While no athlete wants to be sidelined by injury, many runners wait until they are already hurt to implement strategies to stay healthy. With annual injury rates estimated to be as high as 75%, it’s essential for runners to incorporate prevention strategies before injuries occur.
While every runner is unique, there are several injury prevention concepts that are useful no matter what your background may be. Whether you’re a new or seasoned runner — and whether you’re healthy or struggling with injuries — now is the time to implement strategies to help you run consistently in the months ahead.
WHAT WORKS FOR INJURY PREVENTION …
Progress in your running is fueled by consistency, and consistent running is fueled by progress. It’s a positive feedback loop that makes you a stronger, more efficient runner over time. Consistent running may not be terribly sexy, but it’s a surefire way to make progress in your training and racing.
All too often, life gets in the way of our goals. But running well depends on putting in the miles day in and day out, while allowing for strategic breaks and cutbacks. If you are trying to get and stay healthy, make time in your schedule to run consistently so you’re not just a “weekend warrior” trying to log big miles in a couple days of training.
Consistency and variability go hand in hand. While consistency applies to your running over the long haul, variability is important in your daily and weekly workouts. As you train, every run should have a purpose. That means your pace will vary depending on whether it’s a recovery run, a steady state run, an interval session or a race pace workout. Avoid heading out for every run at a pace that’s too much effort to be a recovery run, but too easy to be a workout that pushes you toward improvement.
In addition to pace, variability should take place in the terrain you run (e.g., hills versus flats, road versus trails) and also the types of workouts you perform. It’s also beneficial to rotate the routes you run as well as the type of shoes you wear. Finding ways to add variability in a sport that requires repetitive motion helps your body stay healthier.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE LITTLE THINGS
Whether it’s extra sleep after a hard race or workout, or a 15-minute strength routine three times a week, these all have a cumulative effect to keeping you running healthy.
… AND WHAT DOESN’T WORK
While running is an ideal way to improve aerobic fitness, you still need to pay attention to your overall strength and athleticism. Because running puts repetitive stress on your body, your bones, joints and ligaments must be strong enough to support your endeavors.
To use a car comparison, don’t let your engine outpace your chassis. Often the biggest risk for injury occurs a few weeks into your training plan when you feel more aerobically fit, but your body isn’t strong enough to handle a huge jump in workload. Adding strength training and dynamic mobility work to your training schedule can help you reduce your injury risk.
TOO FAST, TOO MUCH, TOO SOON
All things in moderation — and this is especially true when it comes to injury prevention. Whether you’re building your fitness or you’re in a heavy block of training, it’s essential to avoid the “toos” — too much speed, too much mileage and too many workouts — before your body is prepared to handle it.
While you may occasionally get away with doing one of these three, combining any of them can quickly become a recipe for injury. Always err on the side of caution when it comes to increasing volume and speed work, especially if you have been prone to injury in the past. Avoid huge jumps in mileage so your body is prepared for the workload, and allow your workouts to evolve over time to gradually become more race specific.
With the overload of information online, it’s easy to get confused about what types of workouts are best for your body and upcoming races. The ideal option is to hire a coach who can create a personalized plan based on your training history. If that’s not possible, follow a thoughtfully developed training plan adjusted to suit your needs.
Always listen to your body. Every runner is an experiment of one, and what works for your friend or training partner may not be the best option for you. No one workout is going to make or break your training — it’s the consistency over the long haul that allows you to get stronger and faster.
Despite the prevalence of injuries among runners, injury prevention strategies are less complicated than you might think. Pay attention to these concepts in your training and you’ll be on your way to more consistent, injury-free running.