I started running when I was 40. And no, my knees haven’t collapsed. I am not confined to a wheelchair either. Nor am I stricken by injuries—and I don’t have a damaged spine. What I do have now is a healthy body and a perpetual smile on my face. Here’s what I do—warm up, run, cool down and stretch.
This is no complicated manual. And the best thing is that you are your own coach as you listen to your body.
Before you set off on your run, it is advisable to warm up for a few minutes, going down from head to toe. I do a variety of things, but the main purpose is the same: to loosen various parts of the body.
• Rotate your head a couple of times, touching your ear to your shoulder, chin to your chest, and a backward stretch.
• Then, hands on your hips, try to move your upper body similarly, on all sides.
• Stretch your arms—shaking them—so that your arm muscles vibrate and loosen up.
• Now, shake your leg muscles. Stand on your toes and stretch your calves. And then, standing on your heels, lift your toes to stretch the muscles around your shins.
• Do a shuffle dance as you move your feet around and shake your ankles.
• End this routine by wiggling your toes and fingers.
You can even develop your own routine over time.
The only thing is: Start slow. Like anything else you do in life, ease into the run from your walk and warm-up, go on for at least five minutes before you get into your plan for the morning and increase the intensity of your run.
The more adventurous among us may increase the intensity of the run for a bit in between, but then you need to slow down. At the end of the run, you need to walk again, as you reduce the intensity of the exercise.
Do not get caught up in the macho business of “I don’t want to be seen walking in between a run, else I will look like a wimp.”
This is as important as the warm-up, as your muscles need to start de-stressing before they finally get into resting mode.
You may want to swing your arms or do a few shakes that you did during the warming up. You may even want to do something else.
This is one of the most important parts of any exercise to keep you in good shape in the long term. Think of this phase as the servicing and cleaning of the car after a rally. This is also the part that most people tend to skip due to seemingly good reasons: I have no time, stretching is not important, I feel great at the moment so why should I, I am very flexible, I’ll stretch tomorrow….
But do not kid yourself. Spend five minutes, if not 10, stretching—again—you need to stretch your arms, torso and legs. You could start off with some of the exercises you know or else do the simple ones outlined below:
• Stand a few feet from a wall, fence or bench. Put your hands up on the wall, fence or bench, bend your knees slightly and lean forward. The calves should get a stretch out of this one.
a. If you bring one foot forward and keep the other straight and pressure down, the muscles below the calves get stretched.
b. And if you put both feet together and push back with your hands, with your feet straight, you will feel a stretch on your hips and lower back.
• Try a second exercise of standing on a foot and lifting your heel with your hand and touching it to your buttocks.
• And then a third exercise, of kneeling and sitting down on your ankles, and feeling the stretch of your thigh muscles.
You can have a few other stretches that may motivate you, apart from gently trying to stretch and touch your toes, to stretch your lower back and your calves. But however you stretch, do it gently and not vigorously
If you have a pain in your shins or shin splints, as some call them, check your shoes: Are they worn out or are they not suitable because you are flat footed, as spelt out in an earlier column? If either is true, replace your shoes. Else, you can reduce your runs, rest a bit. Also try and strengthen the muscles of your shin (i.e. the front of leg below your knees). You could do this by standing on a step and raising both sets of toes, or a more strenuous version of this.
Some of us could get a pain in the knee area, called Runner’s Knee, if we have been running. Rub ice on your knee after exercise, reduce the amount of running, run on a treadmill instead of on the road and review the condition and appropriateness of your shoes again.
Rahul S. Verghese is director, Global Consumer Insights, Motorola, India