November 6, 2018

How To Run Injury Free

So many runners struggle with injury. Here are four specific things you can do to run injury free.

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I recently read that as many as 79% of runners are getting injured each year.

If that is correct, it’s a frightening statistic.

Think about it. Nearly 8 out of every 10 runners you see are injured or will suffer from an injury this year.

As an athlete, I spent a good percentage of time thinking about injury and working hard with my team to prevent them in the first place. Even so, I too suffered from small injuries that set me back from time to time throughout my career.

As a coach, injury is something I continue to think a lot about.

Besides wanting to improve, running injury free is the most common reason people sign up for a Coached programme. It’s also the most frequently asked question when I present at events.
Clearly, injury is a concern for almost all runners and coaches.

Why Runners Get Injured

In my experience runner’s appear to get injured for two main reasons.

  1. Structural and biomechanical imbalances.
  2. Mediocre training practices.

1. Structural And Biomechanical Imbalances

Structural imbalances are things like having one leg longer than the other.

Biomechanical imbalances are usually caused by muscular imbalances (tight muscles working against weak muscles), although they can sometimes be caused by structural problems, such as leg length discrepancies as mentioned above.

2. Mediocre Training Practices

Injuries happen when you progress your training volume or intensity at a pace that your body is not conditioned to handle.

A runner’s fitness will often develop at a faster rate than their tendons, ligaments and bones.

You see this a lot in runners who suffer from recurring shin splints (although it is not the only example) when they first start training. Their aerobic fitness is allowing them to run further without feeling winded, however, their shin muscles haven’t adapted to the increased load caused by the increase in volume and they quickly become injured.

Cut Race Times, Not Corners.

Racing at your potential and enjoying training is easy when you’re following the right programme.

How To Run Injury Free

If your goal is to run injury free then it makes sense that you address these two main causes of injury. Here are four specific things that can help you to run injury free.

1. Progress Your Training Gradually

Increasing volume and intensity too quickly can hurt you. To run injury free, you need to set aside a suitable timeline that allows enough time for progression. 12-weeks is a good timeline for 10km or a half marathon. For a marathon, 16-weeks is more suitable.

Start out with low volume, easy runs and as time passes gradually increase the volume and intensity.

A high-quality training plan (yes, like Coached) comes in handy here. A well-planned training plan provides a patient and structured progression that gradually builds both your fitness and functional strength as you move towards your race date.

2. Compliment Your Run Training with Strength and Conditioning Sessions

To address structural and biomechanical imbalances, you need to include running-specific strength training into your weekly routine. It’s worth working with a good physio or personal trainer to first identify specific areas of weakness and developing a plan to address each area.

By strengthening your core and running specific muscles, you’ll not only limit your chances of getting hurt, you’ll also become more resilient to fatigue and find yourself slowing down less in the later stages of a race.

3. Eat Nutrient Dense Foods

The stronger your immune system, the more resilient you will be and the less likely your body is to break down. Eat plenty of vegetables and some fruits (beware of the sugar) each day for the nutrients they provide you.

Fat is a vital macronutrient that should be eaten regularly. Fat is important for creating healthy cell membranes that are resistant to damage during exercise. You need fats for three primary reasons – to provide essential fatty acids, to provide essential fat-soluble vitamins and to meet energy needs.
If you eat a lower carb diet as we recommend then that last point is very important.

You have to ensure you are eating enough. When you don’t eat enough and take in enough energy from the right sources, you’re putting stress on your body that will begin to break you down over time.

4. Get More High-Quality Sleep

Sleep is something that I see a lot of athletes neglect. It’s often the first thing to go when life is busy and training volume is up. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Sleep improves hormone regulation, strengthens your immune system, improves fat burning and can affect thermoregulation. It does a lot of important stuff.

When you don’t get enough sleep – 7 to 8 hours of high quality, deep sleep each night – your body is more susceptible to injury and illness.

We all have 24 hours in a day. Edit your lifestyle to find ways to prioritise sleep. Maybe a little less social media and television are good places to start.

Running Injury Free Is Simple. Not Easy

As you can see, running injury free is not rocket science but it’s not easy either. There are lots of moving parts that need to be carefully balanced.

Plan thoughtfully, be patient and pay attention to the details. I am confident you’ll see your rate of injury drop and your consistency improve as the month’s pass.

Good luck!

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Ben Pulham

Ben Pulham is the founder of Coached, a personalised training programme that helps runners & triathletes optimise, track and enjoy their training.