Regularly Scheduled Body Maintenance: 13 Tools That Prevent Injuries and Improve Your Health

by Jason Fitzgerald

We all “know” the little things that we should do to stay healthy: get more sleep, be smart about our mileage, don’t push the pace so often. But are there specific tools that we can use to help us succeed?

Body Maintenance

In our quest to run faster, easier, or more consistently sometimes we need a reminder that injury prevention can be simple. That’s right – it doesn’t have to be as complex as many runners make it out to be.

You don’t need an Alter-G treadmill.

You don’t need a Cryosauna.

You don’t need a weird inflatable leg massager.

Many of the useful tools that help you stay healthy are inexpensive – or you may even already own them. But why should you be interested in this gear? Is it helpful?

Absolutely. Let’s talk about…

The Concept of Body Maintenance

If you own a car, you know how important it is to take it into the shop for regularly scheduled tune-ups. Without that maintenance, the life of your car is dramatically reduced.

Would you skip a tire rotation, never replace the oil or check the breaks? Of course not!

So why don’t you ever perform any body maintenance?

Runners are always pushing the limits of what their body is capable of accomplishing. They want to run more mileage, more workouts, and at a faster pace. And they want to do it now.

Unless you’re following the principle of progression, you’re going to end up breaking down on the side of the road (I swear that’s the last car analogy).

Regularly scheduled body maintenance will allow you to train at a higher level. You’ll be able to run healthier and feel better doing it. So what exactly is body maintenance? It’s all of the little things that you know you should be doing:

  • self-massage
  • dynamic flexibility
  • adequate fueling
  • strength workouts
  • icing
  • compression gear
  • a good diet
  • enough sleep

Recently I announced a giveaway for a Trigger Point kit, which can help you with your own body maintenance. Enter now to win – the giveaway ends tonight. [EDIT: this giveaway is now over]

To help you get more recovery methods into your training, I want to explain how you can use certain products to your advantage.

Massage on the Cheap

The great thing about massage is that you can get it done by a professional, a partner, or do it yourself. For the do-it-yourselfers out there, there are several tools that work really well.

A foam roller is the most common option for you and one of the most effective. It can be used for every muscle, though I haven’t found it very effective for the hamstrings. I’m not able to put as much pressure as I’d like – though you may find a foam roller ideal.

For trigger points, a tennis, golf, or lacrosse ball can be helpful. Put some of your body weight onto a lacrosse ball and you’ll be in a world of pain – just be careful and don’t massage yourself for more than 3-5 minutes on one particular muscle. You could make yourself even more sore than when you started.

Sidenote: if getting a professional massage is more appealing, look for massage schools in your area. They often offer dramatically reduced massages by students (who are just as good in my opinion).

Compression Gear: not just for old people

After I saw elites like Paula Radcliffe and Chris Solinsky consistently wearing compression socks, I tested a pair of calf compression sleeves and loved the results. The tight feeling is something I enjoy, plus the nerd in me likes the look.

The research is piling up that compression gear can help you recover from races, long runs, and hard workouts. I’ve tested socks and calf sleeves and both work well after workouts when you wear them for recovery.

Make sure you buy a pair that has graduated compression, meaning they’re tighter around the foot and ankle than at the calf. This will help improve blood flow and clear exercise by-products from your muscles more efficiently than a pair that has uniform compression.

Increasing Strength (you don’t need a gym membership)

The average annual cost of a gym membership is about $500 – even more if you include the initiation fee. Then factor in the commuting cost of getting there, the inconvenience of how long it takes, and those gross towels and you see why I’m not a big fan of gyms.

Besides, according to the authors of Freakonomics most people who buy gym memberships over-estimate how much they’ll go to the gym by 70%. If it’s not convenient for you, you’ll stop going.

Instead, it makes more sense to buy a few pieces of equipment to use at home. If you’re able to make a few small investments in your “home gym,” you should buy a Thera-band (for the ITB Rehab Routine, of course), a pull up bar, and a medicine ball. A set of adjustable dumbbells is also perfect for weighted squats, dead lifts, and upper body work.

With these tools you can vary your strength workouts to continue getting stronger, while paying about the same amount as a month of a gym membership – except it’s one-time and you’ll continue using the equipment for years.

Barefooting: a running cure-all?

One of my all-time best pieces of advice for any runner is: run 4-6 barefoot strides two or three times every week.

Barefoot Running

No matter what race you’re training for or what your ability level is right now, you will benefit from barefoot strides. They help prevent injuries, improve your foot and lower leg strength, reinforce good running form, and make you a better overall runner.

Of course, not everyone has access to a synthetic turf field where bare feet are safe. The next best thing is to run these strides in a pair of very minimalist shoes like Vibram FiveFingers or Merrell Trail Gloves. These two shoes are zero-drop (there’s no height differential between the heel and forefoot) and they allow significant flexibility and movement of the foot.

You can also do a very small amount of barefoot running 1-2 times per week to get similar benefits. Simply throw off your shoes and run easy for 1-5 minutes. More is not necessarily better, so keep it short. And of course, wear your minimalist shoes if you can’t run barefoot. Nobody likes to get stabbed with a nail, except this guy.

