How to avoid Running Injuries in 5 easy steps

The strongest predictive factor of developing a running injury is.....

You’ve been injured in the past.

If the injury has been within the past 12 months you’re at the highest risk of being injured again. So, the key is, don’t get injured in the first place!

You will not truly understand your own love of running, until it is taken away from you when that niggle turns into an injury.

If you want to ‘become’ a runner, or planning to increase your training, read on for some sensible, easy and fairly logical steps to keep you healthy and injury free.

1) Train according to your RECENT experience

“If you don’t use it, you lose it”, as we are often reminded. If you were a fantastic little athletics runner, but have enjoyed 10 years of couch potato life, it’s important that you choose your training level based on RECENT experience. If you’ve been out of running for a while be careful that your body may not bounce up off the couch and take on a 12km City to Bay problem free.

Equally if you’ve been running 5km+ three times per week since you can remember, but had 4 weeks off while on holidays, your body will be a lot more forgiving when you lace up the running shoes again. Depending on your exercise history, it may be worth sitting down and writing out your best estimate of what running specific activity you’ve been doing over the past 12 months, to help you start planning your future running goals.

Aim to figure out the average total mileage you’ve been running per week e.g. 15km each week over 3 training runs. Aim to increase your training load by a maximum of 10% per week (Macera et al 1989), therefore adding 1.5km to your running for next week.

This may look like:

3x 5.5km runs = 16.5km OR 1x 3km, 1x 6km + 1x 7.5km = 16.5km.

After increasing your training load by 5-10% per week for a few weeks, incorporate a week or two of maintaining your new load without increase, to allow your body to adapt. The number of running sessions per week is less important that the total distance you cover, although research suggests 2-5 runs per week may be less risky than 6-7 times per week (McKean et al 2006).

2) Change terrain

Repetition is the enemy when trying to avoid running injury. Following the same route or similar terrain each run results in the same load being exerted on the same structures in your body each time you run, resulting in increased chance of overload and breakdown of your body.

Try to incorporate a mix of uphills, downhills, pavement, grass and trails. Be careful with running on soft sand as the instability can be very challenging. If you want to include soft sand running, start with running just short distances on the sand as part of longer pavement/grass runs and increase the time spent on the sand gradually.

3) Change speed

Incorporate shorter sessions at faster speeds e.g 4 x 800m, and longer slower sessions such a 20mins jogging at a slow, comfortable pace. Investing time in slower speed training is just as valuable as the higher intensity, faster running in allowing your body to adapt to running, while adjusting which structures are taking the load. Always include a warm up and cool down around your training session.

4) Increase load gradually

Map out a rough plan for your training load, so you can monitor the gradual increase and avoid accidental overtraining. Training load relates to both distance and speed, so if you’re focusing on building up speed over one particular week, ensure you cut back on distance and vice versa. The 10% rule (see point 1) above) is a good guide to keep your training on track. This is harder to apply if speed is your focus, although can still be carefully monitored with a bit of clever maths.

5) Listen to your body

If you have had an injury in the past 12 months, listen out even more carefully to your bodies subtle hints that something may be niggling, as this is one of the strongest predictive factors in developing a running injury. If you’re fatigued, it may be worth aiming for a shorter run, or adding in a rest day.

Weather, sleep, stress, work and physical training may all contribute to feeling fantastic, or feeling flat. Learn what your body is trying to tell you. Sometimes getting out for a short run can actually help you feel heaps better, but if you’re exhausted, catch up on extra sleep or try a stretching session instead. Avoid pushing on with running training when you’re exhausted, as this can contribute to poor technique, overuse injuries, as well as a higher chance of tripping or falling while you’re less alert.

Enjoy what you’re doing, keep mixing it up, and LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!

Life is better when you’re running.