Do’s and Don’ts of Injury Prevention

It is estimated that each year, up to 80% of runners will deal with some degree of injury. Plantar Fascitis, Runner’s Knee, Achilles Tendonitis, Piriformis Syndrome, etc., are some common reasons runners find themselves sidelined. Injuries are frustrating and disappointing. They keep us from performing at peak performance, or worse, take us out of the sport we love for a period of time.

Yes, some times things just happen. I myself have suffered an injury here and there over the past 15+ years of distance running. Some of which from totally random and/or clumsy accidents, and others from just improper training. So I do know what it’s like to be sidelined, and it sucks!

But many common running injuries CAN be avoided, or at least recovered from much sooner than later, with things like proper training, footwear and simply listening to our bodies.

There is no guaranteed fool proof way to stay injury free. But here are a few Do’s and Don’ts of injury prevention to help you stay healthy during your training cycle…

The 10% Rule
Whenever you get started with something, there is that shiny new toy excitement surrounding it. It’s hard to pull back the reigns when you’re ready to attack it full force. Whether it’s a first time event, new distance or new big goal, many runners get a little too eager in the beginning and do too much too fast. Sure, you may fee great initially, but sooner or later it will catch up to you.

DON’T- “Wing it” and expect to just run as many miles as you can per week. Don’t drastically bump up your mileage each week, even if you’re feeling up to the challenge. Don’t add speed work or intense workouts until you have built a solid base. If a program you found in a book, online or even from a coach seems to aggressive, it probably is!

DO- Follow a progressive training program that follows the 10% rule, only building your mileage up each week by a maximum of 10% than the week prior. Also, apply this percentage to intensity. If you have yet to do any speed work or threshold runs, they should slowly be introduced to your program.

No Pain No Gain
If you run long enough, over time (or even early on), something is going to eventually “bother” you. Often these little aches and twinges can be alleviated with rest, ice, stretching, foam rolling or a combination of some or all of these. But sometimes that soreness and/or those aches turn into lingering pain, and then it’s time to figure it out before making it worse.

DON’T- Think it will just go away on its on. An annoying little pain can turn into a full blown injury that requires significant time off if gone untreated. Also, do not play Dr. Google. Though there are some great resources online (like my blog;-)), it’s best to leave the diagnosis and treatment of an injury to a medical professional and not the world wide web.

DO- Listen to your body. Pain is an obvious indication that something may be wrong. Not necessarily detrimental, so do not fret too much, but it should be addressed before becoming a more serious problem. If your resting and recovery efforts do not seem to be working, seek the advice of a medical professional. Be sure to follow the doctor’s order to ensure a speedy recovery.

Proper Footwear
It can be a little overwhelming selecting a running shoe. There are what seems like hundreds of brands and types, and of course styles and colors. Whether you’re a fashionista or a bargain hunter, there is a shoe for you, your needs and your budget. Having proper footwear can make a world of difference in performance and injury prevention.

DON’T- Just buy a shoe because it’s cute or on sale (been there done that and lost several toe nails in the process). Don’t assume all shoes are created equal. A Brooks support shoe may be totally different than an Asics, so try them all on! And last but not least, don’t over-wear your shoes, they do have a life span.

DO- Visit your local running store and get measured, assessed and fitted for a shoe that fits your foot, gate and distance goals. Be sure to try on several pairs and select the pair that gives the appropriate amount of support and feels the most comfortable. Be sure to ask about the store’s return/exchange policy because you may need to try another pair or two after a run to determine the best shoe. And keep your running shoes for just running and be sure to replace them after 300-500 miles.

Rest and Recovery
One of the most difficult tasks for a runner with big goals is to slow down! And not just slowing down during easy runs, but actually slowing down for recovery and rest. Even the world’s most elite athletes value rest and recovery as an important part of their training program. Our body needs rest to repair all that it breaks down during training, it needs restorative exercises to keep us mobile and our tissue soft, and in all honestly, slowing down and/or stopping for a day is good for a mental break as well.

Don’t- Keep going full force seven days a week, especially if you’re already feeling run down and over trained. Don’t neglect soft tissue work, stretching and mobility exercises. Don’t add days and/or workouts to your program. Even if you’re feeling good, stick to the program and trust the process.

Do- Depending on your programming, current level and what you have discussed with your coach (if applicable) take a FULL rest day every 7-12 days. No running or cross training on rest days, but stretching, rolling, light Yoga and of course activities with your family are perfectly fine. Be sure to incorporate core strengthening, hip opening and glute activating exercises at least once per week, along with foam rolling and stretching (especially for those “hot spots” that occasionally or frequently become bothersome). And last but not least, embrace the rest day, it’s an incredibly important part of your training and your body, and mind, will thank you for it!

Strength and Conditioning
Strong muscles are healthy muscles, and healthy muscles are happy muscles that not only help you in performance, but aid in recovery and prevent injury. This, of course, is my area of expertise and I’ve written several blogs on this topic. So I won’t get into too much detail, but here are some things to consider with strength training and injury prevention…

DON’T- Get overwhelmed with the seemingly endless ways to incorporate strength training into your training regimen. Don’t feel like you need to decrease your running or change your program to add strength and conditioning. Don’t feel like you need to spend hours in the gym to achieve results. And do not be afraid of getting too bulky, stiff and sore.

DO- Recognize the many benefits of strength and conditioning training for distance runners and make a commitment to incorporate it into your training. All you really need is 30-45 minutes, 2-3 times a week, so it shouldn’t take too much out of your training/life. Just like when getting going on a run training programming, start simple with strength training adding in body weight exercises like squats, lunges, push ups, planks, etc., then progress from there. Understand that it is possible to build strong, lean muscles during distance training that will NOT make you look bulky. And if you’re staying on top of your recovery and rest, you shouldn’t feel too stiff and sore either.