No one wants an injury to derail their training plans. It doesn’t matter if you run for your mental health or are training for a race, an unplanned break is something we’d all like to avoid. Although no plan is 100% injury-proof, there are steps you can take to prevent running injuries.
I want to help you stay on the healthy list, so I’m sharing my best running injury prevention tips to help you stay injury-free through your training (as much as we can control)!
Running Injury Prevention
Many runners go from standing on the curb to running without a workout. We’ve heard pre-run stretching may be bad, so what else is there? A great way to prepare your body for the work ahead is to add Neuromuscular Activation & Dynamic exercises to your pre-run routine – particularly on strength, speed, or distance workouts.
NMA (or Neuromuscular Activation) refers to communication between the nervous & muscular systems. The goal is to prepare your muscles for a specific movement pattern – in this case, a certain type of run. The result is increased force and power from the muscle fibers, which is an ideal way to get the most out of your workout. The Dynamic stretching part of the helps you improve range of motion, without reducing power force and power and is an alternate to the static stretching you may have tried in the past. It also offsets any reduction in force and power that can result from static stretching. We include these in all our training plans and coaching programs.
2. Smart Mileage Increases
Too much, too soon is a very common reason for an injury. The most common recommendation (and good starting point) is to keep you mileage increases at 10% per week. And plan recovery weeks after no more than 3 weeks of increasing mileage (3:1 ratio).
But those recommendations are not cast in stone and the more you run, the more you can test out different approaches. For more experienced runners -you can try larger increases with steady mileage, instead of the 10% rule. My marathon PR came when I tested this approach – with up to 10-mile per week jumps in mileage, but keeping that mileage steady for 2-3 weeks.
Another variable to adjust is the time between recovery weeks. I find a 2:1 ratio (versus the standard 3:1) works best for many runners – both physically and mentally.
3. Distance, Then Speed
This one is particularly important for new runners (and those coming back from a break). We want it all – to run further and faster all at once, but it’s a risky plan. Take your time and focus on building your mileage first.
Once you have build a solid base mileage (at least 15 miles a week), you can start to add in quality work. Start with hill repeats to build functional strength in your legs – then you can progress to speed work.
4. Consistent Running
When life gets in the way, sometimes your running takes a backseat. Be very careful in this situation and watch your weekly mileage. Having one week with reduced mileage is okay, but if you’re constantly missing workouts and having large fluctuations in weekly mileage is a problem.
This is the time to think about your goal – should you adjust down to a lower mileage that you CAN sustain or find a way to fit in your planned workouts. Be honest with yourself!
5. Strength Training
Often overlooked, but a critical factor in avoiding injury! Strength training is key for any balanced athlete – which includes healthy runners. Including strength in your training plan will help you avoid muscle imbalances that can lead to injury. Like a hamstring strain from overdeveloped quads & underdeveloped glutes and hamstrings.
A full body strength training program will help keep you healthy, as well as building muscle that will help your run performance. It’s a win-win! You can get an effective workout at home or in the gym, so find a plan that fits your schedule best.
6. Stretching & Foam Rolling
Although pre-run stretching has mixed results, stretching post-run is less controversial. I find that it works best in my own running routine to help keep my muscles loose and prevent injuries caused by tight muscles. I recommend a combination of static stretching and foam rolling for the best results. These 8 foam rolling moves for runners will help get you started (and following proper technique).
7. Preventative Maintenance
While the first 6 tips are focused on your run (from pre-run to post-run), the final 3 tips are things you outside of your running routine that will still have a significant impact. Just like taking your car in for a regular oil change, Sports Chiropractic & Massage are proactive measures to keep your body in peak form.
The foundation of my preventative maintenance is sports chiropractic. I was never a fan of chiropractors until I was fighting a lingering IT Band injury years ago. My coach finally convinced me to try a sports chiro and it was a game changer. We finally worked out the kinks (literally) and moved past the issue – then she helped me with my upper back issues (from working on the computer all day). Look for someone certified in ART (active release technique) and/or Graston.
The other half of the equation is a massage therapist that focuses on athletes – look for sports or deep tissue massage. Make sure the therapist knows the areas that are especially tight or prone to injury. When I make sports massage a priority in my training (at least once a month), I have less lingering issues and can train more efficiently.
Many injuries that runners experience are due to the repetitive motion of running. One way you can counteract that (in addition to strength training) is to add in complementary sports to use your muscles in different ways. This is one reason many runners add duathlon or triathlon to their list, as biking and swimming can be very helpful for running! And you may find a new sport that you love!
Biking helps build leg strength and many people find that results in better running! Swimming builds your lung capacity, which helps you run harder. And variety is almost always good for your mental enjoyment!
Last, but not least, is nutrition. Think of nutrition as building your body’s ability to withstand the effort of training. You need to fuel your body with what it needs to power your workouts – resulting in better performance. If you don’t eat enough, your body doesn’t have enough fuel to power the workouts you’re asking it to do. Two keys to consider for running include daily calcium (1000+mg for bone health) and refueling with carbs & protein (3:1 ratio) after workouts.
For general health, I would add drinking plenty of water (start with your bodyweight divided by 2, in ounces), eating tons of dark colored veggies, and focusing on lean protein. A healthy body will be in the best position to support your training – eat like an athlete, not a weekend warrior!
What tip have you found most helpful in preventing injuries?