Running injuries are going to happen. Every runner is at risk of developing an injury. We have discussed the most common running injuries previously. The most common risk factors associated with running injuries are:
We are all at risk of being injured at some point in time during our training. Newcomers are more likely to suffer. As are advanced runners who try to notch up their game unsupervised and a tad too rapidly.
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
When we talk about preventing running injuries, we are really talking about delaying most and hopefully shortening your recovery period if you do sustain an injury. There is a misconception among many weekend warriors and runners that running is enough of an exercise alone. This is simply not true. Running is a wonderful exercise to clear the cobwebs or to start the day off with an endorphin rush. Running is a great exercise for cardiac conditioning. But running requires a strong stable core, and strong large and small muscles groups in our legs. Running will not produce those muscular changes, it instead looks to you to provide it. In return, your legs will have a lesser chance of being injured.
Running Injury Prevention Strategies
- Know Your Limits: Great … you started a running or exercise program! A big first step. Your friends run 5 miles a day. You shouldn’t! Not yet. The key to any successful running or exercise program is to build your base. During base building many things are happening to your body.
- Your bones, muscles and tendons are getting used to the new load.
- Your heart and lungs are getting used to the new load
- Your muscles cells are building little factories to harness the food in your blood and turn it into energy.
- Your brain is trying to adapt to the new pattern
Your bones will actually become more dense as you exercise. Your body like to conserve resources. So it is not going to spend the energy or waste the calcium, etc on you if you are not exercising and your bones don’t need to be stronger. It will take many weeks for your bones to start to catch up to you and the load you are putting on them. If you start your training properly, your bone will keep up with you and the risk of stress fractures will diminish dramatically.
Your tendons also respond to stress. The more load you put across your tendons, the stronger they become. They develop more attachments to the bone and strengthen the interface between the bone and the tendon. Tendonapathies — which are problems with tendons are less common with a well executed training program.
Your heart has been chilling and pushing enough blood through your body to meet your needs. When you start running it is in for a rude awakening. For most of us that’s all well and good as long as we exercise well below our maximum heart rate (roughly 221- your age). After a few months of heart rate training your heart will be able to perform the same work with fewer beats.
Your muscles, like every other tissue in your body is used to your prior activity level. Your muscles cells have little factories within them which manufacture the energy you need. When you start to exercise your muscle cells will actually make more of those factories, thus increasing your endurance and strength.
When you begin a running program or any aerobic exercise program you want to pay close attention to your heart rate. The workouts should feel easy at least 80% of the time. Even elite runners work out that way. You want to build your time/mileage slowly… increasing your mileage 10% each week until you hit your goal.
2. Don’t blow off your recovery time : Recovery is a very important part of any training program. When you run or exercise you are breaking down your tendons and muscles. You are stressing your system. You need to give it time to relax. For beginners you do not string two fast tempo runs back to back. You do not do two long runs, above your usual weekly mileage 2 days in a row. You always take at least one day off per week to let your system recover. Recovery doesn’t always means complete rest and go site on the couch. If you run 5 miles and 9 minutes per mile… then a recovery day can be 3 miles and 11 minutes a mile. In addition… each month you want to incorporate a recovery week. Again, it is not a complete rest. If you are running 30 miles per week at an average pace of 10 minutes/mile then your recovery week is 20 miles at 11 or 12 minutes per mile. These recovery weeks are very important. They allow all the structures we spoke about previously to catch up to you. They are not resting, they’re working very hard to catch up. If you do not give them the chance to catch up, then stress fractures, and tendon injuries happen.
3. Strength Training: Running requires that you participate in a well balanced strengthening and stability program. Most people with running injuries are found to have poor hip muscles and gluteal strength.
A strong butt is the key to being a happy runner.
We do not if the poor core and hip strength led to the injury or the injury led to diminished strength, but we do know that an exercise program to strengthen your hip flexors, extensors and abductors, as well as your gluteal muscles will help address many aches and pains that most runners have. Proper strength also improves your posture and gait. All runners will start to waddle or sway side to side as they tire. That is a set-up for an overuse injury. Proper base building and strengthening will enable you to run further and stronger before your form starts to suffer. Your core will love you if you plank. Planking is one of the best exercises for core strengthening. There are many different varieties of planks to perform and YouTube serves as a great resource.
Exercising and in particular aerobic exercise and running is a great lifestyle change. You will keep many chronic diseases at bay, you will feel great and you will join the ranks of millions of us who rely on running as a way to clear our minds either before or after a challenging day.