Running Injury Prevention
Running Safe and Smart
The benefits of running are numerous. Running has been shown to improve mood, regardless of the time, distance, and type of running. Running can attenuate risky behaviours and habits, such as cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and overeating. If you’re trying to lose weight, running has been shown to help take off the pounds faster and keep them off. Running, also, is less expensive than a gym membership and can be done at whatever time of day works for you!
One oft-overlooked drawback to running is the risk of injury. Runners, especially runners just starting out, are at an increased risk of injury in comparison to other sports and exercise modalities. The repetitiveness of the movements, unstable and uneven surfaces, weather conditions and temperature, poor form, pre-existing injuries and other anatomical compensations all can lead to injury when running. Running, also, is typically a solitary pursuit, so if your form is poor and if you do injure yourself, you’re unlikely to have a personal trainer or coach to correct your posture or advise you on how to care for a potential injury.
So, if you are a runner or are interested in starting a running program, what can you do to help prevent injuries?
First of all, Check your ego. If you are new to running, there’s no need to run a marathon right off the bat. And yes, this includes runners who ‘used to run’, but who have been on hiatus for months or even years. Studies show that it takes on average seven days to two weeks to start losing cardio fitness, so just because you were in excellent shape last year, and used to run ten kilometres a day, doesn’t mean you’re in the same physical condition now. You will gain nothing by pushing your body beyond what it can handle (take heart: research suggests that you will maintain some of your fitness levels–about 40%–even after a months-long or even year-long break).
Check in with yourself. One tool that might help you to improve your running ability while decreasing risk for injury is the Rate of Perceived Exertion, or RPE. You may already be familiar with the tool, but if not, RPE is a subjective assessment of how difficult, both physically and psychologically, an exercise is for you. It can get a little tricky sometimes because it is highly subjective and can be influenced by factors not having to do with the actual activity–such as stress, nutrition, and levels of motivation and self-efficacy. But checking in with how hard you’re working at that moment can help you to consistently improve your running fitness. If you listen to your body, you’ll find yourself running longer and faster with less effort! Check out the RPE 1-10 scale below to start tracking.
- Easy (1-3): Can talk normally, breathing naturally, feel very comfortable
- Moderate (4-6): Can talk in short spurts, breathing is more labored; you’re within your comfort zone but you feel like you’re working.
- Hard (7-9): Can barely talk, breathing heavily, outside your comfort one
- Max effort (10): At your physical limit or past it, gasping for breath, can’t talk/barely remember your name
Recovery is essential. I struggled with the concept of recovery for many years before realizing that, yes, it is necessary if I want to see any improvements in my fitness. Running is no exception. People often discount running recovery because they think it ‘doesn’t involve muscles’ in the same way that strength-training does. This belief is very dangerous because running stresses muscles and joints and organs (such as the lungs and heart) just like any form of strength or endurance training. And as such, your body needs time to repair and rebuild between sessions.
So, what does recovery look like for a runner? Hydration, nutrition, sleep, stretching. Hydration needs vary depending on the individual, but one general rule that you can follow is to match fluid losses with fluid intake. Rest days in between sessions will help to prevent overuse injuries and encourage long-term adherence (as opposed to running every day without rest). Sleep is also essential: sleep promotes the hormones and processes that heal and rebuild muscles, and, bonus, exercising is more likely to improve your sleep quality. If you are going too hard, you’ll likely see the negative effects in your sleep; overtraining can result in insomnia and other sleep disorders. Stretching has been shown to support exercise recovery–but only when done after your session. Check out the stretching program at the bottom of this article to keep in tip-top running condition!
Consider cross-training. If you are not familiar with the concept, cross-training is training in more than one particular exercise modality. So, if you are a runner and want to improve your running, you would likely benefit from engaging in some different forms of exercise, such as strength training or yoga. The benefits of cross-training are two-fold: for one, you are less likely to suffer from an overuse injury. You are also less likely to suffer from joint problems related to running when you strengthen the muscles around the joint. Yoga can help your balance, posture, core strength, and, on a psychological level, can help to manage pain as a result of running. Stabilizing the joints is essential for pain-free, long-term running; check out some different basic exercises that you can perform to improve your joint strength and your running.
Here are five simple stretches that should be done after a run to prevent sports-related injuries:
- Quadriceps Stretch. Standing straight while balanced near a stationary object, reach back and grab the front of the ankle. Draw the heel to your glute while pressing the hip forward. Ensure you keep the knees in line with one another. Repeat with opposite leg.
- Hamstring Stretch. Sit on mat or floor with knees bent. Position towel under the arch of the foot , grasp the ends of the towel. Roll onto your back with you knee bent while raising the leg above yourself maintaining grip on towel. Slowly straighten the leg until the knee is straight. Hold stretch. Repeat with opposite leg.
- Piriformis Stretch. Lay on your back with both knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Cross right ankle over the left knee. Grab your left thigh and pull the legs towards your chest. Repeat with opposite leg.
- Gastroc Stretch. Place both hands on the wall. Step backward and extend the back leg (straight knee and foot positioned forward) while the leg closest to the wall will have a bend in the knee. Push rear heal to floor and move hips slightly forward. Hold stretch. Repeat with opposite leg.
- Soleus Stretch. Place both hands on the wall. Step backward and extend the back leg (slight bend in knee and foot positioned forward) while the leg closest to the wall will have a bend in the knee. Continue bending the knee on the back leg until just before heel raises. Repeat with opposite leg.
Running boasts numerous benefits across multiple areas of health. Don’t let an injury hold you back! If you want to prevent injuries and get the most out of running, consider hiring a personal trainer who can build you an effective program to help you reach your running goals and improve your fitness.
Wishing you all the best on your journey to optimum health!
Written by Andre Potvin, President of Infofit, and Theresa Faulder, Master’s in English, Certified Personal Trainer and Infofit fitness blog writer.