We’ve all been there! You’re training for something specific, improving your performance, and looking forward to hitting a new PR.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, you’re hit by a running injury. All that hard work, just so you can sit out of the big event while you’re recovering! It can be pretty maddening.
But a bit of prep work beforehand can actually stop this from happening.
So what can you do to prevent running injuries? The good news is, you can do quite a lot!
Here are our best tips and tricks to keep injuries at bay. Remember, your lifestyle should reflect your goals.
Don’t Skip Your Warm-Up and Cool Down
This is probably one of the biggest and most common mistakes! We’re all guilty of it at some point; skipping the warm-up and going straight into a brisk pace with still-cold muscles.
Maybe you woke up a little late and don’t want to cut your training short. Perhaps it’s cold outside and you don’t want to be out for any longer than absolutely necessary!
Whatever the excuse, don’t skip warming up and cooling down. It may not affect you immediately, but if you get into a habit, there’s a chance of it coming back to bite you hard.
It’s no secret that it’s easier to get injured when your muscles aren’t properly warmed up. Pushing them too hard, too soon can have terrible effects, and why risk that?
Note that it takes a bit longer to warm up when it’s cold outdoors. This is also when it’s most tempting to skip, though! Push through, and you’ll find that not only is your injury risk decreased, but you may actually perform better.
You don’t need to spend ages warming up. Here’s a short, sweet way to warm up those muscles in just 10 minutes.
- Walk for 2 or 3 minutes to get the blood flowing
- Do some dynamic stretches for 2 to 3 minutes to improve flexibility
- Jog slowly for 4 to 5 minutes to start taking it up a level
- Do running form drills as part of your warm-up
- Wear extra layers while warming up
- Do your walking and stretching in the house if it’s cold outside
- Make sure you get your heart rate up a little
Cool Down Tips
If you’re all good with warming up before you run, well done. Now, don’t forget to cool down as well!
Your cool-down is the first point of recovery. Skipping it won’t ruin your recovery. But it may reduce the effectiveness of it.
- End your run with a slow jog or walk, for 5 to 10 minutes
- Stretch all the leg muscles for 5 to 10 minutes
- Add an extra layer of clothing when doing a cool down
- A cold shower after your run can help to increase blood flow
- Putting compression gear on when you finish can also help
- Elevate your legs for 10 to 15 minutes to get rid of fluid buildup
Increase Mileage and Intensity Gradually
Another common reason behind injury is overuse. In other words, we either don’t rest and recover enough, or we come out guns blazing and don’t give our body enough time to adjust.
It’s very easy to injure yourself if you start too intensely after being inactive or less active for a few weeks or months. We tend to want to jump back into the same level of intensity we were at before.
But our bodies need to work their way back into it. If you’re starting with the same distance, time, or pace you were at weeks or months ago, your chances of injury increase.
The same is true for progressing. If you’re increasing your mileage too quickly, you’re opening yourself up to injury. A 10% increase in mileage, both in single runs and weekly total, is the highest number recommended.
For example, if you ran 10 miles last week, increase by 1 mile at the max this week. Next week, you can increase by 1.1 miles. Or, if you’re running for 30 minutes a day this week, add 3 minutes to your daily run next week.
Lastly, your body needs time to recover! Allow enough time to recover in between runs, and make sure you’re eating well, too.
As you build your mileage up, recovery weeks (also known as taper weeks) are also recommended. This is where you do a week of lower-intensity workouts to allow your body the chance to recover and rebuild, without skipping exercise altogether.
Tips & Tricks
Monitoring your stats will show you whether you’re keeping on track. As much as our running watches and apps can produce mountains of data to track and analyze, it’s also vital to listen to your body! If you’re feeling weak today, do a lighter workout or take a rest day. Overuse can have worse effects than skipping a day.
