Runners push themselves. They also sometimes have problems with moderation. They have a result in mind–a certain speed, distance, time, or weight–and they’ll push themselves beyond their limits to achieve it. That sometimes leads to successes. Other times, it leads to injuries. But just because you’re pushing your body hard doesn’t mean injuries are an inevitable hurdle to overcome. With the proper care and due diligence, you can prevent most running injuries.
So What Can You Do to Prevent Running Injuries?
Do Your Stretches
Sure, we harp on this quite a bit, but it still stands. Too few runners take the time to stretch enough. Your muscles need flexibility and to be prepared for the exertion and pressure they’ll be under with every increasing footstrike. Here are some exercises that will give your muscles the wake-up call they need. Your warm-up should take five to 10 minutes to flush out lactic acid and prevent muscle soreness from setting in too early.
Your feet and your ankles take a real beating while running. Both are physically weak areas prone to injury–particularly the bottom of the foot. There’s only a thin layer of skin protecting the Achilles tendon and the plantar fascia. Injuring either of them is surprisingly easy and very painful.
Spread a towel on the floor. Set a chair at on end of the towel (length-wise) and sit in it. Use your foot to grasp the towel and keep pulling it toward you like it was your hand. Keep doing this until the towel is crumpled entirely at your foot. Spread the towel again and repeat with your other foot. As this exercise becomes easier, place a book or weight at the far end of the towel to make it more difficult.
The ankle is among the easiest areas in your body to hurt. There ligaments and bones that are important for runners, but ultimately prone to damage. After your towel pulls, remain in your chair or sit on the floor. Use your hands to manually rotate your ankle in clockwise and counterclockwise rotations. Then use your hands to stretch the ankle in various other ranges. When the ankle feels loosened up, switch and do the other.
Seated Calf Stretch
As per the title, this will stretch your calves. The calves connect your feet to your thighs–injuring the calf will guarantee you’ll be exchanging your running schedule for the TV Guide for a while. If the TV Guide still exists. You can probably just marathon something on one of the many thousand streaming services we all pay for. It’s really become the new Cable TV. Anyway, look, do the damn calf stretch. Here’s how.
Keep your towel (or resistance band if you have one handy) and stay seated on the floor. Place the towel/band around the upper part of your foot. Pull your toes toward your kneecap. Do this slowly and gently. When you feel a stretch, hold the pose for 15 to 20 seconds. Switch feet and repeat.
Reverse Sliding Mountain Climbers
This is for your hamstrings. Like your glutes, your hamstrings add power to your stride. Want to run faster? Want to run for longer? Feed the hamstrings.
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat. The weight of your feet should be on the heels. Carefully lift your glutes into the air, creating a bridge. While keeping one leg bent for balance, stretch the other leg out and forward. Return and switch legs. Repeat at an increasing speed. Do one set of 25 reps.
This is the technical term for your glutes and hips. The hips, in particular, take a real beating during your runs. You need to stretch the piriformis area to enable greater stride and flexibility. A well-stretched piriformis can also reduce pain during your run.
Remaining on the floor, lie back. Your knees should be pointed upward while your feet are planted flatly on the floor. Use your hands to pull your right knee up toward your chest until you feel a stretch. Then cross the right leg over the left. Pull your left leg toward your left shoulder until you feel a stretch. Hold it for 20 seconds. Switch leg formation and repeat.
No need to get too crazy. A simple squat exercise can do wonders for your quadriceps. They run through the front and side of your thighs. These are massive muscles that need to be well taken care of. In this case, we chose jump squats because they come with the added bonus of exercising your glutes.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees into the squat position. When ready, jump up explosively. As you land, do so carefully and gracefully back into the squat position. Do two sets of 10 reps.
There are many core exercises available to runners. I chose the Superman exercise because I like the character. He has an optimism and empathy I think we can all use more of in real life. Anyway, look, working your core is more important than the simple vanity of having abs you can chip a tooth on. A strong core reduces the likelihood of injuries. And the core isn’t just your abs–it’s also your obliques, hamstrings, lower back, glutes, and hips. Having all of these areas working together provides an overall better running form, greater balance, and a more energy-efficient runner.
To do the Superman, lie face-down on your stomach. Raise your arms and legs in the air. Hold for as long as you can (minimum of two to three seconds). Do two sets of 15 reps. While a core exercise, it focuses primarily on your lower back.
Push-ups or Pull-ups
Your arms aren’t getting much attention, but they perform a vital function during your runs: balance. Proper arms movements keep you steady. Stronger arms provide greater balance.
Okay, I’ll admit that this exercise has a scary name. Those who run on asphalt or concrete tend to feel pain that registers from their feet up through their spines. It’s not an enjoyable sensation. Spine stretches increase flexibility, improve the alignment of the spine, and relieve tension in your shoulders.
Sit on the floor with your legs spread far apart. Nod your head forward while sinking your chin into your neck. Once you feel a stretch, hold the pose for 10 seconds. Do five reps.
