Kate’s 5 Tips for Running Injury Free!
Hi everyone! Kate here- one of the registered physiotherapist at Press Play Physiotherapy and Pilates and I have to say running is one of my biggest passions! I’ve been running for as long as I can remember, from cross country in primary school to more recently middle-distance trail races across Ontario, running is my stress relief, my strategy to staying healthy and my social network.
Like many runners I train with and treat in clinic, I’ve been plagued with my fair share of injuries. From that nagging Achilles, constant calf tightness or aching low back, running injuries are something that many of us struggle with. They tend to creep up on us at the most inopportune of times; when we are in the thick of training for a big race, about to hit a new PB or just starting to really feel like we’re getting the hang of things! An injury can stop us in our tracks and make us feel like we are losing all the gains we have worked so hard for.
It can be extremely frustrating and discouraging, especially if this is not your first injury. I think most runners tend to have the mindset that injury is inevitable at some point in their running careers. I am here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be! There are things we can do as runners to reduce our risk of injury while at the same time optimizing our performance.
So here are 5 tips to help you stay injury free this running season. I want to highlight that these are general tips and that you should ALWAYS consult with your coach, physiotherapist or other health care practitioner before making any drastic changes to your training.
Avoid Too Much Too Quickly: The 10% Rule
The most common reason runners hobble into clinic is because they have done too much too quickly. They get super excited about running (I know because it is so awesome!) and the next thing they know they have gone from a 20km mileage week to a 75km mileage week. That is simply too much too quickly, overloading and over stressing tissues to the point of tissue failure and injury. So take your time and do not overload your body. My general rule of thumb is the 10% rule: do not add more than 10% per week to your training. Whether that be in the context of distance or speed, 10% per week allows your body to be challenged and to improve without overloading your system.
2. Have a plan
A way to avoid doing too much too quickly is to have a plan. Have an idea of what your running week is going to look like: easy runs, tempo runs, long runs, intervals, hills, total mileage ect. Put together a calendar of about 2 months with a general outline of what each week will look like. I find writing this down in a calendar and getting a visual of your training helps you appreciate your volume of training. If you get it all on paper and think….wow that looks like a lot….it probably is too much, so tweak it a bit to make it look a bit less daunting. Make sure to take into account all the other commitments you have in your life. Other activities, work, family obligations, these all take time and energy and can take away from your body’s resources for running. If we run with limited resources, we are more at risk of injury.
3. Be SMART and set a goal
Whether it is to complete a 2km run-walk, run your first 10km or a marathon PB, have a clear goal that you are working towards. Goals provide you with motivation, focus and direction. Make it a SMART goal (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely), this will help provide you with a clear target to aim for. Goals can be short term or long term, whatever you wish! Write it down in your phone, over and over again on your calendar and let yourself see it often to remind yourself what you are working towards. Remember that goals are malleable, they can shift, morph and change depending on your current circumstances. One of my favourite things about goal setting is that feeling you get when you achieve that goal! I know you want to know what that feels like….so try it!
4. Get a running gait analysis
This can be a very useful tool to reduce your risk of injury. It can help identify what I like to call “big rocks” or those big things that may be predisposing you to an injury. We can use a running gait analysis to highlight your individual biomechanical errors, muscle imbalances, cadence issues, and even help us make footwear recommendations. By getting a good understanding of how your body moves we can develop some personalized strategies to improve your energy efficiency, reduce the mechanical load through your tissues and decrease the overall stress you put on your body while you run. These strategies can be super helpful in reducing your risk of injury and improving your performance. Do not be too surprised if we do an analysis and find no big rocks, there isn’t always something wrong with your running gait- it is just one of many factors that contribute to injury risk.
5. Incorporate cross training
This is a big one for me as a runner and a physiotherapist. I know better than anyone that a workout as a runner involves running intervals or hill repeats, not strengthening or stability training…..who has time for that! Let me stress that want to make time for this. One of the biggest risk factors for injury in runners is the lack of lower body stability and balance. Running is essentially a single leg activity: moving on one leg over and over again for kilometres on end. You can imagine how important it is to be strong and have good balance to provide your body with the support it requires to carry out this activity. Incorporating running specific mobility, stability and strength training is vital to ensure your body is capable of handling the loads and stressors running puts on it. So join a running specific strength and conditioning class (hint hint, check it out here!) or add in a cross training session with your running group after a run once a week. If you can get stronger and more stable, you can drastically reduce your risk of injury and improve your running efficiency!
I hope these tips can be helpful in making you a stronger, more effective runner. I want to highlight again that before making any changes to your usual training plan, consult a coach, physiotherapist or your health care practitioner to ensure you are implementing changes that are safe and specific to your needs. Let's put these tips in place and have an injury free running season!