11 Tips to Help Runners Avoid Injury
Updated: Oct 15, 2018
Over 75% of regular runners will at some point this year be unable to run because of an injury*. This is a pretty high injury rate for a non-contact activity/sport during which you’re in control of what you’re doing at all times.
Some injuries are unavoidable, for example you might trip when walking in your garden and end up with a grade 3 ankle ligament tear, or a dog might jump in front of you when you're 20 metres away from a personal best (both true stories) But, many of the injuries experienced by runners can be avoided by improving certain habits.
No one wants to be out of action.
Waking up with mystery pains or suddenly being very aware of your knee five minutes into your morning run is no fun.
Many aches, pains and niggles can be prevented by following some pretty basic guidelines. So, here are 6 basic tips that will help you stay strong and injury free.
1. Warm Up Properly
The first mile of your five-mile run is not a good warm up. Prepare your body prior to your first step by taking 5-10 minutes to perform light activity such as skipping, bodyweight squats, lunges and mobility exercises. If you were about to play any other sport you would warm up, going out for a run should be no different.
2. Ease Yourself in Gradually
Whether you're new to running, returning after injury or starting a new training cycle, be aware of what you're capable of. Going from zero to one hundred miles a week is not a smart approach.
Gradually build up both the amount (volume) and intensity (speed and distance). Start with short distances and times — slow and steady wins the long-distance race!
3. Run on Soft Surfaces When Possible
Concrete and tarmac are pretty unforgiving on your joints. Softer surfaces such as grass, sand or a running track provide more cushioning for your body when landing.
4. Strength Train
Often neglected, strength training will help you stay injury free by making your muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons more robust and resilient. Not only that but strength training will have a really positive impact on your running times; the stronger each step is, the faster you will be propelled forward. Check out strength training for runners to learn how strength training can help cut minutes off your time and keep you injury free.
5. Assess Your Running Technique
Running is a skill and learning how to run properly will go a long way to preventing all kinds of injuries. Aim for forefoot landings and be sure to avoid heel striking and duck footed running.
People often often overlook their running technique and go straight to assuming that their injuries are because their running shoes don't suit their feet.
More support needed... less support... more heel cushioning... less padding...
A runner with poor running form will run this way even if they get a new shoe with special support and cushioning.
Videoing yourself running to look for heel strikes or collapsing ankles and knees is a good start when investigating a running injury and it might just save you some cash as well.
With that said…
6. Assess Your Footwear
Super high heels and bouncy castle type shoes aren't the best for your muscles and joints. Attempt to move gradually towards a lower heel drop and more minimalist shoes (do this very gradually as going from a high heel drop with lots of cushioning to zero-drop minimalist shoes combined with poor technique and lots of running is a guaranteed route to injury).
7. Nutrition and Hydration
Getting your nutrition and hydration dialled in will help your muscle tissues and joints stay healthy. I suggest drinking lots of water, eating lots of oily fish and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Running will dehydrate you and your hard working muscles. Water isn’t enough, you need to replace the electrolytes you’ve lost. A pinch of Scottish rock salt and a bit of squeezed lemon or lime in water will top up your electrolytes and help your body hold on to the water.
8. Cool Down Properly
After your run, take 10 minutes to go through hip, ankle, thoracic and shoulder mobility exercises.
You don't need to mobilise your whole body after very run. You might focus on hip mobility after one session, feet and ankles the next and your thoracic spine on another occasion. Attend to areas in need first.
9. Foam Roll Every Day
Take care of your soft tissues and invest in a good foam roller. Foam rolling can help get rid of cricks and cracks and alleviate muscular aches, pains and tensions. Aim for five minutes every day.
Training takes its toll. Sleep is your best recovery tool. Get lots of it. Who doesn’t enjoy hitting the snooze button!?
11. Take Rest Days
If you are running regularly, make sure you give your body time to rest and recuperate. This will allow your muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments to recover from the impacts and forces they've dealt with during your weekly training.
Also, use active recovery days for lower intensity and lower impact exercise such as swimming, cycling, rowing or walking — you don't need to run every day!
Running has so many physical and mental benefits. Keep yourself fit and healthy by:
Warming up properly
Building volume and intensity gradually
Focusing on running technique
Including strength training as part of your training
Recovering well via paying attention to cool downs, foam rolling, hydration and sleep.
If you know anyone who might benefit from reading the article then do share! Thanks!
*Injury rate statistic taken from Gray Cook's Google talk presentation: 'Movement Search: Connecting you to your Movement'. (Really good presentation on movement, learning and injuries.)