Runners never get tackled, but they manage to get injured almost as frequently as football players. Why are more than half of runners nursing injuries each year? The answer is simple: Most don’t train properly.
Running seems like a straightforward, natural movement, so most people forget it requires instruction and attention to technique. Fortunately, even novice runners can learn how to structure their training to prevent injury. After working with thousands of runners, I’ve found injury-free running comes down to following three steps.
Easy Steps to Avoid Running Injuries
1. Switch things up.
Most running injuries happen from repetitive stress. If runners always do the same workouts, they end up taxing the same parts of their body again and again. Most training programs are boring. They call for running the same distances at the same paces in the same shoes. Here’s how to introduce some variety into your routine:
- Do more trail running. The frequent turns, elevation changes, and uneven terrain force you to subtly alter your stride.
- Rock some new kicks. Rotate between two or three different pairs of shoes. Each one will change your biomechanics—head position, stride length, and how your arms move when you run—which helps reduce repetitive stress.
- Pick up (and slow down) your pace. Your training plan should include everything from slow recovery runs to maximum-intensity sprints.
- Start strength training. Bodyweight exercises and weight training will help you get stronger and lower your risk of injury on runs.
2. Practice proactive recovery—and don't push it.
Most of the time, recovery—whether it’s ice baths, foam rolling, or compression socks—is something you do once you already feel sore. Proactive recovery calls for adjusting workouts based on how you’re feeling day-to-day. Sometimes you need to take a day off, cut your mileage, or slow down the pace. Remember: All of your workouts should be right for your fitness level and how you’re feeling that day.
- Know thyself. If you feel low-level fatigue or just light soreness, continue with your planned workout. If you feel moderately achy, sore, or tired, you can still run, but make your run easier than planned.
- Don't ignore pain. Never run through sharp, stabbing pain. It could turn a nagging ache into a more serious injury.
- Don’t do too much, too soon, too fast. Every workout should be something you can actually do—not an insurmountable feat. Progress takes time—and that’s OK!
3. Perfect your form.
Good running technique is super important. Luckily, correcting poor form takes a few small adjustments:
- Count your steps. Determine your cadence (the number of steps you take per minute with both feet). You should take more than 170 steps per minute; any slower and you’re putting too much stress on your legs. Need to speed up? Focus on taking quicker, shorter steps to increase your cadence.
- Avoid over-striding. Make sure your feet land underneath your hips. Too many runners “reach out” with their feet to take longer strides, but they end up over-striding and landing hard on their heels. The mental cue to “just put your foot down underneath you” will help reinforce this principle of good running form.
- Stand up tall. Slouching at your desk isn’t doing you any favors, and it wreaks havoc on your running form too. Pretend there’s a string attached to your head, pulling it up to the sky. This cue stops you from leaning forward from the hips and reinforces upright posture.
When these principles of sound injury prevention are combined, you’ll be able to train more consistently and won’t have to miss a single race. Train smart and stay healthy!