Congratulations, you’ve decided to start running! Maybe during iso? Maybe whilst you were missing the gym? Or maybe just because running is a great choice, it’s free and provides awesome health and fitness benefits!
However, the majority of running injuries occur in inexperienced runners that are within the first 6 weeks of their training program, especially if they have had previous injury. Does this sound like you?
Since lockdown and especially when gyms where closed, I have had a spate of patients who have had running injuries, nearly all could have been prevented by following the advice below.
Although going for a run is a simple as chucking on some runners and heading to the park. Taking up running as a hobby or as a fitness regime needs a bit more consideration to prevent injuries from creeping up. Failing to take these common mistakes into consideration can increase your risk of injury and will, at the very least affect your speed, endurance and enjoyment of running.
By avoiding these 5 common mistakes you will be able to prevent injury and continue to improve your performance, enjoying your runs more.
1. Increasing Kms too quickly
If you are just getting into running after hibernating for the winter, picking appropriate running distances is arguably the most important (and hardest) part about starting a running program.
Most of us start a new sport or hobbie with much excitement, even setting some specific goals such as running 5 km, 10 km or even a marathon. And we are keen to try to bump up their Kms quickly to their end goal which often leads to muscles and tendons being overworked and slowly leading to overuse injuries.
In general, a running injury occurs when the body is subjected to a load (running speed/ distance/ incline) that it is not accustomed to deal with, which body part the injury effects and why is dependant on the other factors discussed below.
For beginners, a general guide is to only increase your Kms per week or your peak distance by a maximum of 10% at a time. Athletes that have a good running background and are currently cross training may build their kms slightly faster, even up to 20% per week. However, such a significant increase must be well planned out with sufficient recovery.
Other factors to consider when increasing your kms is your running speed and terrain. 5km at a comfortable pace on a flat track will take much less strain on the body, compared to 5km at a challenging pace or 5km of hill running.
Therefore, only increase one of these aspects at a time, for example, if you wanted to significantly increase your running speed, decrease your distance by around 20%. If you wanted to try cross country/trail running, starting with a comfortable pace and decreasing your distance.
2. Not strengthening key muscles groups outside of running
Missing out on strength training is a mistake made by runners of all levels. A common misconception is that the best way to build better running endurance is through aerobic exercise i.e. more running.
However this is not the case, research shows that by increasing your strength and power in key muscle groups such as the calves, quads and glutes your running times and distance will improve.
Amazing loads go through the body when we run; during one step around 3 times your body weight is placed on the glutes, 4-6 times body weight on the quads, and a massive 7-8 times body weight on the calves.
With these sorts of loads going through the body, it’s not hard to see that without sufficient strength runners are at significant risk of injury.
Beginner/intermediate runners ideally should schedule two stand-alone strengthening sessions a week, making sure to allow for at least two rest days during the week.
Some of my favourite strengthening exercises to include in these sessions are; bent knee calf raises, elevated bridges (single leg if able), single leg box squats (or pistol squats if able), and weighted lunges.
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Being mindful of your posture, especially when tired or running uphill, is something that is commonly overlooked by runners. Most runners will tend to hunch and allow their head and shoulders to fall forwards, which places increased strain on your neck, shoulders and lower back muscles.
Many people will get pain or tension in their back, neck or shoulders when sitting with a poor posture for greater than 30mins, so when you combine this with the impact of each step the resulting pain/tension can come on faster and be far more intense.
Another issue with this type of posture is that it also limits the ability of your lungs to expand and reduces the oxygen available to you, which can make a hill seem like a mountain
At the start of your running program overall running times will be relatively low, so you may not notice any pain when running with a poor posture, however, when the distances and times start to grow, that same posture will start to become problematic.
Unfortunately, at that later stage, it is much harder to change posture, as it has been ingrained as part of your technique.
Therefore, recognising and changing poor posture when you are just starting out will pay dividends long term.
Some common cues to focus on if you are someone who runs with poor posture are; Maintaining your gaze forwards while drawing the chin inwards to give yourself a double chin, gently pull your shoulder blades together to open through the chest.
4. Rest & Recovery
Recovery is required in order for the body to create structural and physiological changes, which results in an increase in strength or endurance.
Without adequate recovery, not only do you miss out on the rewards for all your hard work, in the form of increased fitness, but you also will be far more susceptible to injury.
When you load the body with a challenging run a certain amount of tissue breakdown occurs, which then leads to the structural and increased fitness as mentioned above.
However, if the body isn’t given an adequate amount of time or nutrition to amend this breakdown before being loaded again, where this cycle will then repeat, this tissue breakdown begins to snowball which results in injury.
To prevent this as you progress your running distances and speed the increased load on the body needs to be balanced out with increased time spent focusing on recovery.
This means more time stretching and foam rolling, increased overall calorie and nutrient intake, as well as scheduling in more rest days or plan to taper training loads. Other aspects of recovery includes getting between 7.5-8.5 hours of sleep a night and adequate nutrition/hydration before and after running.
5. Poor Running Technique
Running technique is one of the biggest contributing factors to running injuries.
Running is a complex skill with many different components that can be inefficient and result in the over-use of certain parts of the body.
It is very rare for people to think about their running technique because no one ever teaches us about technique when we learn as a child, we just do it.
If you have ever had a look at looked other runners on any of your local running tracks, I’m sure you have noticed some slight differences between runners, you may have thought to yourself; oh that person takes really big steps, or wow that guy is weaving all over the place.
These differences that may seem insignificant, can actually have a large influence on which parts of the body have to work the hardest and how energy/ strength is required per step.
It is unlikely you have ever analysed yourself running on video or in a mirror, however, if you have someone willing to record a small video of you running, I’m sure you will be surprised at the small differences you can pick up, you may even be able to recognise some common mistakes.
Watch out for the next post where we will talk about common running injuries, associated technique errors and how to fix them so you can run pain-free and faster than ever before.
By our running physiotherapist – Liam Crowley
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Simply answer these few questions to find out what your risk of injury is based on expert knowledge. We will email the results right back to you with some tips on what to do the prevent or fix an injury. Remember running should be fun and painless.