We all know someone who’s felt the pangs of injury all too close to their big day. Five weeks until race day and then BAM! … that little niggle you always felt when you were running suddenly become more than just a niggle. Your ankle that always pulled up a touch sore just rolled, and the prognosis is not great.
It happens all too often, to such a varied degree to runners. But why? And more importantly, how can we stop it?
1. Too much too soon
When starting out on our journey towards completing a big race, the first natural instinct is to up your training load and start pushing yourself harder. This can literally run you into the ground as you subject your body to drastically increasing loads over such a short period of time. This sudden increase in stress on the body may lead to the development of some ugly injury issues, such as ITB Syndrome (an inflammation of the iliotibial band down the outside of your leg, around the insertion at the knee), plantar fasciitis (inflammation and tearing of the sheath underneath your foot) and shin pains/splints, just to name a few.
Similarly, high training and running loads have repeatedly been linked to the onset of non-contact injury in intermittent running sports, such as AFL, rugby and soccer. How can we prevent this then? A properly designed and periodised training program will let you ease into those high training demands over the duration of an 8-12 week training program, and help to keep you injury-free.
2. Your technique isn’t ideal
Running is such a natural movement, yet so many of us overcomplicate it and start to ruin our bodies in the process. It’s often hard to think of running as a ‘skill’ when it’s something we were almost born to do. This doesn’t, however, detract from the necessity of practicing correct technique when running to reduce the onset of technique related running injuries.
Running posture is the first important step in adjusting running technique. Keeping your back straight, airways open and head up will not only improve your running performance, but can decrease the load through your back, knees and hips. Keeping your head up and airway open also allows a better flow of oxygen to the lungs, leading to improved circulation and oxygen delivery to the muscles.
Keeping our back straight and head up will help to sort out most posture issues, but our hips may not respond in the correct way when we first change our posture. Hip drop is a common technique related running problem, resulting in glute, hip and lower back pain. Hip drop occurs when the hip of striking foot drops below level of the contralateral side, resulting in an uneven pelvis. Prolonged over the duration of a run, or many runs, and the problem starts to build up and can result in some pretty nasty back, hip and glute pains. Strength exercises to stabilise your glutes and keep your hips level will help in correcting this technique pitfall, and get you one step closer to remaining injury free.
Once we’ve sorted out posture and hip stability we need to sort out how our feet hit the pavement. Most social runners slap away at the pavement heel-first while wearing the chunkiest of shoes, sending massive forces straight up through their heels and lower limbs into the spine. At the other end of the spectrum, most sprinters hit the ground fore-foot first running ‘on their toes’. This is a great way to run short sharp intervals, but for prolonged efforts it can cause serious calf strain and you’ll feel the effects the next day. We want to split the difference, and aim for a mid-foot strike, landing somewhere between the forefoot and heel so as to avoid both large calf strain and serious heel impact. This is the best way to run long distances without putting your lower limbs and lower back at peril of ongoing soreness and injury.
No matter how good your technique is, though, if you’re not wearing the right shoes you’re still going to have a bad time…
3. Your shoes are all wrong
Footwear is the one thing you’re going to be wearing the most when running (unless, like me, you love a summer bare-foot beach run). As this is the case, you’re going to want to get it right. Too much padding in the sole and heel and your foot can feel unstable. This doesn’t help with hip drop, as mentioned above, if the lower limb finds it difficult to remain stable against the ground with each strike. Similarly, ankles don’t like this instability and the likelihood of an ankle sprain increases dramatically.
Contrastingly, skipping out on highly cushioned shoes and opting for the increasingly popular minimalist design won’t help your cause in remaining injury free. Granted the benefits of minimalist shoes are starting to be documented, but only in the cases of trained runners who are used to running in these shoes. Novice runners are not likely to feel natural running in these slim shoes, and without proper technique the ground reaction forces through the soles can be more than enough to stimulate chronic pain and injury issues.
Finding the right shoe is about finding the shoe that fits your foot well, feels comfortable when running and offers you the level of support you feel you need when running. It’s worthwhile heading into the shops and trying out as many different kinds as you can before making your decision.
4. You’ve unleaded your inner speed demon
It might sound like an odd way to be injured, but you could well be running faster than you’re able to. When first starting out, it’s common to want to push yourself as hard as possible. Running too fast too early in your training can result in a loss of correct technique over longer distances, and in the process putting you at risk of a host of non-contact injuries. The best way to regulate speed is to do what feels comfortable, and slowly build from there. Shorter duration intervals are a great way to get comfortable maintaining faster running speeds with proper technique, and can help you to slowly and safely increase your long distance running speed.
5. You’ve skipped the smart recovery routine
It’s easy to think about and plan for a run, but not so many people think about their recovery post-run or between running sessions. This is the time where improvements are really made, and where poorly structured recovery can increase a runner’s injury risk being severely elevated.
Nutrition is the most important form of recovery post training, as correct nutrition is what allows your body the energy to adapt and respond to training stimuli. Most important for injury prevention, however, is the correct inclusion of rest between sessions. Rest is time in which the body can use the energy from food to apply the adaptations to exercise and repair damaged muscles. Not enough rest between sessions, and you can set yourself on a rocky pathway to over-training syndrome, strength loss and chronic fatigue.
It takes a lot of training load, however, to drop all the way to over-training syndrome and chronic fatigue, but nonetheless the importance of rest cannot be underestimated. Adequate sleep is the first step to helping the body repair and recover, and should be your goal on any training day.
A well-structured and periodised training program will factor in adequate rest for beginner runners, and plan sessions appropriately. This is the benefit of consulting with an exercise professional when starting out running, as they can suit all the above information to your personal situation. This will not only maximise your results, but also help to reduce the risk of injury. So what are you waiting for? Find a great trainer, get onto an excellent running program, set some goals and start running!
ABOUT OUR GUEST BLOGGER JOHANN RUYS
Johann finished his Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Technology Sydney in 2014 and is currently undertaking Honours by research looking at injury prevention in professional AFL players. Johann is an avid exerciser and loves to play sport and be outdoors. He is a keen surfer and snowboarder, and enjoys to travel to chase the slopes and the waves. He is a trainer for ATLETA.
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