Can You Really Prevent Running Injuries?
Have you ever not been able to run because of pain or injury? As a triathlete and runner, I know that can be very frustrating. Running is often something that helps us unwind and improves our mental health. Over the years, I have had several injuries that have stopped me from running. Some of them were definitely preventable training errors that I made, and others came from other sports that I love to do.
There is a lot of information out there about running injury prevention, but the truth is if you are an avid runner, chances are you will get an injury. Data shows that nearly 80% of runners sustain an injury at some point. So why do so many runners get injured?
I wish there was a clear answer but in the words of one of my mentors and running expert Chris Johnson PT: “Runners are not sensible creatures. They follow the 80% rule which is they train at 80% intensity 80% of the time, and that is why 80% of runners get injured”.
There has been a fair bit of research on the subject. Besides training too hard and too often, here are a few of the things that increase your risk of injury:
· Previous injury
· Knee stiffness
· Not using a training program
· Not changing shoes often enough
· Not running often enough
· Irregular and absent menstruation in women
Contrary to popular belief, here are a few things that don’t seem to increase injury risk:
· Arch height
· Type of footwear
· Lower extremity strength
· Weekly mileage
These are findings from several research studies and they don’t all agree about what increases our risk for injury. So, what can we do?
There are a few things that you can do to keep yourself on the road and reduce your risk of injury, but you may not be able completely eliminate it.
#1. Have a plan!
This can help prevent you from training at too high of intensity too often. Plan to have approximately 80% on your running be at conversational pace or low intensity (60%-75% of max heart rate). You should not be to out of breath, and it should feel quite easy. Most people avoid this because it doesn’t really feel like you’re getting a good work out, but your body needs it to develop the right muscle fibers and energy systems. Twenty percent of your training can be at high or moderate intensity (anywhere from 75%-95% of max heart rate).
I find it is easiest to follow this 80/20 rule by using time instead of miles. If you’re going to run 10 hours a week then 8 of them should be at low intensity. However, you can mix it up however you like. You can mix in some faster efforts during all your runs or do intervals one day and an easy run the next. Have fun with it! If you are struggling to keep on track, seek out a running or triathlon coach to help you.
#2. Be aware of what’s going on in your life!
This is a big one that people don’t often recognize. You might have a great plan set up for your training, but life can throw you curveballs sometimes. If there is an adverse event going on in your life, you may need to adapt your training to reflect that. Consider adjusting your training if you have had a stressful day at work, something bad has happened to a family member or pet, or you are feeling a little sick. Your first instinct might be “I am going to go run this off” and you might even increase your intensity higher than normal. These are actually times you want to decrease your intensity or even just go for walk. Your body reacts to stress and negative events in many different ways; this can potentially set you up for problems if you don’t adapt your training. Missing a workout here and there is not going to make a huge difference in your overall training, but pushing through these times could lead to injury so be wise.
#3 Make sure you’re ready for the road!
If you are just starting out as a new runner or you are coming back from a break or injury, you need to make sure your body is ready for the demands of running. Most likely you will need to do some strength training. Here are a few simple performance tests that you can do to determine your readiness or need for improvement:
· Single leg balance – you should be able to stand on one leg without wobbling for 20 seconds
· Single leg calf raises – if you are less than 50 years old you should be able to perform > 25 reps at a speed of 30 beats per minute; if you are over 50 years old, you should be able to perform 15-20 reps in this time period
· Bridge with straight leg raise – you should be able to hold this position for 20-30 seconds without losing form
· Single leg hopping – you should be able to hop on each leg for up to 30 seconds at 150 beats per minute
These are just a few quick examples of what I would do with someone if they came in for a running evaluation. They by no means are comprehensive. It also doesn’t mean that if you can’t do them you shouldn’t run. They are just guidelines letting you know where you might need to focus some of your strength training. Give them a try and see how you do.
Overall there is actually a lot you can do to keep yourself healthy and running; it just might not be the perfect shoe, the one glut exercises your friend showed you, or the foam roll technique you saw on a YouTube video.
If you are having pain with running or are consistently getting injured, seek out some help from a PT or running coach. They may be able to help you get back on the road.