I’ve spent a good portion of my early running career learning how to stay injury-free. I’ve sprained an ankle, gotten plantar fasciitis, struggled with sore joints, and pounded my hip into oblivion. This is in addition to the countless number of times I’ve wounded my pride by looking like a rabid basset hound while running.
When the editors of Healthline.com reached out to me about doing a guest post, I was excited to see what they had to say about injury prevention. While a lot of this stuff is common sense, it’s really easy for new runners (and old, I’m totally guilty of these!) to overlook a lot of the basics.
So now that you know that I am not the poster child for injury prevention, let’s see what someone who knows her stuff has to say:
Four Tips for Preventing Injury while Running
1. Stay within Your Limits
One of the most important things to do in order to avoid injury is to stay within your limits. In other words, listen to your body. The saying “No pain, no gain” only goes so far. Running can come with quite a bit of psychological pain, but physical pain is a different story. If you experience pain while exercising, that means that your body needs rest. Give it a break, and try a different exercise that allows the appropriate areas to take a break.
Part of staying within your limits is also knowing how much your body can take. If you aren’t a runner, you aren’t going to become one tomorrow. That’s not to say that you will never be a runner; in fact, consistent exercise is the best way to build up to longer and longer distances. Keep in mind that that improvement is gradual. Pushing yourself too much early on can result in major setbacks in the form of serious injuries.
If you are an experienced runner, you should still make sure not to push it too hard. Studies show that for the typical runner (as in, not the guy at the front of the pack), regularly running as fast as possible increases the likelihood of injury by a large margin. Race sparingly, and do the proper training every time you want to run for speed.
And, warm up! These parts of running too often get ignored, and they can make a major difference in terms of reducing the chance that you will get hurt. First, do a light, easy warm-up exercise before your run. This can be a short jog to the corner and back, or it can be a set of jumping jacks. Warming up helps the muscles to loosen and relax, thereby decreasing the chance that they will get injured as you exercise.
After you warm up, it also helps to stretch. If you are going to stretch only once each time you run, it should come after you finish your exercise. This is when the muscles need to cool down, and stretching helps keep your body limber so that you won’t experience aches and pains hours after your run.
3. Pick up the Right Shoes
Treating your feet right is the first step in treating your body right. It may be tempting to keep going with those old trainers that are falling apart a little more with each step, but throwing down the money for a new pair of (high-quality) running shoes is well worth it.
The science behind this one is simple. As your shoes get older, they lose the support that they were made with. Eventually, they provide an insufficient surface for your foot as you run, and running in the same way as you might with a nice, new pair of shoes can result in injury. Most runners recommend tossing out your shoes after 300 to 500 miles of exercise.
4. Mix up Your Workouts
For some people, “exercise” means “running.” In reality, you can do wonders for your body by switching up your exercise routine and working on other areas a little bit each week. This gives your joints and leg muscles time to recover, and it allows your body to stay loose and active when you take a break from running.
In addition, cross training is important for well-rounded exercise, because running simply doesn’t exercise all of your muscles. Especially if you are experiencing some pain from running, think about hopping in the pool for a swim every now and then, or try out the rowing machine or a stationary bike. Any of these options can help you work on your cardio without putting too much strain on your legs.
Valerie Johnston is a health and fitness writer located in East Texas. With ambitions of one day running a marathon, writing for Healthline.com ensures she keeps up-to-date on all of the latest health and fitness news.