- Training for a race? Start a few weeks earlier than usual and build up your mileage slowly
- Don’t increase mileage/pace/time by more than 10% weekly
- Stick strictly to each workout’s target pace – especially on easy/recovery runs
- Do a “rest week” every 4 weeks, at 60 – 70% of your usual intensity/volume
- Don’t be afraid to go lighter than usual on days you’re feeling extra tired/sore
Improve your Flexibility
Running may not involve heavy equipment, but it’s a high-impact sport on your joints. Did you know that every time your foot lands when you’re just walking, your hips, knees, ankles, and foot bones are taking on a force of almost 3 times your body weight?
When you consider that the average runner takes more than 1,000 steps per mile, it’s not hard to understand why your lower body joints take a beating!
This is why excellent running form is necessary. The better your form, the more aligned your joints are, and the less that impact will damage them.
If your knee joint, for example, is out of alignment, that force only pushes it more off-center with every step. The rest of your body tries to compensate for this imbalance, putting additional strain on joints and muscles from your feet through your core. Can you see how this leads to injury?
One way to assist with running form is to improve your flexibility. Stretching is ideal for getting the blood flowing, warming up muscles, helping with recovery, and improving flexibility!
You can stretch at any time of the day or night. But it’s great to do immediately after a run, to make sure the blood is circulating well through the muscles so they can recover properly.
We recommend doing dynamic stretches rather than static ones. These involve active movement and help to up your flexibility rather than just stretching out a muscle.
Stretching is also a great way to allow your body some space for its core temperature to cool down before you hop in the shower.
- Find an adequate stretch for calves, hamstrings, quads, and hip flexors and create a routine
- At the end of your run, stretch for 5 to 10 minutes
- On rest days, stretch for 5 to 10 minutes
- Hold stretches for at least 45 seconds
Improve Your Strength
Strengthening your muscles can help prevent not only muscular injury but also joint injury. Stronger muscles provide better support to joints and keep them firmly in place.
Obviously, the leg and foot muscles are the ones that really work hard when you’re running. Strengthening them can improve your running by also pushing you forward faster, allowing you to run faster for longer before fatiguing. But don’t neglect your core – that is equally as important for strong running form.
We recommend doing some upper body strength work too, though. A well-rounded cross-training routine is a good idea!
If you’re serious about building more strength to improve your running, you’ll need to dedicate 30 minutes to an hour to strength training, 2 or 3 times weekly.
You can do them on the same days as your runs, or on recovery days. It all depends on what feels best to you. We recommend splitting the workout from your running. For example, if you usually run in the morning, continue doing so and add your strength training in the evening.
- Work out the core for better balance
- Work out the upper body for better running posture
- Do 3 to 4 sets of each exercise, 10 to 15 reps
- Walk or jog barefoot to strengthen the feet
- If you’re unsure how to incorporate these on your own, you can get a personal trainer or join a Crossfit community
If you’re ambitious and are dead-set on reaching a running goal, it’s entirely possible that you’re not recovering as much as you should be.
It’s easy to over-train without even realizing it. Our bodies are great at feeling strong and pushing through until something happens (a cold, an emotional incident, etc) and then they crash.
We need to pay careful attention to our recovery! In fact, it’s the third leg in the tripod of what makes a successful runner – training, nutrition, and recovery.
Recovery involves physical rest, eating well, and getting enough sleep. You can use things like compression gear to give you a little recovery boost.
But there are no shortcuts here! You need to take proper time between runs and exercise to rest. For many, rest days are simply too active and we don’t get the much-needed break.
Don’t neglect recovery. In fact, I’d venture so far as to say if you’re unsure how you feel on a day, it’s best to make it a recovery day!
- If you feel overtired or ill, move your run to the following day
- Walk or take a chill bike ride on recovery days
- Spend time in the sauna on rest days
- Have a massage on your rest day
- Do yoga or an extended stretching session
- Take a nap if necessary
- Relax and put your feet up (literally)
- Sleep in on rest days
Extra Tips & Tricks
Know Your Weaknesses
This is where a running journal or diary comes in super-handy. Here, you can jot down all the details of previous injuries, as well as go back and look at what led up to them.
