You’ve probably heard something like this before — if you run long enough, you’re bound to get injured. But while injuries in a sport like running often seem inevitable, the truth is, most running injuries can be avoided by adhering to a few tried-and-true principles.
Recently we spoke with Jacob Puzey, running coach at Peak Run Performance, for his advice on which running principles to follow to have fun and stay injury-free.
DON’T DO TOO MUCH TOO SOON
Every person starts a running routine at a different level of fitness. What your body can tolerate varies. If you go beyond this, injury is more likely, so you need to learn to let your body adapt to the activity over time. While this can be frustrating for runners with lofty goals, it’s part of the process.
“Fitness gains are made through incremental adaptation to stress, so I recommend a very gradual increase with adequate rest,” says Puzey. “The standard rule of thumb is no more than a 10% increase in total weekly run volume. There are exceptions to this rule if you’re an experienced runner, but this is a good place to start for most.”
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Runners often get used to pushing past discomfort because it’s part of the sport. “Discomfort can be described as soreness or fatigue, but can be addressed and reduced through adequate recovery, stretching, foam rolling, massage and a proper warmup,” says Puzey.
Pain that is ever-present or gets worse rather than better should be treated with rest and possibly a visit to a medical professional. “Unfortunately, ignoring warning signs and not recognizing the difference between discomfort during hard workouts and actual pain is a problem that increases the potential for injury,” he says.
DON’T COPY THE PROS
A lot of times, we look to the pros for answers, mimicking their smooth running stride, and changing our technique in hopes of becoming less injury-prone and more efficient. “I recommend finding ways to increase running economy by varying intensity and focusing on form cues such as trying to have your feet land under your hips,” he says.
RUNNERS NEED STRENGTH TRAINING
While running more over time makes you stronger, supplementing your running with strength training can help your body adapt easier and be less prone to injury. “Strength training is an important way to prevent injury with new runners. However, rather than jumping right into an intense routine, I recommend an activation routine with resistance bands rather than free weights while runners learn the proper form of each movement,” Puzey says.
SLOW DOWN, THEN SPEED UP
Running can seem simple enough: Lace up your shoes, head out, and run a set distance at a pace you can tolerate. This strategy works for a while, but when you start trying to get faster or reach a time goal for an upcoming race, the pace you run for your workouts might get faster, too. If you up the intensity too much, injuries are more likely to happen.
“Most runners do the majority of their training at a moderate effort. However, to maximize gains, the vast majority of training (up to 80%) should be at a conversational pace, while the other 20% should be at a higher intensity,” he adds.
Instead of thinking of stretching as something else you have to do if you want to avoid injury, make stretching part of your workout. “I recommend dynamic stretching and activation routines before most runs, and especially before intense workouts and races to increase blood flow, prime the legs, lungs, heart and nerves for harder efforts, which, in theory, should help reduce the likelihood of injury. I recommend yoga and static stretching after runs, workouts and races,” he says.
USE CROSS-TRAINING TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
There will be times when you aren’t feeling up for another run. Fortunately, running isn’t the only way you can get in shape and improve your cardiovascular fitness, lose weight and even become a better runner.
“Cross-training is a safe, effective way to increase training volume without increasing the risk of impact injury,” notes Puzey. “I recommend low-impact aerobic activities like cycling, swimming, aqua jogging, hiking and cross-country skiing as alternatives to running when you aren’t feeling 100%.”
MAKE RECOVERY A LIFESTYLE
From the moment you end a run until the time you begin your next run, your focus should be on recovery. While this can take a lot of effort and energy, adopting a lifestyle that focuses on giving your body what it needs to recover properly is a sure-fire way to become a better runner and remain injury-free.
“The best way to recover is to prepare adequately for the challenge,” notes Puzey. “Move regularly before and after long and hard efforts. Replenish the nutrients lost during exercise by regularly fueling throughout the day and during efforts longer than two hours. Consume a variety of macro and micronutrients from a variety of sources. Plan what you will eat before, during and after a long or hard effort. Consume something with protein and carbs an hour after a hard or long effort to facilitate recovery and muscle repair.”
From the moment you end a run until the time you begin your next run, your focus should be on recovery. “Sleep at least 1/3 of the day. That gives you 1/3 of the day to work and 1/3 of the day to recreate, socialize, and be with your friends, family and community,” he suggests.
FIND THE RIGHT SHOES
Even though running doesn’t require a ton of new gear or the initial investment a sport like cycling might, you need a good pair of shoes. Once you begin doing your research, you’re likely to recognize there are a lot of different options available, ranging from motion control options to minimalist footwear. While no one shoe will be right for everyone, it’s important to find the right pair for you to improve comfort and reduce injury risk as your mileage piles up.
According to Puzey, the best way to determine what shoe works for you is to try them on. Specialty running shoe stores have a variety of models from different brands for runners to try on. This increases the likelihood of finding a shoe that fits and feels just right for you.
CREATE A TRAINING PLAN
Sometimes it can simply be hard to judge your training and progress objectively. You might think you’re doing the right things without realizing your daily habits are steering you toward injury. For runners who might feel stuck or continue getting injured after trying everything they know, a running coach could be helpful.
“Regardless of the level of experience, having another set of eyes and a different set of experiences and perspectives can help a runner create a plan to help them work toward a goal,’” says Puzey. “A coach will not only have a variety of options to keep things fun and interesting, but they will also be able to answer questions that you might have about how much to increase volume and intensity to maximize gains while minimizing the risk of injury.”
Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it.