6 Paths to Injury Free Running

We’ve all been told that running is an impact sport; studies show that for every pound you weigh, you have 4 pounds of force on your joints when you run. So, if you weigh 125 pounds every time you strike the ground there is 500 pounds of force on your joints. If you run a mile, you’ll strike the ground somewhere around 1,500 times depending on your stride length or, said another way, you’ll bring 750,000 pounds of force to your joints for every mile you run. 

When you think about it like this, is it any wonder that the majority of us will have an injury at some point during the year. In fact, studies tell us that roughly 67% of us will have an injury that requires us to take time off from running during any given year. 

I know I’d rather be in the 33% that makes it through the year without having to take time off to nurse an injury so let’s look at what we can do to minimize our risk of injury.

In this article, we’ll look at 6 things you can do to prevent running related injuries. 

Pick the right shoes

This one seems simple, but how many times have you changed out the types of shoes you wear? Most of us use the trial and error method to find the right shoes, but this is time consuming and expensive and there is a better way. 

Most running shoe stores will offer to do a free shoe fitting for you, including a video gait analysis to determine what type runner you are. They are looking for how your foot strikes, whether you overpronate (your foot rolls inward when it strikes), supinate (your foot rolls outward when it strikes) or a neutral pronation (your foot doesn’t roll when it strikes). Based on this, you’ll either need a “stability” shoe (overpronation) or a “neutral” shoe (supination and neutral pronation). Here is a good article on Gait Analysis

I can tell you from personal experience, I went with the stability shoes when I first started running since about 70% of us overpronate but during a gait analysis I realized I supinated when I ran and changed to a neutral shoe and it made all the difference. 

Once you’ve picked out the shoe type you need, think about having two types of shoes; one suited for your longer runs, and another more lightweight shoe for your faster speed workouts. 

Finally, track the mileage on your shoes; most running apps like Garmin Connect, Strava and the like allow you to name your shoes and track the mileage. Once you’ve committed to tracking mileage, replace your shoes every 500 miles. 

Run more efficiently

The more efficiently you run, the less likely you are to be injured and it has the added benefit of allowing you to build your endurance base more effectively. When I first started researching this area, it seemed so complex and made me think too much when I was running so I ended up simplifying this in my mind. 

For the non-elite runner, running efficiency can be broken down into two main areas, cadence and form. 

Cadence is the number of steps per minute you take while you run, and the rule of thumb is to take 180 steps per minute; this will cause you to avoid over-striding, which can be on of the main causes of injury. Most running watches will help you track this, but you can also assess it manually by counting your foot strikes during the course of you run over 15, 30 and 60 second intervals. 

It may seem difficult at first but know over time your body will “learn” and you’ll begin to feel when you’re at the right cadence. Personally, I can estimate within a few steps what my cadence is for every mile I run and, with practice, you will be able to find your right cadence. 

Running form should be kept simple as well, and you should focus on four things; keep your chin up, your shoulders back but relaxed, your hands should be relaxed (I like the advice to think of holding butterflies in your hand while you run) and your arms should be at 90 degrees and moving back and forth and not across your body. 

If you focus on your cadence and these simple running form techniques, you’ll increase your running efficiency and limit injuries. Here is a good video on Cadence and Form

Don’t Forget the Warmup

Once you’re ready to run, it’s tempting to shoot out the door at top speed or forego a running warmup in the interest of saving time. But heading out of the gates at full throttle without a proper prerun warmup is a recipe for disaster and increases your chance of injury. 

If you start out too fast, you run the risk of pulling a muscle, or a tendon, joint or bone injury. The worst part is that you’re likely to end your run feeling exhausted, discouraged, and dreading your next workout. 

The best way to warm up is to start with a brisk walk, then add some strides and finally do some dynamic stretching. Do not do any static stretching, as this has been proven to actually increase your chance of injury. Here is a good video for Dynamic Stretching. 

Build Your Aerobic Base Slowly

I’ve seen so many new runners try to add to their weekly miles too quickly, injure themselves and never take up the habit again. If you’ve done any research on the topic of building your miles, you’ve no doubt heard about the 10% where you increase your miles by 10% each week. My advice is to ignore this during this period and follow these simple rules. 

  • Only increase your miles every 3 or 4 weeks while you’re building the running habit
  • Increase your miles no more than 10% every time you take a step up
  • When you do increase your miles, either add it evenly over your running days or add another running day to your week

Strength Training

We’re not talking about powerlifting here, but rather some strength training that will help you get rid of muscular imbalances that will lead to injury. I like to do some strength training about 2 or 3 times a week, but you’ll figure out how often is good for you. 

Strength training should focus on areas that you use while running, allowing you to strengthen both the main muscle groups you use while running as well as the complementary muscles to keep your muscle balance. 

Here are some Strength Training exercises you should try. 

Focused recovery

How many of you are finished with a run, and just get on with the rest of your life…me too. But, focusing on your recovery is maybe one of the most overlooked areas of running but there some simple things you can do to help you recover better.

Don’t finish up your run without some type of warm down; personally, I enjoy “walking it off” for about 15 minutes after my run and some dynamic stretches. You should also make sure you get some type of protein within 30 minutes of your run; the easiest way is to have a protein drink ready before you run and drink it after you’re done with your warm down.

Finally, get a good amount of sleep; this is the time where your body does the most of its recovery after a run, and something all runners should allow for. In fact, if you do a long run on the weekends it’s good to schedule some “nap time” for recovery.

Try these out, and you’ll find be more likely to find yourself in the 33% injury free runners in 2020.

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Rich Flaherty is a middle of the pack runner and triathlete, whose only real claim to fame is his daughter Bekah Brooks qualified for the Boston Marathon in her first marathon.


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