Running is a great form of cardiovascular exercise that incorporates the whole body and also has great mental health benefits. By utilising pace, distance and rest it can be adapted for beginner’s through to experienced athletes. However, runners at all levels can experience injuries which can lead to frustration, pain and time off from running. So understanding how to prevent injuries when running allows you to continue enjoying your exercise. We have many years of experience treating running injuries and helping people become more resilient to future injuries. In this article we’ve put together our top tips for running injury prevention.
One of the most important aspects of preventing injuries when running is managing the overall load. Most injuries occur when the load is increased too much, too quickly. It is important to note that when talking about load management this refers to both volume and intensity. A generally accepted principal of progressive overload is to not increase the training load by more than 20% at a time. For example, if your longest run so far has been 5km and you want to increase your distance, 6km would be the maximum length of your new long run (because 20% of 5km is 1km). By this same principle, to prevent running injuries your total distance run across the week should also not increase by more than 20%. Intensity (ie pace or other factors such as hills), should also be gradually increased.
Whenever an increase in load occurs, there needs to be an adaptation period to let the body adjust to the new load before increasing again. So if you increase your training you would then stay at the new workload for 4-6 weeks before making another increase.
How to prevent injuries with rest and recovery
The importance of rest and recovery for preventing running injuries can not be overstated. Incorporating rest days into the training week can be helpful, especially for less experienced runners. For those who have not run much before, you should start with 2-3 days of running a week and slowly build up the frequency. Even for experienced runners, they will often have one day a week of no running (it may not be a total rest, but rather cross-training such as swimming or biking). These days off running give your muscles, joints and nervous system time to recover so you are less likely to get injured.
There are also more active forms of recovery such as:
- Cool down – at the end of your run, spend a few minutes walking to allow your body time to clear out waste products from your muscles (such as lactic acid). This will help you feel less stiff and sore the next day
- Muscle releases/foam rolling/massage – focusing on releasing tension in the main running muscles can help your body manage the training load and recover better between sessions. Some of our favourite releases for runners click on the links below:
- Warm Epsom salt or ice baths – there is some evidence for the use of different baths to help with muscle recovery. Warm Epsom baths work by relaxing the muscles with heat while also absorbing the magnesium which is important for muscle function (low magnesium can cause cramping). Ice baths work by reducing inflammation in the body as well as influencing blood flow to help clear waste products. There is individual variation in response to these, so try them out and see what works for you
Prevent running injuries with Strength training
Strength training is vital to help the body prepare for and manage the stress of running. Running is essentially a series of single leg squat jumps, so working on good core strength and single leg control is very important for preventing running injuries. Strength training should be done 2-3 times a week – less frequently than that and there is not enough load for a proper training effect and conversely too often does not allow adequate rest and recovery for you muscles.
For a new runner, a week of 2 strength days, 3 run days and 2 walk/rest/yoga days is a nice balance. Strength training for runners should focus on strengthening calf muscles, abdominals and glutes. It is particularly important that at least some of the glute strength work is done one side at a time to ensure good single leg control. Some examples of glute strength exercises for running are squats, single leg squats, step-ups, lunges, Romanian (or straight-leg) deadlift. Click here for a blog on good squat technique.
There are several factors to take into consideration when trying to prevent running injuries. I would encourage you to look at your current routine and see what one change you can make to help prevent yourself from getting an injury. Whether it is giving yourself a rest day or adding in some strength training, taking steps now to avoid injuries is much more enjoyable than having to deal with time out later on. If you are keen to avoid injuries and want specific advice, book in to see on of the team at Barefoot Physio for personalised hands on care. You can book an appointment by following the link Book Online.