The weather is finally approaching Fall temperatures here in Phoenix, AZ. As temperatures are falling, Phoenicians are becoming more active outside and ’tis the season for various running events (5Ks, 10Ks, 1/2 marathons, marathon, etc.).
While it’s great that people are doing more activities outdoors during the fall-winter months, many of them end up getting hurt by trying to do too much too soon and/or not utilizing proper training methods. In this blog post, I will discuss some tips and tricks for keeping you healthy while you work on crushing your running events.
Why do people need to train smart when beginning a running program?
Research suggests that up to 36 million Americans complete a running event each year (Fields et al., 2010; Niemuth et al., 2005). This is great because running (or moving in general) can help reduce incidences of chronic disease, lower disability and pain, and reduce healthcare costs (Messier et al., 2008). Sadly, the benefits may be outweighed by the high prevalence of overuse injuries in runners, which cause as many as 65% of all runners to be forced to quit running and seek medical care (Messier et al., 2008). Medical treatment may include rest, injections, drugs, or surgery, which may help the symptoms initially but do not address the actual source of the problem (Messier et al., 2008). In the case of an overuse injury, your best bet would be to pay a visit to a physical therapist to find and address the root cause of the problem. Even better, would be to train smart and avoid getting hurt in the first place. Here are some quick tips for the latter:
1.) Start Gradually: When a person runs, their bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, etc. must endure high levels of repetitive stress. When this stress occurs, these connective tissues (bones, tendons, ligaments, fascia, etc.) break down and undergo a remodeling process which makes your bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, etc. come back stronger than before. However, this remodeling process takes time. If you have not been running for a while (over a month or so), then it would be wise to begin with a mile or two and add a 7-10% increase in running mileage (volume) each week to safely work your way up to greater distances. Also, make sure you are giving your body enough time to recover between runs. At LEAST one day in between runs is a good starting point.
*It should be noted that this is simply a recommendation for the general population and that the exact number of miles you should start with or the exact percentage you should increase your running volume per week will depend on several factors including your recent training regimen, whether or not you’ve recently recovered from an injury, what shape you are currently in, etc. In all, it is best to start conservatively and gradually add volume to your running program if you are just starting out.
2.) Give Your Body Enough Recovery Time: As I mentioned in the last point, your body needs enough time to recover from the massive amounts of force and stress being placed on it. At least one day of rest in between runs is a good place to start.
3.) Check Your Form and Running Biomechanics: How are you running? What part of the foot strikes the ground first? Does your foot roll in or out during your running gait? Are you hunched over or upright? Several aspects of the way your body moves when you run can influence your risk of injury (Daoud et al., 2012). Form and biomechanics issues like heel-striking, over-striding or under-striding, stiff upper body or hips, bouncing too much, or overpronation/over-supination of the foot can put too much stress through certain areas of the body. The good thing is that these things can be corrected and get you running with better form, thus reducing the likelihood of you getting injured. Not sure about your running form? Contact a coach *cough cough* Hustle Personal Training *cough cough* or attend a running clinic.
4.)Run On Softer Surfaces: Concrete and asphalt may be more convenient as they are right outside most people’s doors, but they put much more stress through your connective tissues (bone, muscle, tendons, ligaments, fascia, etc.) than softer surfaces such as grass, dirt, and sand. One thing to look out for as a novice runner when running on more delicate surfaces is to watch where you are going. Softer surfaces may be more forgiving to your joints, but sometimes there are surprise dips/rocks/uneven obstacles that come up so watch where you are going so you don’t roll an ankle.
5.) Add Resistance Training and Cross-Training to Your Training Program: Resistance training (lifting weights) can be monumental in improving running performance and keeping you healthy throughout a running program. Resistance training can aid in making the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments stronger and more resilient to external forces, which occur with running. Strengthening the hips (especially the glutes) (Contreras, 2019), hamstrings, quads, core, all of the muscles in your lower legs and feet are some of the most influential muscles involved with running, though running is a total body exercise and the entire body should be trained for optimal results. Specific exercises to mitigate injuries and run better will be posted in the next blog of this running series, so stay tuned!
