Build Muscle from Top to Toes
It's a great idea to complement your runs with weight lifting, but you might be skipping over a crucial body part. A hot trend in running is foot strength. Some argue that ultra-padded running shoes can actually increase injury risk as they cause feet to become weak.
Coach Eric Orton, trainer to the best-selling author of Born to Run, Chris McDougall, recommends this exercise to build foot strength. First, try to balance on one foot for two minutes. If that isn't challenging, try balancing on your forefoot alone. Over time, the muscle memory, sensitivity and strength of the foot will activate other muscles up the leg.
Physical therapist Misuria agrees. In my first session at his office, we spent 25 minutes "waking up" the muscles in my feet. This would allow me to be more aware of my footfall while I ran, and to prevent me from compensating for weaknesses in my foot. Both Orton and Misuria recommend brief and periodic stints of barefoot running.
Mix it Up
Most coaches agree that the average runner needs to supplement their running with cross training. Trying new activities can increase your fitness while giving your body a break from running—and you might just have some fun.
Maryland-based running coach Christine Hinton explains, "Running trains a very specific set of muscles and hence leaves others weak." She encourages runners to do anything that involves core development to balance the body. Yoga, Pilates and swimming are all great choices. Coach Conlon also believes in the benefits of low-impact exercises like biking. He says, "It is the best way to add volume to your training without the added stress of extra running days."
Healthy muscles and bones need support from proper fueling. Cristina Rivera, RD, president of Nutrition In Motion, PC, says that the number one mistake runners make is not getting enough calories during and after workouts. Inadequate calorie consumption will lead to soreness and poor recovery, thus increasing your likelihood of injury.
Runners need to eat a balanced diet complete with carbohydrates, protein and fats. Rivera points out that women often resist eating carbohydrates, which are critical for proper performance. "Carbs are fuel," she explains. "When your body doesn't have enough fuel it starts to break down proteins and you lose muscle."
Women also have a higher need for iron, B vitamins, calcium and vitamin D in their diets. Andrea Cherus, RD, co-author of Nutrient Timing for Peak Performance, explains that female runners can also be at greater risk for anemia due to monthly menstrual losses. A good way to ensure you get enough regardless of diet is to take a multi-vitamin.
Of course, even with these precautions it's still possible to get injured (think: twisting your ankle in a hidden pot hole), but building a healthy base will help reduce the severity of the injury and enable you bounce back faster.