Smutty Fitness: Foam rolling
I recently started jogging. I am, very much, the definition of a couch potato. I was never an active child, and I've spent years of my adult life alternating between a very sedentary lifestyle and taking up certain activities just to get bored with them after a few months. But now I've realized that at my age (late 30s) I need to make an effort, and certain lifestyle changes (becoming a freelancer and being able to set my own schedule, for example) and wake-up calls (sick relatives, realizing that looking young for my age just gives me an excuse to not change bad habits) have motivated me to make healthier choices and adhere to them.
I decided to jog because it's easier for now. I'm not a big fan of gyms, and while I've been looking around for places, I know it's going to take some time before I settle for one I like. Plus, jogging doesn't give me much room for excuses. I also really like it, which has been a surprising discovery, and it's been thrilling to find out that I'm actually capable of doing it. I started one of those 25k programs and it's worked pretty well for me. But in the last few days, I've had trouble with my knees. They don't hurt, but they feel uncomfortable. Not while I jog, but later on. The sensation is comparable to when you lock your knees while standing up and then try to walk.
I'm a tad overweight but my BMI is pretty much within the "normal" range (in the high end of it though). I've tried to jog as properly as possible, minding my posture, my stride and foot landing. So I don't know if I'm missing something or if this is simply a result of age and years of being sedentary. I dread the idea of stopping now that I've gotten in the habit. I was thinking of adding weight lifting, and then other activities (Pilates, boxing lessons) later on anyway, but keep jogging and then going for speed instead of just endurance. I really enjoy it, and a bit part of that is the outdoors aspect. But I don't want to hurt my knees. I know jogging and running invariably stress the joints, but I’ve read tons about it and know it can be manageable. I wasn’t expecting to see any effect so early on. I don’t know if I should stop for a while and do other things instead, or just try to improve my mechanics.
It sounds to me like you are having some issues with the muscles that are responsible for the stability of your knee and these muscles have become very tight and unhappy. I suggest you get into a physiotherapist to make sure that there is not something more serious that needs attention before you continue with your running, but once you receive the go ahead, add these simple foam rolling exercises to your post run stretching repertoire. You will also want to get on the strength training as soon as possible to add some support to your knees as well as strengthening the stabilizing muscles (Pilates is great for this) and think about adding in a cross training workout, such as a cycling class.
Foam rolling, which can also be called self myofascial release, is a way of acting like your own massage therapist. Although there is some controversy around whether this is an effective way to prevent injury and loosen tight muscles, I have done it consistently for years and from my experience, it feels good and it keeps my body happy.
You can purchase a foam roller at any fitness store as well as your local running shop. They come in varying levels of firmness, so I suggest you act on the side of caution and buy something that will be a little more forgiving when you first start. When you are ready you can advance to a harder roller. I truly believe that anyone who runs, cycles or does any other form of consistent fitness and endurance training should invest in a foam roller for their home.
This muscle, called the tensor fascia latae (I know, it sounds like the latest coffee drink), is a small muscle, but worth paying attention to as it can cause a lot of havoc in your body. The IT (iliotibial band) is a fascial extension of the TFL, and it runs from the hip all the way down to the ankle. When this fascia becomes tight, it can result in knee pain, but rather than rolling the IT band we want to roll and release the muscles that pull on the IT band, beginning with the TFL.
You want to start by placing the foam roller right at the point where your hip would bend, and then position your body into a 45 degree angle. If you are having TFL issues you will be well aware of it as soon as you get into the position. Hold your body here while focusing on breathing, for about 30-60 seconds, then do 5-10 knee bends followed by 5-10 internal rotations where you lower the heel of your bent leg towards the floor.
The next muscle you want to focus on is the most outer laying quadriceps muscle, called the vastus lateralis. Stay on the 45 degree angle and start to move your body along the foam roller so the roller heads down towards the top of your knee. Repeat this movement 5-10 times then hold on the tender spot of the muscle belly (there may be more than one) and breathe for 30-60 seconds. Finish with 5-10 more knee bends followed by 5-10 more internal rotations, just as you did on the TFL.
The main culprit of the glute muscles is the gluteus medius. Many of us are weak in our gluteus medius, so strengthening these muscles is very important. One way to determine if your glutes are weak is check your ‘behind’ out one morning in the mirror. Do you see two divots, or concaves, on either side of your butt cheeks? If so, you may have weak glutes, so get into the gym and start strengthening.
It is also common for these muscles to be tight and using the foam roller to loosen these muscles is also a must. Start by sitting on the foam roller with your feet and hands on the floor. Lean onto one side of your glutes and either extend that leg straight or cross it onto the other, stabilizing leg. Just like the last two rolling exercises, hang out on the tender bit for 30-60 seconds and then roll 5-10 times forward and backwards, then side to side. When you have had enough, switch sides.
Combine these rolling exercises with stretches, core strengthening exercises (such as front and side planks) and other strength exercises (squats, lunges, lateral leg raises) and you should be able to keep your injuries at bay.