The Best Way to Run for Your Joints
By: Courtney Sperlazza, MPH
October 23, 2017
If you’ve been following Bulletproof for a while, you know that long cardio sessions may not be the best for your performance. Running in particular can be hard on your joints, and if it’s weight loss you’re going for, there are definitely easier ways to trim down.
Weight loss aside, you may love running for other reasons. Running can put you into a meditative state. Aerobic exercise can be good for your cardiovascular health and it can even improve your mood and create new brain cells.
If you run for mental clarity and happiness, keep at it. But even if you’re built like a gazelle, running is hard on your body after a while. Keep reading to find out how to keep joints strong and running injuries to a minimum.
Evaluate your gait
Since running is a repetitive movement, it’s crucial that you get the motions right. Get a functional personal trainer or physical therapist to watch you run and:
- Evaluate foot points of contact
- Determine whether you are applying unnecessary pressure on joints from uneven stepping
- Spot hyper-extension and correct it
- Give you tips to prevent excess pounding
- Recommend braces or insoles based on your individual musculoskeletal build
Improper gait can cause arthritis and injury, so getting an evaluation goes a long way.
Get minimalist running shoes
If you’ve been wearing shoes since early toddlerhood, as most of us have, your feet are functionally mangled. They might look fine, but if you’ve been in contact with cultures that don’t wear shoes, you notice a big difference – their toes don’t touch each other. Our culture’s “normal” feet look pretty scrunched compared to feet that haven’t been confined to shoes.
Your feet behave differently when they can feel the ground, and as a result, you stand, walk, and run differently. If you watch a 1-year-old toddle across the floor, you’ll notice the little guy’s tiny toes “grabbing” the floor. You lose that as you grow up wearing shoes, and the natural motions of your feet and legs go with it. If you don’t grow up wearing shoes, the grippy quality of your foot movement sticks around.
Minimalist running shoes encourage your feet to move as nature intended, and fans of the barely-there shoe claim that minimalist shoes abated their usual running aches and pains. Your mileage may vary, but they’re worth a shot.
Wear a lightweight shoe made of flexible, breathable material. Contrary to what the commercials want you to believe, you don’t want your running shoes to absorb much impact. You need enough coverage to protect your soles from getting punctured by rocks, and otherwise, you should feel everything beneath you.
Vibram Five Fingers give you the most natural running experience you can get. Make sure to ease into them. Start with walking, then make your way up to your usual mileage over the span of a few weeks.
Watch your lectins
Lectins are compounds in plants that keep people and animals from eating them. They bind to the sugar molecules that wrap our cells.
Different lectins are attracted to different sugars in your body’s cells. The lectins in wheat and gluten-containing grains bind with glucosamine, the polysaccharide that coats your joints. This leads to inflammation, soreness, and swelling.
If you have joint trouble, cut out gluten and see if you notice any improvement. You can also get glucosamine supplements, though they don’t work for everyone. Supplementing glucosamine (specifically N-Acetyl-D-glucosamine) works because the lectin will bind the glucosamine from the supplement rather than snatching it from your joints.
Avoid inflammatory foods
Lectins work specifically on the joints, and inflammation from the food you eat can cause pain, swelling, and soreness anywhere in your body.
The Bulletproof Diet focuses on steadying blood sugar and keeping inflammation to a minimum. At the very least, avoid the top offenders like gluten, dairy, soy, and sugar.
Strength train for heart rate variability and stability
Running elevates your heart rate with evenly-spaced, moderate-intensity beats. A truly strong heart can immediately go from small pumps to strong pumps then back down to small again.
Endurance training benefits your heart, but you need high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to get your heart pumping hard when you need it to, then returning to a relaxed state when you no longer need the oxygen surge. HIIT exercises train your heart to do just that.
Choosing resistance training as your high-intensity interval training comes with an added bonus: stability. If you strengthen your back, your core, and your muscles that stabilize your knees and ankles, you run less risk of injury from a misstep. Strong stabilizing muscles will keep your positioning where it should be.
Functional personal trainers will work with you to design an injury risk reduction program with running in mind. They’ll likely design a whole-body plan with a specialized focus on the muscle groups around the joints that give runners trouble:
It’s best to work with a professional who can assess your build, diet, and lifestyle and come up with a custom program just for you.
Stretching and yoga
Regular stretching and yoga keep your muscles limber and it gives your joints the flexibility they need to reduce the risk of injury. Researchers found that regular yoga practice:
- Enhances running performance
- Improves oxygenation of your blood
- Upgrades your lung function
Starting your mornings with yoga or taking a class a few times per week will keep you in tip-top running shape.
Support your collagen
The most common runners’ injuries involve joints and connective tissue. The best thing you can do for your joints is to keep your connective tissue strong and give them what they need to repair fast when they become worn down from running.
Supplement collagen for your joints
Supplementing collagen protein gives you the amino acids that you’re probably lacking unless you’re eating organ meats a few times a week. Your whole body uses collagen, and your joints are densely packed with it.
A growing body of research shows that collagen hydrolysate helps the joints, especially joints that take a beating. Collagen supplementation reduced joint in athletes who took it for 24 weeks and several studies support that osteoarthritis patients would benefit from regularly taking collagen hydrolysate supplements.
Cryotherapy strengthens joint tissue, speeds recovery and reduces pain. Also, it enhances the effects of physical therapy and other injury treatments. If you don’t have access to a cryochamber, you can still benefit from a cold blast in the shower or applying ice packs to sore spots.
Remember, this isn’t a checklist. You don’t have to start all of these tomorrow. To prevent impact injuries from running, choose one or a few new practices and work them into your running regimen.
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