With running season firmly in swing… let me answer this question from a reader of the column who asks:
“Paul … At present I meet with my friend twice a week to do some running “up hill” in an attempt to lose weight. We meet at Parklands Way on West Park (in Hartlepool) which has a nice steep bank for us to run up, and then walk back down. We do this five times.
“Only thing is I’ve woken up the next day on both occasions with a sore Achilles and a stiff back – both worsening each time
“Am I doing something wrong? And what are your thoughts on running up banks or hills?
“Many people I talk to are of mixed opinions so I thought I’d ask you”.
Claire B – Late 30s, Hartlepool .
This is, in a roundabout way, one of the most common mistakes I observe runners make.
Let me explain why:
You’re not designed to run up hills. And nor do we need to, to keep fit or loose weight.
Sure, you might work a bit harder by running up a bank or a hill, but you’re adding huge stress to lower back muscles and Achilles tendon muscles by doing so.
I agree – that if you were in training for something that involved lots of steep hills or banks, such as the route for the GNR, that doing this type of thing would likely be of benefit to achieving the goal. But here’s why it’s likely to do more harm than good:
When you run or even walk up banks, your natural instinct is to lean forwards to make it easier to get up. When you do this, your lower back muscles have to work 10 times as hard. And that’s no exaggeration.
Standing up and leaning over or bending forwards for any sustained period of time will add at least 10 times the stress to your lower back than if you stand up tall and straight. Something to think about if you do that at work or even in the kitchen, or somewhere like that.
More, it means your lower back muscles are getting very stressed. And if they’re not ready to cope with the extra stress, as in, they’re not strong enough because you haven’t been doing things like core stability or Pilates-style exercises, then you will notice a negative effect.
As for your Achilles tendon… think of an elastic band being stretched too far.
The tension created means it’s likely to snap and every time you stretch it too far, you’re closer to that “snap” actually happening because of the weakness that is being created.
Same with your Achilles tendon when you run up banks. Because you’re leaning forwards, your Achilles tendon is always on a full stretch and means your likely to feel pain and tension by the end, or at very least the next day.
If that’s happening and it’s getting worse, you need to stop ASAP and find somewhere flat to run.
Here’s my first tip: if you are going to run up hills or banks, stand as tall as possible and tip two: spend a month or so before hand working on balance ball, core and pilates exercises to make your back stronger so that you can safely do it.
My second tip: If your goal from running up hills is weight loss, I’d wager that you’ll end up putting weight ON.
Why? Because you will get injured meaning a period of even less activity, meaning slightly more weight added. Believe me, there’s much easier ways to lose weight.
For more sports injury tips and a free report, go here: www.paulgoughphysio.com/sports-injury-clinic