little and re-educate your muscles in different positions, but trust me, it will pay off.
With most of our population being desk jockeys and being involved in sitting hours of the day, our hips, core, legs, shoulders, chest and pretty much our entire body can become tight and having a huge impact on mobility.
This next week, I challenge you to take 10 minutes of your day…10, that is it and dedicated it to movement. Just get on the floor with your kids, or stay after and grab a coach for some direction!