Your aim this year might not be to run a marathon (never say never, but maybe not just yet) BUT it might be to start running. Running is one the easiest types of exercise to do. It’s free, it can be done anywhere (even when you are on holiday – if you are really keen) and YOU can dictate how long you want to run for. You just put on your shoes and run. Easy. It has great fitness, and also mental benefits. In fact it has so many benefits we have created an infographic to show you these.
So you can see all the positives of running, but like any exercise or sport it is possible to get injured. We have put together a list of actions you can take to help stay injury-free. We can’t guarantee that you won’t get injured (if only!) but hopefully our advice will help.
Invest in the right pair of running shoes
Even if you are only planning on running short runs – get a proper pair of running shoes! These will go a long way in making sure your feet (and therefore your legs) have the right support and stability for running.
Avoid the ‘terrible toos’
Too soon. Too fast. Too much. These are what runners call the terrible toos. They pretty much speak for themselves, and there is a reason why the phrase exists – it is a common problem amongst runners. Let’s look at all the ‘toos’ a little closer:
Too soon : Each time your foot hits the ground when you run you will be putting 2-3 times your bodyweight through your joints, muscles and connective tissue. If you increase the volume of your runs too soon then your body won’t have time to adjust. Try to increase your running in a way that can be sustained. Gradually increase distances by around 10% or 5-10 minutes a week.
Too fast : It is very easy to start something new and go for it with all guns blazing. This is a sure way to increase your chance of injury. Combining too much hard and fast running too soon will put unnecessary strain on your body. If you are new to running you should start out slow (really slow!) and build up your speed incrementally. It might even be that you decide on a gradual build-up of running mixed with walking e.g. 10 minutes easy run, 3-5 minutes brisk walk. Over time aim you can gradually reduce your walk breaks.
Too much : Rest is when you actually progress. As we train we damage muscle fibres and tissues, when we rest this damage is repaired and we get stronger and fitter. Not allowing adequate time for this recovery (by running too often and not resting) is one of the most common ways runners pick up injuries or niggles.
Listen to your body
All runners are different and the best way to know if something is too much for you is to listen to your body. If you experience unusual fatigue, pain or prolonged muscle soreness, stop running and take a few days off. Don’t run through pain! – It doesn’t work. Only start running again when you feel your body is ready. If you are up to it you could also try a different type of exercise like cross training, cycling or swimming. If you are in pain and it doesn’t go away it is always best to see a medical practitioner or physio.
Warm up and cool down
A good way for you to warm up is to walk briskly or lightly jog for a few minutes before you start running at your normal pace. This will loosen your muscles, increase your body temperature, heart rate and blood flow, and generally prepare your body for what’s to come. After this warm up you can also do a few stretches so that the muscles and joints are at their fullest range of motion. Once you have finished your run it is even more important to cool down and then stretch. Cooling down will help your body return to normal and will get rid of any lactic acid build up. Stretching will ease tight muscles by lengthening them, lessening the chance of injury, sore muscles and cramps. A cool down can be 5 minutes of walking. You should aim to stretch all main leg muscles (quads, hamstrings, calves), plus your glutes, lower back and arms. The more areas you stretch the better! Here are some simple stretches to get you started.
Run on even ground
Running off road or on uneven surfaces is harder on your knees and joints. If possible try and run on even surfaces.
Build core strength
Running can put your legs under a lot of stress. Strengthening your core muscles, including the hip, buttocks, back, and abdomen, as well as the outer and inner thighs can increase leg stability and reduce risk of certain injuries or pain (including IT band syndrome and knee pain). Following a run with a few strength exercises is a good way to incorporate it into your training routine. Here are a few exercises from www.womenshealthmag.com.
Improve flexibility with stretching
A flexible body is more efficient, sees more gains in strength and endurance, enjoys more range of motion, is less injury-prone, recovers more quickly, and simply feels better. You don’t need to limit your stretching to just after runs, you can also do light stretching during the week. This will help with tight muscles and generally improve your fitness performance. Keep it light though, as your muscles won’t be warmed up and you don’t want to pull something!
Rest. Rest. Rest.
As above in the terrible toos – make sure you rest. One of the biggest causes of injuries in runners is overuse. Not giving your muscles and joints time to recover, and prepare for the next run. Cycling, swimming, yoga, and pilates complement running (and use different muscle groups) and these activities are a form of active rest – perfect do to between runs. If you are new to running it is best to start slow, with just 2 or 3 runs a week. When your body is more used to running you could increase this to 3- 4 runs per week.
You remember RICE, right? – rest, ice, compress, and elevate. If you do find yourselves in pain or with an injury then use RICE, and do it as soon as possible. It can really help to limit the damage that you have, and will go a long way in aiding your recovery. As above, if the pain doesn’t subside in a few days then seek professional advice (we are always here to help you :).