Prevention is the best medicine. It’s as true for running as it is for so many other areas of life.
Whether you have struggled with injury or are trying to avoid being one of the many runners sidelined every year, prevention is always the ideal strategy. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the array of injury-prevention techniques out there.
An online search can lead in you in a thousand different directions, but most of the suggested strategies miss the point. When you’re looking to prevent injuries, the first place you should always look is not yoga or compression tights or ice baths or even strength training. Look first where you spend the most time: Your training schedule.
Here we rank training strategies from the absolute essential to the added bonus:
ESSENTIAL TRAINING STRATEGIES
No matter how much sleep you get or strength work you do, nothing is going to prevent you from getting injured if you aren’t following an appropriate training plan. Working with a coach or an individualized plan is ideal because it’s tailored toward your skill level and scheduling needs. When you find a trusted, reliable resource for training advice, hold onto it.
The vast majority of runners aren’t injured because of a fall or acute injury. Most injuries are repetitive or overuse injuries, meaning you’ve asked your body to handle more that it is capable of over an extended period of time. While a well-designed training plan may not mean you never struggle with an ache or niggle, it should dramatically minimize your risk of a chronic or serious injury.
Without proper training fundamentals, runners have a high rate of injury. All quality training plans should include the following:
- Workouts and long runs appropriate to your fitness level and goal race distance
- Hard efforts evenly spaced throughout the week
- An intelligent progression of workouts, overall mileage and long run distances
- Correct periodization allowing you to focus on the right thing at the right time
When you train properly you avoid the three “toos” that can lead you down the path to injury: too much, too fast, too soon. You might get away with one of these on occasion, but consistently doing any combination of the three is a surefire path to being sidelined.
IMPORTANT TRAINING STRATEGIES
Once you properly structure your training, the second most important element of injury prevention is strength. Because running is repetitive by nature, it’s easy to suffer overuse injuries if your body isn’t prepared to handle the workload. Strength training toughens your connective tissues, develops muscular strength and improves running form.
“Strength training” is a broad term that can be applied to your training in a variety of ways. If strength work is entirely new to you, short sessions using your body weight are an excellent introduction. Routines that focus on your core or hips and glutes are a great place to start.
Remember consistency is more important than duration of workouts. It’s far better to get in 2–3 15-minute workouts each week rather than a 90-minute session once every 2–3 weeks. As you build the habit, strength training with weights (either at home or the gym) is an ideal way to continue getting stronger, faster and more resilient.
STRATEGIES THAT ARE AN “ADDED BONUS”
Got your training plan and strength work in place? Great! You’re well on your way to staying injury free in the weeks and months ahead. Once you nail down the basics, you can focus on some additional strategies to contribute to your overall wellness.
When you’re training hard, rest and recovery is important to staying healthy. A good training plan builds this into your running schedule with easy/recovery runs and days off, but getting enough sleep is equally important. Getting 7–8 hours each night is ideal, and even more may be necessary if you’re in the midst of hard training.
While your specific diet preferences may vary, we can all benefit from eating fewer processed and more whole foods. Fruits, vegetables and quality protein and carbohydrates contribute to overall health and fuel your running more effectively.
After focusing on the essential and important strategies, you can use some of the “nice but not necessary” methods such as compression socks, ice baths, massage, heat therapy and yoga. Some may be more beneficial than others, but never focus on these at the expense of more useful and fundamental injury prevention strategies.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Implementing strategies for injury prevention may seem like a daunting task. But always remember to start with the basics.
Get your training right and keep running consistently to build discipline and confidence. Layer in a progressive system of strength training to improve your resiliency. Quality food choices and sufficient rest further bolster your resiliency along with whatever extra strategies you choose.
Get started and take it one step at a time, and you can avoid being another injured runner statistic.