3 Steps to Creating the Perfect Night’s Sleep

Runners know that rest is crucial for recovery and to help you adapt from your workouts to get faster. But sometimes, life gets in the way of getting your rest: kids, work commitments, home maintenance, or just watching too much damn TV.

That makes it even more important to make sure the sleep that you do get is high-quality, with no tossing, turning, or waking up. There are three steps you can take to improve your sleep quality:

  1. Buy a pair of blackout curtains for your bedroom that block all outside light from your windows.
  2. Use a humidifier to prevent your mouth and sinuses from drying out overnight. You’ll breathe easier in a slightly more humid room.
  3. Read 20 minutes of fiction before bed to clear your head, forget your to-do list, and relax.

I use all three of these tools and my sleep quality has dramatically improved. Of course, you can also make a bigger investment and buy a high-quality mattress if you don’t already have one. You spend a third of your life on it, so why not make it comfortable?

Introducing: Body Maintenance Day

I want to propose a dramatically more effective type of recovery day for you. Most runners think of a “recovery day” as simply a day where they run easy or don’t run at all. And that’s it – the “recovery” is in not exercising.

Instead, let’s think about more holistic recovery. Whether you run or not on your Body Maintenance Day, you should dedicate time to pamper your body and enhance the recovery process.

A typical maintenance day will include:

  • 100% clean and healthy diet – no cheating
  • light core workout, but nothing too taxing
  • foam roller on all body parts
  • ice bath
  • an extra 1+ hours of sleep
  • no taxing work like yard care or home maintenance
  • no alcohol
  • compression socks worn all day

The “workout” on a Body Maintenance Day may include some running, but more importantly it will include (in this order) an easy core workout, foam roller work, and an ice bath.

Test out your own Body Maintenance day and let me know how it made you feel the next day. Holistic recovery is powerful!

Last Chance for a Free Trigger Point Kit!

If you liked the posts this week on injury prevention, you’re going to love the giveaway that ends tonight: sign up to my private list and leave your comment on this post. The contest ends at 11:59pm tonight so don’t wait.

Make sure you’re on my list (you can do that here) so I know where to send the 20% discount code. It’s for a specially made bundle of running products: an exercise band, Trigger Point massage ball, Grid foam roller, exercise ball, and calf compression sleeves.

[EDIT: this giveaway is now over]

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James @RedDirtRunner

Good advice Jason. I really like the idea of a weekly recovery day. I have a vision of me and my buddies, sitting around, taking turns on the foam roller, all decked out in our compression gear, wearing our Sole sandals or Salomon recovery shoes, sipping fruit smoothies, some nice aromatherapy, maybe a little Enya playing in the background as we prepare for our group nap. OK, maybe not any Enya. Am I taking this too far?
Now if I can just sell that to my wife and get a weekly hall pass.

Jason

James that might be a little creepy, but the running nerd in me would love a recovery session like that! Work on that hall pass…

John

I really like your idea of a recovery day. This would work great on training plans that have an off day after your long run.

Rebekah

This is really good. I like the idea of the recovery day…and I appreciate your very practical suggestions about how to get better sleep. I’m going to go to the library and get something escapist. Also, I’ve been forgetting to wear my compression socks, so thanks for that reminder!

Jason

You’re welcome :)

Steve Wilson

I’ve been looking at Compression gear for a lot of my shin problems as well. I have recently tried “KT Tape” for my shin splints. They have provided a lot of relief during the work day and otherwise. I have found that a lot of the benefit leaves after about 3 days. They say 4 – 5 days but I was not convinced. Still, I have been happy with the product.

Jason

I haven’t tried KT Tape yet. It’s on my list though…

Mark Eichenlaub

Excellent advice

Jessica Sanders

I love everything about this article! I have been running consistently, for long distances, for a little over a year now and am finding that I’m hurting in new places – and I was nervous that maybe I haven’t been taking the best care of my running body. This articles has helped A LOT. Thanks so much!

Jason

Thanks Jessica!

Bob Walters

Jason,
I think I’m set for goals. 1st 1/2 marathon Sept 29th, 2nd Oct 6th……a week vacation in- between I’ve qualified for the 2014 NYC marathon. BUT what to do between Oct 2013 & Nov 2014…..????

Jason Fitzgerald

The million dollar question! Take some recovery time but focus on shorter races for 2-3 shorter “seasons.” That should help you prep well before your official marathon training.

Chris

Jason, have you ever heard of someone getting injured with a massage ball or foam roller? I used a massage ball on my glutes/piriformis and foam roller on my hip flexor. This was a couple of months ago, and after a month of running through it and a miserable month of not running, I’m still not recovered (mostly hip flexor still hurts). Seems strange to me that massaging could have caused a months-long injury, but it also seems like a weird coincidence.

Jason Fitzgerald

Possible, though unlikely unless you really dug in there and damaged something. Best to do light/moderate massage.

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