No matter if you’re a beginner or an enthusiastic runner for years, no matter if you’re running to balance out your life or training for a specific goal. There is one very annoying thing: To be sidelined for weeks because of an injury. Often runners care about injuries only when they’re already injured. But you should always keep your focus on avoiding injuries before they occur. What’s better for your physical health is better for your mental health right? The following list gives you an idea of the most important things to look at if you want to prevent common running injuries and helps you to enjoy your hobby week by week without longer breaks and tedious pain.
It’s not a coincidence that this is the first point in the list as I see it to be utterly important. To know your body is the basis of most other things you can do to prevent injuries. You have to learn the signals your body gives you, the good ones and the bad ones. This doesn’t mean that you have to run to a doctor once a week for a full body check, there’s a lot you can do yourself. First of all you should ask yourself daily how you feel. Are you more tired than normal? Are your muscles sore for days after a run that wasn’t that hard? Is there a specific point that aches and it’s not going away? Do you have infections you can’t get rid of? These are all signs that you might be over-stressing your body. Try to get to know these signs over time to learn where your limits are.
Training is not just working out everyday as hard as you can. Whether you lift weights or training your endurance your body actually gets stronger during recovery. With a workout session you stimulate your body forcing it to react and recover to a higher level that you had before. This principle is called super compensation and described further in this article. Bottom line: Don’t just plan your training also plan your recovery. This means short-term and long-term. Don’t do two intense runs in two days. Especially if you are a beginner plan a rest day between two training runs. Also plan a recovery week every third of fourth week in which you just run a maximum of 70% of your regular mileage. In the rest week it’s also great to get a massage or to go to the Spa if you have the chance to.
As many pro athletes also we amateurs shouldn’t be working out every week of the year. Give your body a two-week break once a year for full recovery. Usually around christmas is a good time for that since then it’s cold and eating unhealthy food takes up a lot of your time anyway 🙂
A lot of people say running is just something for your legs and your upper body isn’t needed at all. This is so wrong! Your abs are the most important muscles next to your legs. The longer distances you cover the more it is important to have a strong core. Without even noticing your upper body loses it’s upright position resulting in an unbalanced running form that might over-stress parts of your body and get you injured. Try to do some strengthening of you core muscles (abs, lower and upper back) twice a week.
As stated above your running form and the movements you make when running is important to prevent injury. The good news is that, unlike swimming, we know instinctively how to run because it’s been in our genes for hundreds of thousands of years. Or have you ever seen a three-year old kid that walks and doesn’t know how to run? However if we haven’t really run for years, using unnatural equipment or have biomechanics that need special attention, we have to learn again how a healthy running form looks like. As a rule of thumb try to keep your upper body upright. Also you should lean a bit forward otherwise you need more energy to go forward. This will also foster that you land on your fore- or mid foot and not on your heels. Humans have been running barefoot or in minimalistic footwear for thousands of years forcing them to not land on the heel. Try running barefoot and land on your heel, it will hurt as hell! This is not necessarily the best running form for everyone, but it gives as a hint about the perfect running form of our predecessors.
Running is hard on your joints, bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons. The force hitting on your joints is around 2.5 times your body weight on every step you run. The human body is perfectly built to handle these forces and lessen the impact. However if we haven’t run for a while, are over-weight or increasing mileage, it’s important to give the locomotive system time to adapt. For that reason it’s beneficial to train your endurance and cardiovascular system with other sports than running every once in a while. That gives your body time to recover and adapt and gives you the opportunity to go on with your training. I usually ride my road bike or go swimming in summer. Also hiking is a great activity for a moderate endurance training that has less of an impact on your joints.
I know it’s not the first time I write about stretching. But it’s just important and if you do it regularly it’s one of the best things to do to prevent an injury. When you work out and not stretch your muscles, it’s possible that imbalances occur that will lead to injuries. To counter the shortening of muscles you need to stretch, it’s that simple. Try to stretch after every run if you can especially after the long and harder workouts. And don’t just focus on your calves, quads and hamstrings, it’s very important to stretch your hip and gluteal muscles too! Stretch every muscle group at least 30 seconds, two times 30 seconds with a short break in between is even better. Stretching is something you can do in front of TV and might just take 15-20 minutes. Time that is invested very wisely.
Ok this is quite a controversial topic. There are tons of different shoes for runners out there and it’s hard to get an overview. I typically divide them in two major groups: Minimalistic footwear and heavily cushioned shoes. There’s still a debate going on what philosophy is healthier, I wrote about it in this post some days ago. It’s really up to you to find a shoe that suits you but I want to encourage you that you focus on this topic. If you have the chance go to a good running store that can analyze your stride and biomechanics and help you find something that fits your personal needs.
I started running in cushioned Nike shoes but transformed more to a minimal style and forefoot stride over the last years. For beginners and runners that are overweight I guess some cushioning is better to lessen the impact forces. But if you more experienced you might benefit from some short runs in minimal shoes that you can increase week over week.
Once you’re hurt don’t just wait and keep your training volume up in the hope it will automatically go away. If you hurt yourself on a training run stop immediately, go home and cool the place that hurts with some ice especially if it’s already swollen. Don’t go back to running until you don’t feel any pain in a resting position anymore. Try to figure out what happened and what you can do about it. I give you a personal example: When I was training for my first Marathon my left knee started hurting on my long runs about 20-25km into the run. I figured this new load on my knees was too much to handle and that I probably need to strengthen my upper leg muscles to support the knee-joint. I paused for some days, did some strength exercises like squats every other day and kept my usual weekly mileage down to about 70%. After about three weeks I started to increase the mileage slowly and reduce the strength training. I never felt any pain in my knees again!
If you get hurt just be smart about it. If you force yourself to stick to a training plain you most probably make an injury much worse. If you miss a race or cannot run it in a desired time then so be it. There are 70-year-old guys running their first Marathon so take your time it’s never to late to achieve your goal.
If you want to race faster you need to run faster in some of your training runs. But be aware that fast runs, Fartlek training or fast intervals are a much higher strain for your muscles, tendons and ligaments. So dive slowly into speed work. Don’t do more than one intense training a week as high intensity training should only be around 10-15% of your weekly training volume. Also plan at least one rest day after a speed training.
I’m sure you heard this before. Doing too much to early is probably the most common thing that leads to injury for new runners. It’s great when you are really motivated but if you start out running a Marathon in your first week there will probably be no second week for you! It is key to start out slowly and increase your training volume gradually. If you need help starting out, this post might be helpful. As a rule of thumb you shouldn’t increase your mileage by more than 10% per week. But as always it’s important to know that each body is different, running is a very individual thing. I recommend you to start and increase very slowly in the beginning and risk a bit more if you wish when you know your body better. Don’t set yourself to high goals at the beginning just have fun and consider the tips in this article. The rest will come by itself 🙂
These are just the ten most important things that crossed my mind and I’m sure there’s much more you can do to minimize the risk of an injury. What is your secret? Leave us a comment and tell us your story!