If you’ve dealt with a running injury in the last 365 days, chances are you're not alone.
Injuries seem common in the running community. When I tried to look up the stats, I found anywhere from 30% to 90% runners get injured in any given year. I suppose it depends on the definition of injury; An annoying pain in your hip that goes away with a week of rest is indeed not on the same level as a torn muscle or a joint injury that puts you out of commission for months on end.
Those statistics make it seem like running is a dangerous sport. If such a large percentage of the running population is getting injured, is it risky to start or continue running?
I’d argue that running isn’t dangerous; poor training is risky, overtraining is risky, ignoring aches and pains is risky, neglecting strength training is risky, not following your favorite coach’s (that’s me) advice can be unsafe.
Injuries suck because not only do they keep us from running, it prevents us from improving. Taking time off for an injury can lead to a loss of fitness ability over time. We want to keep moving forward, progressing and growing as our bodies get stronger and faster, not the other way around.
What Not To Do: How To Get a Running Injury
Run Too Much Too Soon
One of the most common reasons for an injury (or drop out) in beginner runners in attempting too much too soon. Start slow. Start with short distances. Just because everyone on your Instagram feed is doing it, doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
Shin Splints (tibial stress syndrome) are prevalent in new runners and often caused by overuse; too much too soon. Running is a long term commitment, there is almost no downside to taking things slow and progressing slowly.
With my clients, I always err on the side of not enough, rather than too much. They occasionally tell me they could do more, but more is not always better and may lead to injuries. For a safe and effective training plan, we start small and build over time.
Increase Weekly Miles Too Drastically
When training for endurance, it’s better to build the mileage slowly. Adding a mile to your long run each week (with the occasional step back week with lower mileage) is probably safe for most athletes, but everyone is different; Increasing weekly distance by more than 10% in a week may be risky for some athletes.
It’s not smart to try to “make up” missed runs or lost weeks in a training plan by adding more miles to your training plan in less time. While some athletes may have the resiliency to handle a more significant increase in volume, it increases their injury risk.
Increase Intensity and Volume in the Same Week
The rule of thumb for injury prevention is never to increase both volume (time spent running) and intensity (speed) in the same week. That means, generally speaking if you are increasing your miles (for marathon training) you should not also increase your intervals speed in the same week.
I see endurance training plans on the internet that often introduce speed work and additional long run miles in the same week. If you increase your pace, keep your mileage the same. If you raise your distance, keep your speed the same, for safety’s sake.
Sleep When You’re Dead
For some reason, some people wear not sleeping like a badge of honor. Most adults need between seven-eight hours per night. If you are an athlete, you need at least that much, probably more. Well-rested athletes will perform better, period. Most of our body’s recovery processes happen during sleep. If you’re not sleeping well, you can’t perform at your best.
Rest Days? What Are Rest Days?
Overuse injuries can occur when you don’t allow your body enough time to recover before you stress it again. Every athlete has different recovery needs mainly dependent on experience, age, and intensity of the workouts, but most athletes need at least one full rest day per week. I need more rest between workouts than I did just five years ago. Our recovery requirements change over time.
Our bodies adapt to training (get faster and stronger) during the rest period after the workout, not during the exercise itself. If you don’t allow your body the time it needs to recover, you’ll miss out on the full potential of your training. I said it once before, but it bears repeating now (if you get the reference, I love you): More is not always better. Rest appropriately.
Eat Crap Food
It may not seem like there is a strong connection to your running performance and drinking a bottle of wine and devouring cheesy fries (eat all the carbs!), but our bodies literally run on the fuel we feed it. All carbohydrates are not equal. Skip the french fries, sugary cereal, and candy bars and stick to baked potatoes, oatmeal and fruit for optimal performance.
I’m not suggesting that you can never have an indulgence or treat meal again, but these should be occasional rather than typical.
Whole food nutrition nourishes our body and aids in recovery. Poor diet can lead to inflammation that may trigger joint pain — nutrition matters. If you want to perform better, then eat better.
Neglect Strength Training
Muscles stabilize the joints. Weak or inactive muscles leave the joints vulnerable to injury. Full body balance, stability and strength training in all planes of motion is essential for any runner. You don’t have to spend hours at a time in the gym to get injury-prevention results, include 15-30 minutes of runner-specific strength training a few times a week.
Runners who strength train are consistently stronger and faster than those who don’t. It doesn’t take much strength training when running injury prevention (not muscle-building) is your goal.
Be In Denial About Aches & Pains
Listen to your body. What does that mean? My body doesn’t talk to me. But it does. Pain is your body’s way of communicating that something is not quite right. Muscle soreness is normal after an increase in workload and should not be a concern, but physical pain is never normal.
When you feel pain, rest for a few days and see if the symptoms regress. If not, see a doctor and get professional advice on how to proceed. Running through an injury or pain only makes it worse.
Covering pain with aspirin or ibuprofen only masks the symptoms. Discover the root of the pain and work to correct it, either with rest or depending on the severity of the pain or injury, with a professional.
Blindly Follow an Online Training Plan
The internet is fantastic, right? You can find almost anything for free! But be wary of training plans found for free online unless you are familiar with the coach. Wading through the vast ocean of information can be a challenge. How can you discern between the reliable information, well-meaning but misguided, and straight-out lies?
Check into the person who created it and their credentials and experience. Any runner can create a plan and post it on Pinterest, but that doesn’t mean it is the best plan for you.
The training plan may be flawed, or the training plan may be perfect for one runner and a disaster waiting to happen for another. Training plans are dynamic, meaning they should evolve. $hit happens, plans change, and schedules change. You may need more or less rest than the program dictates. You may need more time. You may need slower or faster paces, more or fewer miles. There is no way to plan ahead how you will progress twelve weeks out.
Following a plan to the letter with no regard to your own body’s abilities, and rest needs may lead to an injury. Don’t rigidly follow any plan. A coach can guide you, but only you know how your body responds to training. The best training plans are a collaboration between coach and runner.
Are you risking injury with your running habits? Do you now have a better idea of how to avoid injuries?
Have questions? I’d love to help.
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