Today’s post on how beginners can prevent running injuries comes from Jason Fitzgerald, a USA Track & Field certified coach and the owner of Strength Running. His No. 1 goal is to help runners get faster with fewer injuries.
Did you know that over half of all runners will get injured this year?
Some estimates even put the annual injury risk at 75 percent—higher than professional football! So it’s no wonder staying healthy is such a struggle. The impact stress of running, plus our tendency to overdo it, can make injuries common for beginner runners.
There’s no need to always worrying about nagging injuries. Instead, focus on proven strategies that keep you healthy. You don’t have to be fast and you don’t need hours a day—you just need smarter training! Here’s how to feel better so you can reach your goals and prevent more injuries.
Learn the Art of “Sandwiching” Your Runs
Just like a piece of chicken is sandwiched between two slices of bread in a delicious hoagie, your run should also be sandwiched between a dynamic warm-up and a short strength routine.
A good warm-up includes dynamic stretches that increase your heart rate, improve your range of motion, open capillaries in your legs, lubricate your joints and increase your body temperature. They’re far more beneficial than simple static stretching, which can actually increase your injury risk!
If you run after a full day of sitting in an office, your hips and hamstrings can get incredibly tight. So it’s even more important to do a thorough dynamic warm-up after you leave work. This simple tactic can dramatically improve how you feel on a day-to-day basis.
So, once you’re done running, your workout is over…right? Wrong! Many runners get this part of their running wrong—and it’s critical to injury prevention.
Remember that we’re “sandwiching” our runs, so now it’s time for a short strength routine. Keep it simple—just 5 to 10 minutes of bodyweight exercises will work. Stick to the basics like side planks, lunges, squats, push-ups, bodyweight deadlifts and hip hikes.
More advanced gym workouts with weights should only be done about twice per week for most runners. And it’s best to schedule strength workouts on moderate or hard running days to truly reap the restorative benefits of rest days. The old “make your hard days harder and easy days easier” principle at work.
Know Your Baseline Mileage
All of us have a “baseline mileage” that we’re comfortable running (in other words: it’s not that hard to run your mileage). It’s different for everyone—just take a look at your past running and try to determine your “sweet spot” based on when you felt the best.
Once you know it, you should be more cautious increasing your volume beyond that level. Limit the increases to 5 to 10 percent (as long as you’re sandwiching your runs!) every 1 to 2 weeks. But if you’re comfortable at 20 miles per week and you’re running 10 right now, you can increase more aggressively until you hit 20 miles per week.
Most runners blindly follow the 10-percent rule and increase their mileage by 10 percent every single week, even far beyond their baseline. But you’re smarter than most runners. You know your baseline—and now you’ll stay healthy a lot longer.
Patience Is a Runner’s Best Friend
How many of us have a friend that just started running a week ago and boldly claims that she’s running a marathon in two months? Sadly, these are the runners destined for overuse injuries.
Reaching your running goals takes consistency, and a long-term approach is the best way to succeed. Running a good marathon or losing 15 pounds won’t happen in a few weeks, so patience is an absolute must.
But too many runners are victims of the “Three Toos”—too much, too fast, too soon. Their body just isn’t ready for the mileage and tough workouts, so they get hurt. Or, best case scenario, they get frustrated with poor results and quit.
Don’t be that runner! Instead, set 2 to 3 big goals that you’d like to accomplish over the next year. Then think backwards from those benchmarks, and plan how you’ll run. Success always comes after patience.
Bonus Tip: Improve Your Form!
Running form is hotly debated these days, but there are two ways you can improve your stride and eliminate most bad habits.
First, increase your cadence (the number of steps you take per minute) to at least 170, but ideally about 180. A quick turnover helps distribute impact stress more efficiently, meaning you won’t feel like you got run over by a truck after long runs.
Then make sure your foot lands underneath your body instead of reaching out in front of you. This dramatically reduces over-striding and aggressive heel striking. You may not look like an elite Kenyan (yet), but know you’re a lot closer!
Staying healthy month after month—and year after year—is a major obstacle. But if you make these small changes, you’ll outrun your peers in no time.
If you want to run healthy with fewer injuries, get this free email course on injury prevention. And tell us: Have you ever had a running injury? —Jason Fitzgerald