The (mostly) sunny weather has seen an increased number of runners hitting the streets in the last few months and the health and fitness benefits of running are undeniable. The one downside to this trend is the increase to the number of injuries that we see. But are these injuries avoidable?
The number of those involved in running who get hurt every year is staggering. Some studies put that number as high as 74%. The type of injuries are largely minor (less serious) but are extremely frustrating for both those looking to get fitter through running to those involved in competitive running.
Why do these injuries happen? The answer it seems is how we run combined with the effects of our modern lifestyle. And when we talk about how we include how often, how long and how fast. By adjusting for these issues and correcting your training you can dramatically reduce your injury rate.
Some of the following may apply to you to a greater or lesser extent, mainly depending on training/running experience.
Know your Limit- Nearly every expert and research paper agrees that “training error” is the largest contributor to injuries. Everyone will have Injury threshold/biological tipping point where if exceeded will cause an injury. For the beginner it may be a one off distance e.g. 2 miles or for an advanced runner it may be a sustained period without adequate rest or a sharp rise in mileage or intensity. The injury often doesn’t show up straight away but comes on slowly over a few weeks. The above is often described as “The Terrible Toos” Too much, Too hard, Too fast, Too long, Too soon”
The body needs time and recovery to adapt to changes in miles or intensity, if you rush this process you will likely break down. It is advisable for those new to running to take at least a day off between running and for many 2-3 days is required.
It is often not the training load (amount we run) that causes injury but how we get there. The 10% rule (10PR) although not perfect is a good place to start. Its principle is simple- never increase your weekly mileage by more than 10 per cent over the previous week e.g. 10km in week 1, 11km in week 2, 12.1 km in week 3 etc. The gradual adaption principle is one of the many examples of the bodies’ genius; with it humans are able to achieve great feats. But bend the rules and the system breaks and injury, illness or fatigue follows.
Something that is often overlooked is a drop in mileage/volume, be it a week or two of holidays, work commitments or forced rest because of a minor injury. Certain tissues in the body will decondition even in this short space of time and your manageable mileage/intensity before your lay off are now enough to tip over your injury threshold, especially with the enthusiasm a lay off can bring. Use a bridging week to ease back up in intensity and mileage.
To be able to apply the principles above then a Training Log is essential so you can track miles and intensity (speed). You can keep a diary, use apps like strava or invest in a running watch. The key is that is that your method is accurate and easy to refer to.
Strength Training is one aspect of fitness that some runners avoid, often due to a belief that it will bulk them up and slow them down. Done correctly it can not only reduce injury risk but improve running efficiency. 1-3 sessions per week concentrating on high weight low rep (e.g. 3 sets 5 reps) on compound movements (e.g. Squat, Lunge) progressively increasing weight each week while maintaining great form can lead to substantial strength gains with minimal extra muscle mass or muscle soreness. Add in a few corrective exercises focusing on hip strength, core strength and lower leg strength and a small time commitment delivers a big reward in protection and performance.
The jury is still out on stretching and its benefits. But if you have a lack of range of motion at a joint then it will most likely be beneficial to stretch, foam roll and mobilise that area, but remember that a relative weakness in that area could be causing tightness. And a combination of strengthening and lengthening could be more efficient. Yoga poses are a great way of combining both. Try to incorporate a daily routine of 5-10 mins away from your normal training routine to work on areas of restrictions.
Many clients often ask me is it worth changing their running style, worried that they are going to cause themselves an injury due to an article they read labelling heel striking as the chief perpetrator of running injury. Unless they are an experienced runner plagued by injury and otherwise strong with good programming or a novice with poor running mechanics I wouldn’t consider changing their running style. Especially as recent studies have shown that experienced runners that change their running style lose efficiency and everyone develops an unique running style naturally due to the way they are built. However if we decide that there is a need to change a running style the main issue we want to correct is over striding. Over striding causes a more extended contact angle during ground contact and increases forces experienced and therefore injury potential. The easiest method to reduce this is to increase cadence (strides per min). 180 strides per min (SPM) is an often quoted “ideal” SPM, but remember everyone is different and a one size fits all approach rarely works. Try increasing gradually and find what works for you. Subtle increases in step rate can substantially reduce the loading to hip and knee joints.
In terms of footwear the best advice is just find a shoe that you feel comfortable in and change when you feel it is worn, research suggests anywhere from 300-500 mile per change.
The final point is undoubtedly the most important and ties in with programming, efficient recovery. We get better at running during this recovery period, between runs our bodies adapt to what we put it through. Ensure you complete the following between training sessions for effective recovery.
• Warm up & cool down during sessions
• Good nutrition
• Well hydrated
• Sports massage
• Flexibility/mobility work
• Active recovery
• Reduce stress where possible
• Good quality sleep- aim for 8+ hours per night.
If you have any questions about this article or anything fitness/injury related please feel free to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more info. Keep on running.