From Couch to Track: How to Progress Running at Home

Athlete running for physical therapy for return to sport program at Axes Physical Therapy St. Louis.

Let’s be honest, I have watched more Netflix shows on my couch the past three months than I would care to admit. How about you?

With the sunshine starting to peek through the rain clouds, it is tempting to go outside for a walk or run. If this is your first time running for exercise, there are several things you should know. It is important to treat your training as a marathon and not a sprint. You will have better results and prevent injury if you progressively increase your running tolerance. Additionally, training to run anything from a 5K to a marathon should happen on and off the track. Strengthening specific muscle groups as part of your training regimen will help you prevent future injury. So, how do you start your training safely and efficiently?

Step 1: Progressive Training

When starting a running program, it is important to ease into the practice. You can do this by implementing running and walking intervals. Start with a two to five-minute warm-up walk. This walk should be at a fast pace. Afterwards, practice intervals of a 30-second run to a 1.5-minute walk. You can repeat as many of these intervals as you would like. I recommend starting with 4 to 5 repetitions. Once finished with the interval training, perform a 2-minute cool-down walk. As this becomes easier, increase the running to walking ratio in favor of the time spent running. For instance, start running for 1 minute and walking for 30 seconds. Do this until you can run for the full length of time between your warm-up and cool down walks. By following a progressive training program, you will steadily improve your tolerance for running with decreased risk for injury.

Step 2: Specific Muscle Strengthening

Why is strength training important for runners? This is a frequent question asked by many of my patients. We all have muscle imbalances which impact how we walk. That is why the way I walk is different than how you walk. Although muscle imbalances are not inherently bad, they can impact how forces go through our joints. When we run, these muscle imbalances are exaggerated, and more force goes through our joints improperly. This can lead to injury. Weak hip muscles are one of the most common imbalances that can impact how we run. To prevent injury, it is important that you strengthen your gluteal muscles and hip abductors. Some of my favorite exercises for this include:

· Clamshells

· Double/Single Leg Bridges

· Squats

· Monster Walks

Step 3: Warm-Up and Cool-Down

Recently, my colleague Brandi Arndt, MPT wrote a blog post on the importance of performing dynamic warm up and cool down techniques when exercising. She explains key stretching techniques that will help you prevent future injury, click to learn more. Following these three steps will help you go from sitting on the couch to running on the track with greater ease and decreased risk for pain.

If you are in need of pre or post surgical care, general re-conditioning, or help returning to sport/daily activities in the wake of an injury, schedule your appointment at one of our 11 Greater St. Louis area locations or via a Telehealth injury screening.

About the Author: Rachel Weilandich, PT, DPT is a Doctoral graduate from St. Louis University School of Physical Therapy in 2018. Originally from Chicago, IL, Rachel has made St. Charles County her home and she enjoys caring for members of her new community. She has a passion for treating young patients with scoliosis as she dealt with this condition when she was younger. Additionally, she enjoys caring for dancers and the flexible athlete population. 

To schedule an appointment with Rachel or any of our expert physical therapists, request an appointment online today.