Apart from resistance training, it’s crucial to sub some running days for cross-training with lower impact exercise such as hiking, walking, riding a bike, elliptical, etc. These cross-training days can be especially important if you have a run scheduled in your program, but your body is aching from the last run. This way, you can still train but add much less insult to your body’s tissues and stay healthy. One good rule of thumb is to always LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. If your body is aching, then it is a good sign that you need some rest, be it active (cross-training) or passive (not doing anything).
6.) Warm-Up Properly: Have you ever been waiting for a race to start and look around you to find a ton of people static stretching (where you hold a stretch for a long period of time) to get prepped for the run? I have. The problem with this is that static stretching compromises the ability of muscles to activate/react and may even reduce performance outcomes (Perrier et al., 2011). Static stretching is not necessarily bad, but it is best used after a race instead of immediately before a race. Instead of static stretching, dynamic stretching (stretches that occur with movement) is a good substitution. This type of stretching primes the joints and muscles for optimal performance and activation and help increase your body’s internal temperature (which is a critical component of a proper warm-up). Not sure which dynamic stretches to do? We will be addressing this in our running blog series, so stay tuned!
7.) If You Have an Existing Injury- Get PT/Rehab: Many people will get hurt when running and continue to run despite the fact that their body is telling them not to. This will not help you in any way. You are not being healthy and smart when you ignore the pain signals that your body is giving you. There is no reason to add insult to injury. In fact, the number one risk factor for injury during running is a previous injury (Niemuth et al., 2005). Also, make sure to get treatment from a physical therapist or a sports medicine specialist. Treatments such as rest, drugs, injections, massage, and acupuncture are a “bandaid” and will not address the underlying cause as to WHY you are hurt. If you are not properly rehabbed, you are setting yourself up for re-injury. And if it were up to me, I wouldn’t stop there. Rehab usually lasts up to a few months, but it can take tissues up to a year to complete all phases of the healing process. Even if you “feel” better, your tissues may still be vulnerable. This is where you give me a call to continue strengthening your weaknesses and make you stronger and more resilient than ever.
In summary, applying smart training methods to your running program will help keep you healthy and strong as you work towards completing whatever running event is in store for you. One important thing to note is that everybody is different and each person’s needs will vary. The tips outlined here are a mere starting point that target the general population. Elite athletes or people who are extremely deconditioned have different needs than your average Joe. Also, this is not the be-all end-all of injury prevention tips. Again, just a good starting point.
If you made it this far and have read this blog post in its entirety, thank you! I hope these tips will benefit you on your running journey. As always, if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Jessica Kasten, M.S. Kinesiology, CSCS, CPT, FRCms
Contreras, Bret. (2019). Glute Lab. Canada: Victory Belt Publishing.
Daoud, A.I., Geissler, G.J., Wang, F., Saretsky, J., Daoud, Y.A., & Lieberman, D.E. (2012). Foot strike and injury rates in endurance runners: A retrospective study. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 44(7), 1325-1334.
Fields, K.B., Sykes, J.C., Walker, K.M., & Jackson, J.C. (2010). Prevention of running injuries. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 9(3), 176-182.
Messier, S.P., Legault, C., Shoenlank, C.R., Newman, J.J., Martin, D.F., & Devita, P. (2008). Risk factors and mechanisms of knee injury in runners. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 40(11), 1873-1879.
Niemuth, P.E., Johnson, R.J., Myers, M.J., & Thieman, T.J. (2005). Hip muscle weakness and overuse injuries in recreational runners. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, 15(1), 14-21.
Perrier, E. T., Pavol, M. J., & Hoffman, M. A. (2011). The acute effects of a warm-up including static or dynamic stretching on countermovement jump height, reaction time, and flexibility. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(7), 1925-1931. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e73959