The Top Ten Ways to Avoid Running Injuries
By Rick Morris
Running injuries are an almost unavoidable part of running. It is the rare athlete indeed that can avoid all injuries. While injuries are nearly unavoidable you can take steps to minimize the occurrence of running injuries. Here are the top ten ways to avoid running injuries.
Weak muscles and joints are more easily injured. Engage in a proper strength training program consistently on a year round basis. Your strength training program should consist of general strength training, running specific strength and plyometrics. Always start with general strength training to build up your strength base before progressing to the more difficult running specific strength and finally plyometrics.
Get Adequate Rest and Recovery
Your muscles recover and grow stronger during recovery periods. Without that all important rest and recovery your muscles will be in a constant state of fatigue and you will be more injury prone.
Most runners know they need to stretch to keep their muscles flexible and avoid running injuries, but many do not stretch properly. You should perform dynamic stretches after your warm up but before your workout. Never stretch a cold muscle. Dynamic stretches are full range of motion, controlled movements that mimic your running movements and include lunges, squats, leg swings and side bends. Static stretches are the more common stretches in which you gently stretch and hold for about 20 seconds. Static stretches should be done after your workout.
Warm Up and Cool Down
A proper warm up is important because it opens up the capillaries in your muscles and gets more blood flow and nutrients to your working muscles. It also increases the viscosity of your joint fluids, the flexibility and elasticity of your muscles and prepares them for more intense activity. Running at a hard pace on cold muscles increases your chance of energy. A proper cool down is also important to avoid blood pooling. Consistently doing a warm up will help you avoid running injuries.
Run On Hills
Hill running is an excellent activity for improving your running strength, which will in turn, help you avoid injury. Running up hill has also been shown to increase the length and flexibility of your Achilles tendon. That will help you avoid the dreaded Achilles tendonitis.
Proper Running Mechanics
One of the most common causes of running injuries is poor running form or mechanics. Poor mechanics can cause a long list of running injuries including shin splints, Achilles tendonitis, illiotibial band syndrome, runner’s knee and many others. The most prevalent running form mistake is over-striding in which you reach out in front your body and land on your heel. You should always land either flat footed or on the ball of your foot directly under your center of gravity. Other form flaws include – “sitting in the bucket”, poor posture, too much vertical movement, improper arm swing and passive running.
There are many important and often ignored muscles that control the stabilization, movements and motions of your foot and ankle. Running shoes, especially the popular over engineered stability shoes, wrap your foot in a cast like enclosure and keep many of the muscles of your foot and ankle from working to their full extent. As a result those muscles are weak and inefficient. That results in a greater incidence of running related injuries to your foot and lower leg. Most running shoes also tend to encourage heel striking and over-striding which lowers your performance and causes injury. Running barefoot strengthens those all important muscles and helps you run with proper form and mechanics.
It would be a bad idea for a beginning runner to go out and do a 20 miler for their first run. It would probably be their first and last. That is definitely not the way to avoid running injuries. While that is an extreme example, many runners try to make increases in their mileage or running intensity at pace that is too rapid. Allow your muscles to gain in strength and endurance at a more moderate pace. Stay patient. Running is a life long activity. You don’t need to rush yourself. If you do too much, too soon you are headed down the road to injury and physical therapy.
All running injuries are not muscle or tendon related. Dehydration and heat illnesses are also running injuries. You can avoid this type of injury by hydrating properly. Make sure you are well hydrated before you start your run and stay hydrated during your run. If you are running for an hour or more or in a high heat situation be sure to hydrate using a sports drink. If you drink only plain water during a very long run you can actually suffer from an illness that is caused by too much water called hyponatremia. This is a dangerous condition in which your blood becomes over diluted and low in sodium. You can avoid this by consuming the proper amounts of a sports drink containing sodium and electrolytes.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Running is a strenuous activity. Your body works hard when you are running and training. All of that hard work requires quality fuel. You would not put cheap watered down gas in your car, so don’t put poor quality foods in your body. Your body needs a lot of nutrients too keep operating at peak efficiency. Consume adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and essential fats.