This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on running without injury:
- Part 1 [You are Here] – What I Did to Avoid Running Injuries for the Past 3 Years
- Part 2 – What’s in my Recovery Toolkit?
- Part 3 – Injury is Not Normal
So you’ve heard the stats: ’70-80% of runners are injured each year’. And we’ve all been told to spend more time on our feet to avoid running injuries. But most of that information is plain wrong.
I know because I’ve tried it. I’ve been running for 25 years and during that time I’ve tried high mileage, low mileage, strength and conditioning, and every combination I could think of.
Over the past three years I have not had a single running injury because injuries are not normal. Not one. (Unless black toe nails are injuries?!?!)
‘But the pros roll high mileage’; I hear you say. Yes. They do. ‘And it works for them’, you comment. Yes, sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Do you spend your days like them? Do you get to sleep for an hour or two in the middle of the day? Get full rest and recovery between sessions? There are a lot of things at play when your mileage increases and unless your entire life revolves around running, there may be a better way than going long day after day.
Throughout my running ‘career’ I had been injured once or twice every two years. Not heaps but enough to interrupt consistent training. In 2013 the injuries stopped but this wasn’t some sudden change I had made, it finding the right combinations of all modalities I had tried in the past.
Here are 5 things I did (and still do) to avoid running injuries altogether.
1. Improve Mechanics
Whether pro or not, runners who move well have a high chance of avoiding running injuries. When you move well you put less strain on your body. Injury is nature’s way of telling you you’re moving poorly.
From heel striking to tight thoracic spine to hip strength, there are many areas that can be improved almost immediately and each of these contribute to a healthier athlete.
The way you land has the single biggest bearing on injury prevention. When you run on a hard surface without shoes you can’t heel strike. There is no padding or suspension in your heel so it hurts too much. You’ll find that you land on the front half of your foot. This shouldn’t change just because you wear shoes. Your budget breaking shoes can only hide poor form for so long… That cushioning may make a heel strike feel fine but there is still huge amounts of impact rippling through your legs, into your knees, hips and lower back.
Foot placement is just one of the topics which I cover extensively in the Running Technique Progression. So if you’re at all interested in staying healthy (or if you want to get rid of injuries and run pain free forever) you should definitely check it out.
2. Understand Recovery
I never truly understood the concept of recovery when I was young. I didn’t need to! I could back up session after session with no worries at all. I looked up to a lot of older guys and watched the way they had to work hard to be ready for the next session and I remember thinking ‘when I’m old I’ll take more notice of recovery’. Well now I’m ‘old’. I’m 35 but I understand (and accept!) that I can’t back up sessions like I used to but I also understand that I can make an actual session out of recovery and be ready to go for the next session.
Your body gets beaten up when you train. It’s part of the process. The quicker you can return it to a normal, recovered state the better your gains from training and the healthier you will be. As we get older it takes longer to return to normal after training but there are things we can do. These active recovery sessions are essential for avoiding running injuries.
Invest in a recovery tool kit. I detail the exact contents of my recovery toolkit in this post. Experiment with different apparatus to see what works for you. Try compression, self-myofascial release, mobility, breathing protocol, and light cross training.
3. Lift Heavy
This was a revelation to me! I’m an endurance athlete- why would I want to lift weights and get massive when I have to carry that excess weight around? First off, let me tell you I have great admiration for those guys who do get massive ‘cos that is difficult! Guys: you may put on a little bit of bulk. Girls: I highly doubt you will put on any bulk. But let me ask you this: what if the tiny bit of extra weight was offset by increased power that helped you move faster and further? I didn’t put on any weight, I just got stronger. Being stronger meant more endurance, more speed and fewer injuries.
Lifting is simple. Ignore the machines and go straight to the barbell. Learn to deadlift, squat and press with great technique. Slowly increase your weight over time as you become more competent. Then do it regularly. Every Monday, without fail, I deadlift. 5 sets of 5 reps. Done. Wednesday is push press day and Friday is squat day. This improved my core strength, hip stability, posterior chain and all round health. Inadvertently it also increased my bike power output- if that’s something you’re into!
Lift a heavy barbell regularly, get strong, avoid running injuries.
4. Jump Rope
Haven’t skipped since primary school? Better get back into it! Skipping has been the single best thing I have ever done to improve my running. Get a cheap rope and get that rhythm back. If time on your feet is what you’re after, jumping rope will give you that. The speed of your jump is much faster than the turnover of your run so 5 minutes of skipping will get you more foot strikes than 5 minutes of running.
Jumping rope will improve your conditioning exponentially. If you haven’t skipped for a while try it for 60 seconds and you’ll know about it!
Inherent in jumping rope is good mechanics. It is nearly impossible to jump with poor form so you will be landing on the front half of your feet and strengthening the whole foot and ankle. Try it barefoot to really strengthen the whole foot/ ankle/ calf system and avoid running injuries.
Be careful, however, as this puts a big strain on your Achilles and calf/ soleus. I limit my skipping to 5 minutes a day and be sure to take care of the calves.
5. Increase Cadence
Do you hate that feeling of plodding along? That lethargic feeling while running is either because of, or leads to, a slow leg turnover.
The more steps you take each minute (the higher your cadence) the more you will glide. When you glide your feet don’t spend as much time on the ground under load. This reduces strain on the entire body and helps avoid running injuries. As with all of these steps, the techniques that avoid running injuries also make you faster!
Next time you watch any professional runner, count their steps per minute. They will be running at more than 180 steps per minute, regardless of their technique or distance.
Try for yourself. Download a free metronome app on your phone, set it to 180bpm and take a step every time it beeps. It will feel fast but try it for just a few minutes at a time. You’ll find you might take smaller steps but the steps will be more frequent and your movements will become more efficient.