With running season firmly in swing… let me answer this question that a previous patient emailed me.
“Tony… I meet with my friend twice this week to do some running up hill in an attempt to lose weight.
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 hills? Many people I talk to are of mixed opinions so I thought I’d ask you”.
Linda – 40’s, Brewster.
This is one of the most common mistakes I observe runners make.
Let me explain why:
You’re not designed to run up hills. And we don't need too, to keep fit or lose weight. Sure, you might work a bit harder by running up a bank or a hill, but you’re adding a lot of 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 that doing this type of thing would likely be beneficial to achieving the goal. But here’s why it’s likely to do more harm than good...
When you run or even walk up hills, 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 10x 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!
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 affect.
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.
When 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 try to 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:
Weight loss is 80% what you eat, 20% what you do.
If your goal from running up hills is weight loss, I’d bet 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.
Dr. Tony Tanzi: Physical Therapist, Triathlete, Runner, Performance Coach