I’m sure that it’s something every runner has experienced at some point in their running lives before – the painful, sharp, stabbing sensation that are side stitches! How can we avoid experiencing this? Here’s 5 of my top tips to stop getting side stitches when running:
1. Give yourself time to digest your last meal
It may seem an obvious one, but when we’re struggling with time, we’ve just had our dinner and only a run stands in the way of us reuniting with our sofa for the evening, it’s easy to head out there prematurely and “get it out of the way” – that’s when you’ll probably experience side stitches. Aim to give yourself a couple of hours for your food to digest before going for your run, and you’ll find it a more enjoyable experience on the whole!
2. Warm up
A gentle warm up before your run has numerous benefits for the body, with one of these being reducing the risk of developing side stitches later in your run.
Start with two or three minutes of brisk walking, gradually building up to a slow run. Dynamic stretches are great as part of your warm up too, think leg swings & lunges, for example. A final area for you to focus on with your warm up, is your breathing. Stretching the torso & diaphragm coupled with deep, slow breathing is a great way to lessen your chances of developing side stitches for that run.
3. Strengthen your core
A strong core helps with your running posture, but there is also some research about that suggests a stronger core secures your diaphragm, thus reducing movement and potential muscle spasms (side stitches) further down the line. Side stitches can occur when you are tired and your running form drops, so supporting your posture through a stronger core should help.
4. Maintain your posture
So we’ve all worked on strengthening our cores now, right? Right? … Of course we have, so now that we’ve done that, it also helps if we’re actually running correctly. We should be running tall, staying light on our feet and slightly leaning forwards with our shoulders relaxed.
Keeping this form in the final third of a race or a harder long run will definitely take the strain off the diaphragm and once again reducing the triggers for a stitch. Practice all of this in training and give yourself posture checks or reminders as you run.
5. Rhythmic breathing
The fifth and final tip is also my favourite, and if you take one thing away from this blog, let it be the introduction of rhythmic breathing to your running.
What is rhythmic breathing?
It’s timing your foot strikes with your breaths in and breaths out, and the key to rhythmic breathing is alternating between left and right with which foot hits the ground first on exhalation. Sounds pretty complicated, doesn’t it? Well it isn’t, it’s actually really simple once you get in to a rhythm. The easiest way to do this is by taking 3 steps on inhalation, and 2 steps on exhalation, and keeping that 3:2 ratio consistent. You may need to change that ratio on hills, but as long as you keep it similar (so 2:1 or 4:3 would work too) then you’ll be fine.
Why does this work?
When we breath out, we relax all of our muscles, including those associated with the diaphragm, and thus creating less stability in our core. So running with a 2:2 ratio (breathing in for 2 steps, breathing out for 2 steps), we’ll always be landing on the same foot at the beginning of our exhalation (when our muscles are most relaxed) so one side of the body is continuously absorbing the greatest impact and that’s when the side stitch kicks in!
Rhythmic breathing, on the other hand, coordinates foot strike with inhalation/exhalation in and odd/even pattern so that we land alternatively on our right and left feet at the beginning of every exhalation. This way, the impact force of running of shared equally across both sides of our bodies.
Give rhythmic breathing a go when you’re next out running – I promise you it’s not as complicated as it sounds! You can count the foot-strikes in your head: “1,2,3….1,2….1,2,3…..1,2….” etc, etc.
Thanks for reading – that ended up being a longer one that I’d planned for! Share this blog with your fellow running friends and help them beat the side stitches!