We runners are always looking for ways to prevent running injuries. One of the most annoying things as a runner is when you get injured.
You’re running each week, perhaps training for your next race, then BAM! You pull your hamstring.
Unfortunately, injuries are not something you can ignore and one of most important things as a runner is knowing when to push your body and knowing when to rest and recover.
Injuries come about for many different reasons and can impact your performance in various ways.
You get common running injuries like runner’s knee, achilles tendinitis, shin splints and hamstring issues, and more complex and serious problems like stress fractures and iliotibial (IT) band syndrome.
There are habits that you can practice on a daily basis and every time you run to help prevent running injuries.
When practiced regularly, these habits will not only help you to combat some of these problems, but they will help you become a stronger runner so you can go on and smash your running goals.
Warm up before every run
The warm up is the most important habit that you should develop in order to prevent some of these common running injuries.
It can be tempting to forget about the warm up and head out straight on your run – perhaps you lack time or just want to get on with it.
I can’t stress enough the importance of a proper warm up in order to get your body, mind and muscles prepped for the workout ahead.
You can think of the warm up as the ‘dress rehearsal’ for your run.
Without it, you could risk going into your run unprepared and therefore heighten your risk of getting injured.
Your body needs time to warm itself up and get the heart racing and blood pumping around your body.
Your muscles need the oxygen from your blood in order to work more efficiently, and your lungs need this time to get used to the rhythm of exercise and movement.
The last thing you want to do is surprise your body and put it on the back foot. The warm up can be seen as time to prep your body for success!
Some good warm up routines include light jogging, dynamic stretches, running drills and speed workouts.
Depending on the length and intensity of your run, you’ll want to adapt your warm up so to prepare as efficiently and effectively as possible.
The general rule is that the shorter and more explosive the run will be (like a 100m sprint), the bigger the warm up needs to be.
This is partly due to the types of muscle fibres that you’ll be using during the run, and the energy systems that your body needs to employ in order to get you through the activity.
It’s not only your body that benefits from the warm up. A proper warm up is a great opportunity to focus your mind and get it ready for the run.
Warm ups are especially valuable if you’ve had a long day at work and you’re struggling to motivate yourself to get up and go.
I guarantee you that as soon as you start your warm up, your mind will soon tap into the movement and you will find it easier to convince yourself to go for a run.
Cool down and stretch after every run
As with the warm up, the cool down is equally as important to get help bring down your heart rate and take it back to its pre-exercise state.
Without a proper cool down, you increase the likelihood of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) which normally occurs 12-72 hours after a run or workout.
DOMS is not fun, and unless you want to look like a crab walking down a set of stairs, I suggest you include a cool down after every run.
Whilst the warm up is more dynamic, with the addition of jogging and running drills, the cool down is focused more on static stretching of the muscles.
It also uses a smaller range of motion to help slow your heart rate down and get your body back to normal.
This gradual return also helps to prevent any dizziness that may occur after cardiovascular exercise activities like running.
You can practice a range of stretches to allow the muscles to relax, including standing and floor-based stretches and lying positions.
The intensity and duration of the cool down will depend on your fitness levels and the intensity and duration of your run.
A general rule is to allow about 10-20 minutes to allow your body to relax and return to normal.
Follow a training plan
I remember the days when I would just head out for a run without purpose or a short term or long term goal.
There isn’t anything wrong with taking yourself off for a run whenever you feel like it (that’s why running is so great).
But if you’re upping your mileage each week and perhaps getting ready to take on your next race, then I’d recommend finding a suitable training plan which will guide you through your runs each week.
There are lots of benefits to following a training plan that is aimed at your fitness levels and running experience.
You get more guidance in terms of how many miles you should be running each week and at what pace.
You also get advice on the types of exercises and workouts you should be doing outside of your scheduled runs, including warm ups, cool downs and stretching.
Without a training plan, you could risk running too little or too much when training for your next race which could then put you at risk of getting injured.
Run too little and your body won’t feel prepared for race day, run too much and you risk overworking your body and burning out before the race has even begun.
The key is balancing your runs in terms of mileage as well as other activities that all work together to make you a better, faster and stronger runner.
Some of the best training plans incorporate cross training and strength training activities.
Of course, depending on your goals, you may just want to focus on the running, especially if you’re a beginner runner.
In the long term, I highly recommend you follow a plan that only matches your fitness levels and goals, but also incorporates a range of activities.
Stretch every morning
Running has many physical and mental benefits.
It can quickly become a one-way street to ongoing niggles and chronic injuries if you don’t look after your body properly.
Stretching is a great way to awaken your body, loosen any stiffness and get it ready for the day ahead.
When you stretch your muscles, you increase the blood flow into them, therefore increasing the amount of oxygen flowing around your body.
Stretching is something that I’d recommend to anyone, runner or not, looking to start their day in a positive way.
Much like yoga, it allows you to focus and tune into your breathing and check in with how your body is feeling.
If you feel a slight twinge or pull somewhere whilst stretching, for example, this may help you pinpoint where the pain is coming from and help target it for rest and recovery.
I suggest you incorporate dynamic stretches in your morning routine to really open up your body.
Some of my favourites include air squats, the cow-cat yoga pose, knee rolls, overhead stretch, knee to chest stretch and forward lunges.
You can also use a foam roller on your calves and hamstrings to provide extra mobility every day and help loosen tight muscles.
Take note of which parts of your body are affected most by these positions.
This will indicate which areas need more attention (stretching, massage, etc.).