Have you struggled with persistent aches, pains, and various running-related injuries throughout the years? Are you at the point where you are ready to try something different in hopes of seeing better results? If so, this article should provide you with the guidance necessary to reduce your likelihood of injury once a for all.
I hate to mislead you with some attention grabbing title. But, the truth is… Running is a painful sport. In fact, the research shows that up to 70% of runners get injured each and every year. Therefore, the real goal should be how to reduce your risk of injury since it cannot be prevented altogether. This can be done by increasing your tolerance to the demands of running and functioning in a more efficient way.
In the following sections, I will present a few key points for you to consider when emphasizing injury reduction…
Perform a Running Analysis
Since you’ll usually spend anywhere from 3-6 days per week running, the first step is to run more efficiently. How do you go about that? Spend the time and a little money on the front end by paying a trained professional to conduct a running analysis. This can be done in simple ways such as slow-motion treadmill analysis or with wearable technology like the DorsiVii.
Too often do we pay for the best Garmins, self-myofascial release tools, and training programs. In reality, your money is best spent on improving the quality of your movement within the sport. More efficient running form will cause less wear and tear on the body, as well as improve performance.
Complete a Movement Assessment
In addition to analyzing your running form and implementing the corrections which will make you more successful on the road, it’s important to assess general and specific movement patterns. What’s important to realize is that the body is really good at compensating. This means that a movement might appear normal even though the strategy to achieve that position has been altered due to a mobility, stability, or motor control problem.
During an assessment, you will complete a series of movements that can be analyzed by a trained professional. These movements provide a good glimpse into how the body functions in various positions. And, these naturally play a big role in how well you run.
Most movement assessments consist of the squat, lunge, single leg stance, step down, and other relevant drills. They can also be broken down to a greater degree when a discrepancy is found by evaluating one or several of the joints involved. In the end, you can determine your overall movement competency, if there are any imbalances or asymmetries from side to side, and which weak links need to be addressed to reduce your risk of injury.
Correct Your Weak Links
With the running analysis and movement assessment completed, you will have a very good idea of which areas require your attention. What’s important to realize is that there might be several things which are not “optimal,” in regards to your movement. The good thing is, you don’t have to be perfect to be a successful runner. And, by no means do you have to correct everything. Instead, work closely with your healthcare provider to determine what are the low hanging fruit or most important priorities to target first. Start there!
When implementing a corrective plan, patience and consistency are the two key ingredients. You can’t work on your specific exercises once a week and expect it to have any impact. Many of these underlying issues may have been present for months or even years before uncovering them. Therefore, address them daily, progress your program when able, and stay committed for the long haul.
Incorporate a Structured and Progressive Strength Training Program
Runners either have a love or hate relationship with strength training. However, one thing we can’t deny is that a higher level of strength or endurance only increases your tolerance to the demands of running. And, the great thing about that is, you are able to improve your foundation without running more miles. This is crucial as we age.
In my opinion, strength training is not the best term for it. Of course, it’s helpful to be stronger and more resilient. But, there are other characteristics which could better reduce your risk of injury, including: mobility, stability, neuromuscular control, timing, coordination, stiffness, and shock absorption. All of these play a vital role while running and should be addressed within your strength training program.
The big question usually becomes, how do you implement a strength training program alongside your running? Of course, running needs to be your priority. With that being said, there are weeks or months throughout the year where you can be more aggressive in the gym. This is usually following your goal race as you take some time to recover or even early in your running plan while you are still establishing a base. Then, as mileage builds, strength training can back down into more of a maintenance phase. As long as your body is able to adequately recover between runs, strength training should play a role in some way. Anywhere from 1-4 days per week is recommended depending on the time of year.
Understand Intensity, Volume, & the Importance of Recovery
Three of the most important variables in running are intensity, volume, and recovery. These have a very special relationship with each other that undoubtedly play into your likelihood of enduring a running-related injury. Plain and simple, the higher the intensity or greater the volume, the more recovery is needed. When recovery is overlooked for the sake of running faster or more miles, tissue breakdown will likely exceed tissue repair.
Running is infamous for chronic overuse injuries such as tendinopathies and stress fractures. How do these occur? A repetitive load is applied for too long or with too much magnitude for positive remodeling to occur. That’s why it’s very important to listen to your body and reduce intensity or volume when you are excessively tired, not sleeping well, experiencing high levels of stress, during certain times of your menstrual cycle, and/or not hitting your normal paces.
In the end, it’s important to be smart with your training. If you start to notice any of the warning signs listed above, consider what modifications you might have to make to stay healthy. That’s why I always recommend following a structured and progressive plan that builds you up for your goal race, while prioritizing recovery. Not to mention utilizing an experienced running coach to help you make smart decisions.
Like I mentioned upfront, running is hard on the body and there is no way to prevent running-related injuries from occurring altogether. Being smart, listening to your body, and applying some of the strategies I mentioned can help alleviate the risk so you can continue running on your terms for years to come.
Thank you for reading this article. If you personally need help reducing your risk of injury and think some of the strategies I outlined in this article could be helpful, click here to learn more about the Healthy Running Program. This program is designed for runners and will be 100% individualized to your needs. In-person and remote options available!