Injury prevention is always better than cure, and I'm a Sport Rehab practitioner. It's not that I want to do myself out of a job, it's just that there are only so many times you can see the same stories before you are compelled to help. The vast majority of running injuries are of the overuse variety. To put it another way, most running injuries are unnecessary and avoidable. This is the finding of just about every study on the subject and is backed up by my experience over my sixteen years in practice. For this reason, I want to focus your attention on four major injury prevention strategies. You’ll dramatically reduce your likelihood of overuse injuries and indirectly reduce susceptibility to other kinds of injury, so are you in?
Your Training Programme Can Make You Or Break You
Everything we do in training should make us fitter and faster. Nothing makes you slower or kills your fitness like an injury. All too often runners get injured because they train too hard, too often. I am not of the opinion that more is always better, especially when it comes to training volume (mileage), intensity or frequency. An over emphasis on arduous speed sessions, intervals and lactate threshold sessions is a common error. It frequently leads to chronic physical and nervous system fatigue, excess muscle damage and a high frequency of muscle and tendon injuries. One way this happens is the habit of treating group sessions like a race. A bit of competition can add fun to your training but, doing it regularly is a sure fire way to increase injury risk and burn out. Make sure you factor these occasions into your stress quota for your current training cycle. Train smart and save the racing for race day.
Ensure any high intensity training block includes a good amount of aerobic and recovery mileage for balance and recovery. I recommend a 2:1 ratio of easy to hard/quality running during high intensity blocks. Easy runs are absolutely key to your recovery between tough workouts, not to mention instrumental to building your aerobic engine. Furthermore, be sure to follow any hard charging block of intensity with a lower intensity block. Not only will you reduce injury risk, you will notice how much energy and spring you have when you layer on the intensity again, it’s a win win!
Finally, train according to your current fitness NOT goal fitness. It is easy to fall into this trap and it is a trap that ends in injury and time out of running. A superb way to find your appropriate pace for various running workouts is to enter a recent race performance into a VDOT calculator. There are free VDOT calculator apps available for your mobile device.
Do You Even Warm Up, Bro?
Warm ups are not just for pros and show offs. Also, running the first mile or two and pausing for a cursory calf stretch does not constitute a warm up. There are only two valid excuses for not doing a warm up: 1) You’re not training or 2) You’ve just finished your warm up. The right warm up prevents injury in two major ways. Most obviously by preparing the tissues for the physical stress of exercise. Raising heart rate and blood pressure along with body temperature, elasticity and muscle contractility. The second and less obvious is by the rehearsal of the movements you are about to perform. Think of a golfer on the tee or, better still, the hurdler stepping over hurdles in readiness for the race. Your warm up should cover both of these bases so make time for it. You will run better and dramatically reduce injury risk. You can read my warm up guide here.
A thirty second static stretch on your major muscles, repeated twice, can restore mobility, promote recovery and thus prevent injury.
Do You Even Cool Down?
In all types of training, tension is created and waste products accumulate in your muscles and surrounding tissues. When we spurn the cool down, these things cause muscles to tighten and tissues to stiffen leaving us vulnerable to all kinds of injury. Simply taking five to ten minutes to jog and walk after training facilitates the removal of these waste products and a reduction in muscle tension. A thirty second static stretch on your major muscles, repeated twice, can restore mobility, promote recovery and thus prevent injury. Think, calves, hamstrings, quads, glutes and hip flexors. Sounds time consuming? Twenty to thirty minutes is time well spent when it avoids weeks off through injury.
Take It Easy After A PB
The first three points above are common sense and you may have heard them before. My fourth and final tip however might come as a bit of a surprise. In the beginning, personal bests come thick and fast. Then they slow down until they become few and far between. This is when you know you are a serious runner. Now, when you have had a consistent period of great training and you break a personal record it gives you a massive boost. The temptation is to “strike while the iron is hot” and go out in search of another PB straight away. Contrary to your instinct, the week or two following a PB is NOT the time to add more stress to your body. Think about it for a moment; most PBs come in races after hard training and a proper taper. A race effort that brings about a personal record is highly stressful. Instead of keeping your foot on the gas and going headlong into more, more, more, switch to two weeks of lower intensity running. Allow your system to recuperate, focusing on technique and mobility to take advantage of this breakthrough. Trust me, you will hit your next training cycle with bags of energy and your next race could garner even more success.
Give this a go and you will see your fitness increase through quality training and the consistency that comes from staying injury free.
Following a PB switch to two weeks of lower intensity running. Allow your system to recuperate, focusing on technique and mobility to take advantage of this breakthrough.