Running is one of the best forms of mainstream cardio. It uses full bodyweight, rather than being supported on a mechanism like a bike, which means it is also one of the toughest forms of cardio, too. While it is great to improve your fitness, running is high impact so can often lead to injuries. We’ve researched 5 ways to prevent these dreaded injuries so your fitness regime can proceed uninterrupted!
Flexibility is important whether you’re a well established runner or just starting out. You can increase your flexibility through stretching. This actually lengthens your muscles and makes them more supple which protects your joints and can help prevent injury. It is recommended that you stretch after running as well as include two stretch based flexibility sessions in your weekly routine. Interestingly, it has been proven that static stretching before a run can actually decrease your muscle strength. This is called “stretch-induced strength loss” and has negative effects on your performance (1). Working on your flexibility after your run or before bed are the optimum times to prevent injury (2).
Running can help strengthen your lower body muscles but studies show that by working separate strength sessions into your workouts can reduce the risk of injury as well as increase your performance. This is because the stronger your muscles are, the less fatigued they become from running. When muscles are fatigued your form is compromised and both joints and muscles are more prone to injury (3). Aim to include 1-2 strength sessions a week to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury.
Gradually Increase Intensity
At the beginning of a health kick, it’s easy to push yourself the hardest. You’re not only motivated, but if its the first time you’ve exercised in a while, your muscles are well-rested and can carry you further. Has your second run ever felt harder than the one the day before? Well that’s probably why. Unfortunately, the more fatigued your muscles are, the more susceptible you are to injury so it’s important to gradually build up the intensity of your runs. Several studies have shown that you should increase the intensity by 5-10% per week, whether the increase is measured in distance, speed or incline. By pushing yourself too hard too quickly, you’ll most likely burn out as well as experience injury set-backs! Remember, a health kick doesn’t just have to be about shedding the pounds – by looking after yourself you’ll see long-term, sustainable results! (4)
Warm up and Cool down
Studies have shown that warming up before a run can significantly reduce the risk of injury (5). Warming up gradually elevates the temperature in active muscles, as well as slowly speeds up your metabolic processes. Reaching these points before exerting yourself too much can make your muscles as efficient as possible, preventing muscle damage.
So how long should you warm up for? It has been found that a warm up of 10-20 minutes will allow your muscles to reach a plateau in temperature. This indicates that they are at their full potential for performance.
As well as warming up, you should also take the time to cool down. Several studies have shown that by cooling down after a run, you can increase circulation and improve the removal of noxious waste products in worked muscles. This prevents injury as it allows them to recover more efficiently. It is suggested that you cool down for 10-20 minutes. A good way to do this is to stretch – this keeps your muscles active enough to begin the recovery process while improving your flexibility (which we already know is super important!) (6).
Everyone has a different style of running which is why you should find the right pair of trainers to suit you! The main reason for this is that people run on different parts of their feet. For example, I run on the outside of my foot so I have trainers that are supportive in that area. Without the correct support you can experience injuries such as shin splints and knee problems. The best way to figure out which type of running trainers you need is to head to one of the big sports brands. Both Nike and Asics analyse your running style and can tell you which type of trainers are best for you. They usually do this for free if you buy a pair of trainers from them!