Altering Your Training
To paraphrase Doctor Ian Malcolm, just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should. You’re a runner. You’ll always want to run more. As your body adapts to your regimen, you’ll be able to add more miles. But do so carefully. Don’t add on new miles all at once. Increase your mileage incrementally by one a day.
For example, let’s say you’re running 20 miles a week, but want to increase it to 25. Your schedule might look like this.
Monday: Five to 10-minute warm-up followed by a 20-mile run.
Tuesday: Five to 10-minute warm-up followed by a 21-mile run.
Wednesday: Rest or cross-training day.
Thursday: Five to 10-minute warm-up followed by a 22-mile run.
Friday: Five to 10-minute warm-up followed by a 23-mile run.
Saturday: Five to 10-minute warm-up followed by a 24-mile run.
Monday: Five to 10-minute warm-up followed by a 25-mile run.
By carefully increasing your mileage, you’re allowing your body time to react and adapt, decreasing unnecessary stress and the possibility of injury.
That said, you shouldn’t continually do this. Once you’ve increased your mileage, stay at that rate for at least two to four weeks before increasing it again. This applies to distance runners or runners who do a particularly long run once a week. Increase your time and distance slowly and carefully so you don’t put your body under stress it can’t handle.
Increase Muscle Strength to Prevent Running Injuries
The stronger your muscles are, the less likely they are to become injured–the strong body is a prepared body. To do so, you may want to add strength-building supplementary exercises to your regimen. And yes, this might include some weight-training. It may seem counterintuitive–muscle weighs more than fat, and if your muscles are too heavy, you might lose speed or endurance. We’re not saying you need to look like Schwarzenegger in the 70s. You’ll focus instead on exercises that help bolster the muscle groups that are important to your workout.
Kettlebell Suitcase Deadlift
The growing trend of kettlebell exercises has been a great boon for both dedicated weight-trainers and runners alike. For this deadlift variation, you’ll add power to your core, glutes, quads, traps, and hamstrings.
Position your feet hip-width apart with two kettlebells on the floor to your sides. Squat down and grasp them. With your spine in its natural, neutral position, stand with the kettlebells while squeezing your glutes. Slowly squat down again. Do three sets of 10 to 12 reps.
This can be done with a barbell or body bar. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and with either the barbell or body bar just below your neck, on your back. Engage your core. Push your hips back and lower into a squat position while keeping your chest up. Dig your heels into the ground for balance and return to a standing position. Do three sets of 10 reps.
Overhead Forward Lunge
For this lunge variation, you’ll exercise your quads, glutes, shoulders, hamstrings, and core. While standing, hold a dumbbell over your head with both hands. Your arms should be straight, elbows tight. Step forward with one leg, and lower yourself until the forward knee is at a 90-degree angle. To return to your starting position, press upward with your right heel. Switch legs and repeat. Do eight reps per leg.
Stability Ball Jackknife
Okay, this is a bit of a strange one. First, just to get it out of the way, you’ll be exercising your core and shoulders. You’ll also need a stability ball if the title didn’t give that away. Begin in the plank position. Place your shins on the stability ball. Engage your core and pull the ball toward your chest. Lift your hips as you roll the ball back toward your feet. Return to your starting position. Do one set of 10 reps.
Add Some Cross-Training to Prevent Running Injuries
No, cross-training is not the same as CrossFit – though it’s commonly mistaken as such. Cross-training has runners engage in supplementary exercises unrelated to running but can improve your running performance. An example of cross-training would be the strength-building exercises above.
Cross-training is highly adaptable, providing many exercise options that will add some excitement to your workouts. But it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. The benefits of cross-training can help prevent running injuries by building strength in your muscles, usually by doing low to no-impact exercises. You’re working out muscles that are still flexible and in their best position for growth, but at a decreased risk of injury.
However, injury is still possible. You could overtrain and exhaust yourself, which could lead to injury. Yeah, there’s some risk here. Especially for new runners.
To increase the benefits and decrease the risks, cross-training exercise should be low-impact and only be done twice a week at the very most on what would’ve been rest days. Spend between 30 minutes and an hour doing any of these exercises.
This no-impact exercise works essentially every muscle group, while the water can relax your muscles and help the healing process. It’s an amazing cardio exercise that can increase endurance.
Yoga can help prevent running injuries by increasing flexibility. This allows for better running strides and increased speed and endurance.
It’s just like running, only you’re on a bike. It’s a no-impact exercise with huge aerobic benefits. If you decide to bike uphill, you can build strength and increase your cardiovascular potential, especially if you keep that heart rate up. If you decide to bike for distance, you’ll build endurance.
Skiing of any kind can be a great cross-training exercise, but this is the most fun. However, of the listed exercises, it comes with the greatest likelihood of injury. Consider the risk versus the reward before engaging in it. Waterskiing is all about balance. You’ll have greater balance as a runner if you can balance yourself on waterskis. You’ll also strengthen your lower body muscles.
And there you have it: all you need to know about how you can prevent running injuries.
Regardless of what stretches, schedules, or training you decide to do, make sure you aren’t overloading yourself. In the end, running is meant to be fun. So go out there and have fun – but remember to always play it safe.