“All that running is going to ruin your knees!”
It’s the comment every runner loathes to hear, but is there really any truth to it?
Fortunately, science is increasingly on the side of runners when it comes to joint health. A recent study showed training for a marathon may even improve your knees, rather than worsen them. Running will always be a high-impact sport, however, so it pays to take some simple protective measures to ensure your athletic longevity.
No matter how many miles you put in each week, you can benefit from easy techniques to protect your joint health. The repetitive nature of the sport can make runners more prone to injury, so adding variety to your routine is essential. Switching up the surface you run on and rotating your shoes is an ideal place to start. In addition, strength training and form tweaks can better prepare your body to handle the stress of training and keep your joints happy.
VARY YOUR SURFACE
Many runners are creatures of habit, following the same routes at the same pace day after day. Unfortunately, this only adds to the repetitive nature of running. If you tend to stick to the same routes, try switching up your routine. Ideally, add some softer surfaces into the mix. This might mean performing faster workouts on the track or running on grass or packed gravel routes.
Trails are ideal for adding variety since every step provides a slightly different challenge with roots, rocks, mud and elevation changes. If you are new to trail running, you don’t necessarily need to seek out the most technical routes to start. Even a packed gravel surface around a park is a change from the roads. This softer surface is easier on your joints and encourages you to use different muscles in your feet and legs, helping to reduce imbalances brought on by repetitive road running.
ROTATE YOUR SHOES
Rotating your shoes is a simple way to increase the longevity of your shoes, add variety to your routine and reduce the impact of running on your joints. Every runner should have at least two different pairs of shoes to log their miles. You might have a more cushioned pair for recovery miles and long runs, and a lighter pair for faster workouts. Or maybe you alternate between trail and road shoes depending on where you run.
Rotating between shoes allows them to “recover” between runs much like you do — they become less compressed and regain some springiness. This rotation also adds variety to your routine. Even though it seems minor, different shoes alter your stride and gait ever so slightly, changing the impact on a variety of muscles, tendons and ligaments. Switching shoes is another way to reduce the repetitiveness of running and help you feel your best whether you’re running fast or easy.
Runners rarely want to add anything to their routine that takes away from their run time. But a small amount of strength training can go a long way. For runners, strength training should be considered an essential part of your plan to stay healthy rather than treating it as cross-training. Adding about 15 minutes of bodyweight exercises to strengthen your core, hips and glutes is a great way to start, and can be done immediately after your run.
Runners tend to improve aerobically before they improve structurally. This means your aerobic engine (heart and lungs) may be ready to push you farther than your bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons are prepared to handle. If you don’t train carefully or correct this imbalance, you’ll be more prone to injury. Strength training is an ideal way to help your body “catch up” to your increased endurance.
TWEAK YOUR FORM
Unless you have struggled with ongoing injuries, making a complete overhaul to your running form can often be counter-productive. But there are ways to make small tweaks to help optimize your stride and reduce your impact. Two ways to do this that go hand in hand are increasing your cadence and landing lightly as you run.
Increasing your cadence simply means taking more steps per minute. This leads to a slightly shorter stride that can help you land with your foot underneath you rather than overstriding with your foot way out in front. As you run, try to think about landing lightly, as if you were running on hot coals. This helps reduce your impact and ground contact time. It’s never a good idea to force a form change, so implement any change gradually.