A friend of mine recently became the proud father of a healthy, baby boy, and we were marveling at the intricacy of the human body. Like a brand new car, with a clean odometer, his newly minted son was ready to take on the world. But for those of us operating a slightly older model, our bodies may feel less shiny Ferrari and more rusted jalopy. To ensure your wheels stay road-worthy as you age, here are five simple maintenance activities.
Improve Single-leg Balance
If you’ve ever experienced an ankle injury, odds are you may have either functional or mechanical deficits. Deficits that affect posture, gait, range of motion, or overall stability can be addressed with improving your single leg balance. Try this assessment trick to establish a baseline: Stand on one leg in a doorway and count the number of times you require correction or have to touch the doorframe in a minute. To improve your balance, repeat this activity. To progress, try it with eyes closed. To progress further, close your eyes, put in your earbuds, and jam out.
Embrace Surface Variability
There is a substantial amount of clinical evidence that shows trail runners have fewer injuries than the road warriors. Running on variable surfaces soups up the neural circuitry wired from your brain to your foot and improves overall ankle and foot stability. Hit the trails. You don’t have to go far; your local park can suffice.
Pop a Squat Daily
The mechanical advantage of a deep squat has been thoroughly researched, but our culture has adopted a sitting posture for many of life’s activities. Our postural alignment, pelvic position, and ability to recruit powerful muscles have been adversely affected as a result. The solution is to spend at least 10 minutes a day in a deep squat position (and, of course, spend less time sitting!).
Attempt to keep your toes facing forward, and use the kitchen sink or couch to hold onto if you need help with balance.
Massage, bodywork, soft tissue mobilization…whatever you want to call it, your body needs it. As runners, you send two-and-a-half times your body weight through your tissues and bones with every step. The cumulative trauma leaves your lower legs as gnarled up as an old piece of beef jerky. Plantar fascia problems, tibial and Achilles tendonopathies, and dreaded shin splints can all be remedied with routine soft tissue work. Even the most brilliant engineering sometimes needs some maintenance.
Work On Stability in All Three Planes
To ensure the most economical and healthy gait pattern, we need stability in the three major planes of movement (frontal, sagittal, and transverse). Due to the repetitive nature of running in a line, runners often have overdeveloped hip flexors and knee extensors, and strength deficits in hip abductors and external rotators. Ultimately, this can lead to poor lumbo-pelvic stability and secondary injuries such as iliotibial band syndrome, patellofemoral pain syndrome (“runner’s knee”), and sacral-iliac pain.
Try this trick: Spend 90 seconds swinging your leg forward and backward, side to side, and in a rotational pattern around your standing leg (30 seconds in each position). It’s a great way to strengthen stability muscles around your hip and you can do it anywhere!