Shins splints. The curse of any avid runner. We’ve yet to meet athletes who don’t encounter these recurring calf problems.
Why do shins splints occur?
Training for obstacle course races involves running uphill or downhill and on mixed terrain surfaces – these could all be obstacles in and of themselves. They also enable the many catalysts in forming (sometimes chronic) shin splints: having flat feet or feet rolling inward, wearing shoes with not enough cushioning, a tight achilles tendon or tight muscles in the shin area.
There is also the MTSS – medial tibial stress syndrome, which usually occurs in people not used to being active for extended amounts of time, e.g. running long distances. This activity damages the layer of connective tissue covering the surface of the shin bone (periosteum), which then becomes inflamed. This then results in discomfort or pain lasting hours, days or even weeks once the movement that caused it is reintroduced.
What can you do to prevent shin splints?
To treat this condition or simply avoid it by strengthening your shin muscles in a long run, introduce the following items into your usual training routine:
This is the single easiest exercise intended to strengthen your anterior tibialis, which is where the MTSS pain occurs, as well as your foot muscles. All you need to perform this exercise is a wall to lean against (unless you are an ultimate balance athlete…).
1. Stand facing away from the wall, about a foot apart
2. Slowly transfer your weight center to your heels and raise your toes as far as possible. This should engage your tibia as well as contract foot and ankle muscles.
3. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds and then slowly lower your toes
4. Repeat this process for a few sets with multiple reps: 3 x 10. I prefer doing 5 x 5 with longer holds.
Do this a couple of times a week and chronic shin splints will become a history. Although this might not seem like the most exciting exercise, you can always spice it up by inserting it in between your other training sets as a break (think of it as a super set).
Add Foam Rolling To Your Routine
For this, I hope you like pain. The bittersweet habit of foam rolling is taking fitness industry by its roots and making more athletes focus not only on general strength expenditure but mobility too. Scar tissue, the so-called ‘muscle knots’ and general lack of mobility can often lead to chronic injury, ligament strain, weak knees and many more.
I cannot overemphasise how life-changing and performance-enhancing this process is. By foam rolling your leg muscles at least a couple of times a week you will not only increase the mobility, but also prevent those injuries, shin splints included. Alongside this, foam rolling is probably the best tool to boost your recovery. Period.
Do Things Differently
In addition to foam rolling and practicing toe raises, there’s a few other things you can do to stop adding to perhaps already existing strain and thus prevent chronic shin splints:
- Consider running in a shorter stride and land mid-foot
- Invest in a pair of better padded shoes. Most OCR shoes lack proper cushioning, so they’re not a good choice for harder surfaces or longer runs. However, it is true that you should always race in the shoes you train in and this brings me to the last two points:
- Avoid running on hard surfaces. If you bought a pair of the typical, lightly-padded off road shoes do exactly that – train running off road through mud, gravel and woods or alternatively on the shock-absorbing treadmills. As long as you avoid concrete or tarmac surfaces.
- Add additional arch support soles. This might just add some extra safety points.