When you know why a previous injury occurred, it’s easier to prevent it from happening again! If you start to notice old patterns pop up, take action to rectify them before they turn into another injury.
Nothing is more annoying than suffering from the same injury again, for the same reasons, when you could have avoided it!
Nutrition is highly important for running success. You may wonder how what you eat can prevent injuries, but the fact is that what you fuel yourself with strengthens the muscles and immune system. You are, in a very literal sense, what you eat. If your diet is unbalanced and unhealthy, you’re not giving your body what it needs to build and rebuild during a training cycle. Paying attention to your calorie intake and making sure your meals are composed of a diverse selection of nutrient-rich foods heavy on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, ensures your body has the right building blocks for high performance.
If your muscles aren’t strong enough to support your body, or your health is a little down and it’s taking a toll on your body, you’re going to be at a higher risk of injuring yourself, either because of overuse or because your form is off.
- Fuel: Calculate your recommended calorie intake and stick to it. Severely undercutting calories, even if you want to lose weight, is a recipe for disaster.
- Hydrate: You need about half a gallon per day (8 glasses or so), and even more when running. Dehydration can lead to tiredness, which leads to bad form.
The wrong shoes can make it hard to progress in your running performance, but they can also increase the chance of injury.
If you have a non-pronating foot, or you underpronate, a neutral shoe should work for you. If you overpronate, you might do better in a stability shoe.
Also, make sure the toe box is wide enough for your toes to spread naturally! Cramped, uncomfy toes can lead to – you guessed it – bad running form, and an increased chance of injury.
Replace your shoes every 400 to 600 miles to make sure you aren’t running in shoes that aren’t offering stability or cushioning anymore.
It’s not always easy to correct running form, but it’s worth putting the time and effort into it. Simply changing your form can prevent injury, and even if you manage to remain uninjured with incorrect form, your joints are in for a nightmare when you get older.
If your form isn’t the best, here are two tips to help improve it to reduce the amount of impact on your joints:
Try Landing With Your Foot Underneath Your Upper Body
That sounds a bit like getting into a yoga pretzel. But what it really means is making sure your foot lands in a way that your ankle and leg are subjected to less force.
Runners very often over-stride, reaching out in front of their center of gravity with their feet. This results in impacting the ground in a way that applies braking forces to your momentum – forces absorbed by the leg. If you over stride, it is almost certain that you heel strike, as well.
Heel striking is not in and of itself bad, but it is a symptom of less-than-ideal form. Leaning forward subtly and shortening your stride can help you keep your feet just in front of your center of gravity. That’s the ideal place to maximize running efficiency and reduce injury risk.
Shorten Your Stride
Often, the reason for heel striking is, as we mentioned above, overreaching your stride and, as a result, coming down hard on the heel.
If you find it hard to pay attention to where your foot is in relation to your upper body, try simply shortening your stride. If your running watch measures cadence, this is the perfect time to use it.
There is a sweet spot for cadence and running efficiency, and that is unique to each individual. Many sources say 180 steps per minutes is ideal. But there are lots of qualifications to that. Taller runners have naturally slower cadences. And cadence also slows down as your pace eases – so 180 might work on race day and on your tempo runs, but it doesn’t work on your easy days when you’re running 2:00/mile slower. Improving your cadence can lead to you running more efficiently! Reduced chance of injury and the possibility of increased performance? Worth a try, no?
We understand that your running surfaces may be limited to what’s nearby, or what’s available at the time that you run. In most cases, runners are going to be logging miles on asphalt or concrete sidewalks, both of which are pretty hard.
Your feet hitting those rock-hard surfaces takes more of a toll than if they were landing on softer ones.
If you can, move your run to the park, a track, or somewhere else on grass or softer terrain. You may need to take a week or so to adjust, but the difference in your joints may be noticeable.
If you’re unable to, it may be wise to invest in a treadmill and split your training between road and treadmill. The belt is a lot softer than the road, and your joints may welcome the reprieve!