Sherri McMillan: Don't rush headlong into running program

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As the days get longer and warmer, many head outdoors for workouts. But many people wonder why, after starting an outdoor jogging routine, they develop shin splints or knee pain shortly after.

Running's "Terrible Toos" are often the leading culprit and cause of most running injuries.

It's easy to imagine how this can happen. You wake up and decide today is the day you're going to start your new training program. You lace up your Nikes and head out the door. Your ego dictates that a run-walk is for wimps, and if you're gonna go out for just one minute, why even go at all? So three or four minutes later, you're finished and feeling proud. Tomorrow you do the same. Maybe you follow this program a few more times. And then a week or two later, you start to experience those nagging aches and pains common to many new runners. You decide the pain is not worth it, and your short-lived running career is over.

Consider this: With each running stride, your body is forced to absorb impact forces as great as three times your body weight. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, imagine 450 pounds of force pounding through your body with each foot strike. You can imagine that over the course of a four-mile run, the amount of force the body absorbs is tremendous.

Even if you've been taking fitness classes or using indoor equipment all winter, pounding the pavement is different. If you're fit, your heart would be able to handle the effort involved with running, but your bones, ligaments and tendons are still not sufficiently prepared for the impact of running.

A program should gradually introduce running into your exercise routine:

Start with short bursts of running (30-60 seconds is ideal) interspersed with walking breaks. It'll certainly take some weeks before you're marathon-ready, but this time allows your body to adapt and increases your chances of being able to continue running for the long-term.

Here's a sample program to try:

Week one: Run one minute, walk four minutes six times per week.

Week two: Run two minutes, walk three minutes six times.

Week three: Run three minutes, walk two minutes six times.

Week four: Run four minutes, walk one minute six times.

Week five: Run five minutes, walk one minute five times.

Week six: Run six minutes, walk one minutes five times.

Week seven: Run seven minutes, walk one minute four times.

Week eight: Run eight minutes walk one minute, four times.

Week nine: Run nine minutes, walk one minute four times.

Week 10: Run 10 minutes, walk one minute four times.

At this point, you can attempt continuous running (Start with a 15-minute run and increase 5 to 10 percent every one to two weeks) or continue with the run 10 minutes, walk one minute approach as you increase your mileage. If you start to experience any aches and pains, back off on your volume and/or return to a run/walk approach.

Here are a few additional tips to keep you running strong and injury-free:

Try not to run two days in a row if possible. And definitely avoid three consecutive runs.

Allow for one full recovery day per week.

Take time to do a six- to 10-minute walking-only warm-up and cool down.

Stretch all your running muscles for at least 30 seconds after each run.

Purchase a good pair of running shoes after consulting an expert at a sport footwear specialist store.

Cross-train — avoid becoming just a runner. I'd rather see an exerciser run three times per week and complement their program with swimming, cycling, weight training and fitness classes rather than run six times per week.

If possible, run on packed, level dirt, trails, or grass, which are a lot easier on your body. If running through the city, paved roads are easier on your legs than concrete sidewalks. Just watch for traffic.

May all your miles be filled with smiles and may the wind always be at your back!

Sherri McMillan, M.Sc. is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver. She can be reached at www.nwPersonalTraining.com or www.ShapeupwithSherri.com