Most running injuries don’t just happen. Yes, runners will occasional get an acute injury like a pulled muscle or torn ligament, but as a general rule, most running injuries are chronic, achieved, if you’d like to call it that, by doing certain avoidable things. And since most of us would rather not have a running injury, the following are examples of things you probably don’t want to do.
Don’t Take Time to Rest and Recover
Face it. We are not machines. Our bodies need to have appropriate rest in order to accomplish everything that we have planned for them. Remember, that it is not your actual training bouts in which you become stronger. It is during your period of rest and recovery that the small muscle tears you cause through your hard training repair themselves and adapt to a higher load. That is why more isn’t always better.
Solution: Avoid doing two hard workouts in a row. Give yourself an easier day in between. After a race, let your body recover before training hard again. Depending on the race distance, this can be from several days to several weeks.
Run in the wrong (or too old) shoe
We are all biomechanically different. What works for one runner may not work for the next. If you’re wearing a shoe that doesn’t feel good or leaves you with aches and pains, chances are it’s not the right one for you.
Solution: Get an assessment from a running shoe professional. They should take a look at your old shoes, ask you questions about your running, and give you a chance to run a little in a few shoes. Remember, though, they are not foolproof. It may take a little experimenting, but finding a shoe that fits right and feels comfortable can help reduce your chance of injury. And remember, shoes don’t last forever. After about 300-500 miles, or if you start to feel a little achy in the knees or feet, it’s time to replace them. Another good shoe idea is to have at least two pairs and alternate, using different shoes for different types of runs. A sturdier, cushioned shoe for longer runs, a lighter shoe for speedwork or racing, are examples of what to think about when purchasing new shoes.
Assume that small injuries will just get better
This may be the number one cause of an injury that will force you to stop running altogether for a while. Don’t ignore small pains, especially in your hips, back, or knees. If you choose to run through that little twinge, you may just develop a full-blown chronic injury that will takes weeks if not months from which to recover.
Solution: Take an extra day or two off if you are feeling pain or even discomfort when you run. If a week goes by and you don’t see improvement, it may be time to see a sports medicine doctor.
Don’t strength train
Strength training corrects the muscle imbalances caused by running and strengthens your core to improve your posture. Think of it as pre-hab.
Solution: At least twice a week complete a strength training program that will work the muscles in your entire body. You can use weights, do yoga, Pilates, or some other type of program, but it should strengthen all your major muscle groups and include core and flexibility training.
Don’t get enough sleep
It cannot be emphasized enough how important getting enough sleep is. Sleep is when our muscles regenerate and repair all the damage that is done, coming back stronger than before. Not to mention the other benefits of sleep, including curbing inflammation, keeping your brain clear and creative, sharpening your attention and memory, lowering stress, and improving mood. And yes, naps count as sleep, though most of us need 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep to allow us to get into our phases of deep and REM sleep that are so important.
Solution: It’s easy to say just go to bed earlier, but that isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Start the relaxation process earlier in the evening, eat early enough to digest most your food before bedtime, and head to bed ready to sleep.
Skip the stretching
Running tightens up your muscles and joints, particularly through your hips, hamstrings, and calves. Not addressing these issues can potentially lead to injury.
Solution: Static stretching is best done after your workout. Focus on your hips, hamstrings, calves, and back. Stretching should never hurt. Investigate other solutions that can increase mobility, including massage, foam rolling, and fascial stretch therapy.
Run with bad form
While correcting running form can be a controversial subject, there are certain things that most experts agree will help streamline your run and put less stress on your back, knees, and hips. If you hunch up or lean forward while your run, scuff your feet, or overstride, you may be more likely to suffer a running injury.
Solution: While too complex to go into properly in this space, there are a few things that can help your running form. Run with good posture, with no arch in your back and your head directly over your shoulders. Use your arms efficiently. They should swing forward and back and preferably not cross in front. This causes rotation in the shoulders and torso and can compromise core stability. Consciously try to land more lightly, with your feet parallel, and push off from the balls of your feet. Avoid overstriding. There are drills that can help you accomplish these things. Check with a running coach for other ways to improve your form.
Do too much too soon
New runners frequently get injured because they start running too many miles too quickly. It’s natural to want quick results, so if a little is good, more must be better, right?
Solution: Build mileage slowly. If you’re just starting to run, begin with a run/walk program, and gradually increase the run portion.
Don’t eat properly
Food is fuel. If you’re not getting enough, or if you are fueling your body with junk, you will not be able to perform at your optimal level.
Solution: Eat a well balanced diet with plenty of fresh, whole food, including healthy fats, lean protein, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Stay away from fast and processed food as much as possible.
Ignore your body’s signals
Your body will tell you if it needs extra rest. You just need to pay attention. If you find that you are consistently tired, have come to a plateau in your training, or exhibit other signs of overtraining, you may need to take a little extra rest time.
Solution: An extra day off here or there is not going to hurt your training. In fact, it just may bring it to the next level.
What do you do (or avoid doing) to stay injury free?
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