Running is a fantastic exercise that is easily accessible to a wide array of people. Its requirements are simple: Lace up your shoes, and head out the door.
Unfortunately, a startlingly high percentage—up to 65%—of runners are affected by injury every year. Fortunately, many of these injuries are easily preventable. Though it requires a small investment of time beyond what you spend running, the benefits are well worth the effort.
At the most basic level, injury prevention means that we’re preventing injuries from ever happening in the first place. But even though it’s a simple concept, a multifaceted approach is the most effective. Incorporating strength training, allowing proper time for recovery, and using tools like a foam roller can all be beneficial.
One of the major reasons that runners get injured is because our bodies are unprepared to handle the physical demands of the activity. Since many of us lead sedentary lives outside of running, our muscles and joints aren’t always ready for us to jump into an aggressive training plan.
Don’t let your engine outpace your chassis!
When it comes to building an injury-resistant body, remember this analogy: Don’t let your engine outpace your chassis! What that means is that you can’t let your aerobic fitness (endurance) outpace your structural fitness (bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles). If you do, you’re setting yourself up for injury.
We have long been told that the type of shoe each of us needs in order to run healthy is based on how much we pronate—or how much your foot rolls inward. Runners who overpronate, or roll inward more aggressively, have typically been directed toward heavier, motion-control shoes.
But a recent study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows that this is a myth. In fact, the best way to determine what type of shoe works best for you involves asking an extraordinarily simple question: Is it comfortable? Keep your shoe selection simple, and don’t be swayed by fancy new technology. If the shoe fits well and feels good, wear it.
Changing your running form in a big way, also a widely discussed concept, can have varying results when it comes to injury prevention. For most of us, making a major overhaul to our running form is unnecessary. Minor adjustments are the way to go.
Studies show increasing your stride rate (i.e., how many steps you take per minute) can be an effective tool for injury prevention. By shortening your stride and taking more steps per minute, you may lower the risk of injury by reducing the impact stresses with each foot strike.
Much to every runner’s chagrin, there is no “magic bullet” when it comes to injury prevention. But the hallmark of any preventative program is simple: strength work. Once your structural fitness is in place, it supports your aerobic fitness as you continue to build greater mileage and speed into your workouts.
There are several components of strength work:
- Dynamic warm-ups: These are short, simple routines that employ dynamic movements to help prepare your body to run. Studies show that dynamic warm-ups (ones that involve active movement of muscle groups you’ll use in your workout) are more effective than static stretching. Research also shows that performing a dynamic warm-up before a strength-training session may help reduce post-workout soreness.
- Dynamic cooldowns: Just like the warm-up routines, these are a short-and-simple set of exercises that help your body cool down after your run, and build strength and flexibility in key areas like your hips, glutes and hamstrings.
- Core and strength routines: Strength routines that focus on core, hip and glute strength are critical to injury prevention. Weak hips and glutes are frequently to blame for running injuries, and a strong core helps you remain stable when fatigue starts to kick in.
- Proper buildup: While it’s not always essential to stick with the 10% rule when it comes to increasing mileage, you do want to make sure you don’t try to take on too much, too fast.
- Proper recovery: Easy days and rest days are essential! These are critical to helping your body recover and absorb the previous day’s hard training.
This simple routine can help you get started on the path to injury prevention. The following set of exercises will help runners of all ability levels build strength and prevent injuries. These moves address areas that are commonly weak in runners—especially for those of us who sit in an office all day. Performing 2 sets of this routine should take only 15–20 minutes. You can also add weights and/or additional reps to make it more challenging.
FORWARD LUNGE (10–20 reps per leg)
Step forward with your right leg so your knee is positioned over your ankle. Lower your body until your left knee brushes the ground. Step back, and repeat on the other side. Once you have mastered forward lunges, there are a variety of others you can add to your routine, including twisting, lateral, diagonal and reverse lunges.
STEP-UPS (10 reps per leg)
Stand in front of a step or bench that’s 1–2 feet high. Step up with your right foot until your leg is straight. Maintain a tall posture, and step down with the left foot. Repeat on the other side.
PISTOL SQUATS (5–10 reps per leg)
Stand on your right leg with your arms straight out in front of you, then slowly squat down so your right thigh is almost parallel to the ground. Keep the motion slow and controlled, then return to standing. Repeat on the other side.
SINGLE-LEG DEADLIFTS (10–20 reps)
Stand tall, then bend forward from the hip (not the spine) while standing on your left leg and extending your right leg behind you for balance. Return to standing by activating the glutes.
PUSH-UPS (10 reps)
Rest your weight on your palms and toes with your hands shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight and lower your body until your chest reaches the ground, then push back up. To modify, rest your weight on your knees instead of on your toes.
MARCHING BRIDGE (30–60 seconds)
Lie face up with your feet flat on the ground. Lift your hips and contract your glutes so you form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Straighten one leg, hold for 2–3 seconds, and repeat on the other side.
PLANK (30–90 seconds)
Place the forearms on the ground with the elbows aligned below your shoulders and arms parallel to the body, about shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight and hold.
In addition to consistent strength work and smart training, here are some other aspects to consider:
1. Foam Rollers and Massage
These can all be part of your injury-prevention tool kit. Studies in the Journal of Health and Conditioning show foam rolling tight muscles can help increase blood flow and relieve tension.
While nutrition is too broad a topic to address in-depth here, generally speaking, runners should stick with real, whole foods and avoid refined, processed ones. Make sure you take in sufficient calories to fuel your body and help it recover efficiently.