Practical Injury Prevention for Runners
(Blue text links to our favorite articles & resources!)
Are you a runner looking to prevent injury? If you’re like my husband and I, the answer is always “Yes!" I have this beautiful vision of us getting the kids to bed and then doing foam rolling, range of motion, and core stability exercises together. Reality is, this rarely happens.
But here’s the thing. We may not be willing to make the time for injury prevention, but injuries will certainly be willing to make the time for us!
Since part of my work involves reviewing injury prevention studies, I've been brainstorming realistic ways we badass endurance mom and dad-thletes can save ourselves from overuse injuries like runner's knee, low back pain, and stress fractures.
If we're looking to get the biggest bang for our injury prevention buck, here's what we should know and what we can do about it.
BIG PICTURE TAKEAWAYS - LIFESTYLE & TRAINING
1. Build a strong aerobic base.
Did you know running is the number one activity in which Soldiers get injured? Multiple studies indicate it's the least aerobically fit Soldiers that are at the greatest risk for injury. For us runners, this is a great reminder to allow enough time to train for an endurance event and slowly increase the number of miles we run over time. Such efforts to build our aerobic capacity not only result in a great race day performance, but also help our bodies run longer with less fatigue and recovery time.
2. Achieve the highest level of fitness needed to perform.
Not having the appropriate amount of strength and fitness needed to take on a physical challenge is a great way to get injured! As runners, one of the best ways to prevent injury is to match our training program to race day demands. If we have a specific race pace in mind our training plan needs to include tempo runs and speed work to prepare our body. If we are running a trail race our training should include technical terrain and appropriate elevation.
3. Maintain a healthy body weight.
The relationship between body weight, running performance, and injury risk is quite complicated. However, recent studies of military trainees found those with the lowest body mass indexes (BMIs) are at the greatest risk for injury regardless of fitness level. In fact, the lowest risk for injury was found in trainees with “average” weight levels.
We may feel pressure to push our bodies to be super lean, thinking it will improve our running times. However, as an active mom who isn't going to be an elite runner anytime soon, it is encouraging to know that maintaining a moderate BMI may promote musculoskeletal resiliency and reduce risk for injury. Not to mention, maintaining a healthy amount of body fat and muscle mass is a great way to promote overall health! This research is a good reminder that all runners should strength train regularly to maintain lean muscle and increase muscular strength.
4. Find your sleep "sweet spot."
Poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation can increase risk for injury. We can work to prevent injuries by paying attention to our overall energy and fatigue, recognizing the number of hours of sleep our body needs per night may increase as training intensity and mileage increases. As a rule of thumb, we should aim for the number of hours where we wake up feeling refreshed, recovered, and ready to perform.
So those big picture takeaways are all fine and dandy...
Don’t sign up for a race and run it tomorrow. Got it!
Train hard and train right. Check!
Aim to stay at a healthy weight because it’s shown to be protective against injury...not exactly going to be a challenge due to my love of nachos!
In all seriousness though, aside from those long-term, big picture ideas, what can we do on a day-to-day basis to ensure we run injury-free for a long time to come?
EVERYDAY INJURY PREVENTION
5. Be a skilled mover in everyday movement.
If we aren’t maintaining our ability to move well then our body will start to compensate. Unfortunately, repetitive compensation for moving poorly is one of THE BEST ways to get injured. It’s one thing to understand this concept and another to actually put it into action.
Aside from being mindful of maintaining good form throughout our running and strength training, we can become better movers by joining in free play with our kids.
The bottom line is: Anytime we are performing basic movements like a squat, lunge, side-to-side shuffle, chest opening, or extending our arms overhead we are working to maintain a basic range of motion that can protect against future injuries. We can run around at the park, practice sports together as a family, or roll around with our littlest ones on the living room floor. To make the most of our efforts, we can focus on the quality of our movement and work to slowly increase range of motion over time.
6. Position matters.
Simple position readjustments throughout the day can add up to a heap of injury prevention benefits! In fact, as a strength coach I might even argue that injury prevention efforts are more important off the field than on the field.
What is one regular activity that you do with especially poor positioning? Maybe you can readjust your posture at every red light or do a few squats during every TV commercial break. Here is a fun video on how to readjust posture while texting, one of the most common ways to acquire muscle imbalances that can result in injury.
For myself, I am working to improve how I stand at my stand-up desk. If I remember to kick off my heels, relax my shoulders, and engage my core just a few times per day it will not only immediately improve my level of back discomfort, but it will also help prevent muscle imbalances that can impact my running form.
These efforts don’t have to be anything fancy, but position matters…in all our day-to-day activities! If you’d like more practical mobility tips, check out Kelly Starrett's Mobility Workouts of the Day.
I encourage you to consider what small, realistic ways you can work to prevent injury in your life. Whether it’s taking time to think through your next training plan or trying new ways to move together as a family, each proactive step in the right direction has potential to deliver massive injury prevention returns!
Wishing you many injury-free years ahead,
Team Valentine Project's mission is to help others find simple, realistic, and science-based ways to make wellness work. Don't miss a post: Follow @TeamValentineProject on Facebook & Instagram and subscribe to the blog below!
Looking for a simple and realistic way to take your competitive mindset to the next level? You'll love our best-selling new book, The Art of Breaking Through. Check it out here!
Blacker, S., Wilkinson, D., Bilzon, J., & Rayson, M. (2008). Risk Factors for Training Injuries among British Army Recruits. https://academic.oup.com/milmed/article/173/3/278/4557711
Hutchinson, A. (2015) Sleep Hours and Injury Rates. https://www.runnersworld.com/health-injuries/a20843587/sleep-hours-and-injury-rates/
Jones, B., Hauret, K., Dye, S., Hauschild, V., Rossi, S., Richardson, M, & Friedl, K. (2017). Impact of physical fitness and body composition on injury risk among active young adults: A study of Army trainees. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1440244017310617
Nindl, B, Jones, B., Van Arsdale, S., Kelly, K., & Kraemer, W. (2016). Operational Physical Performance and Fitness in Military Women: Physiological, Musculoskeletal Injury, and Optimized Physical Training Considerations for Successfully Integrating Women into Combat-Centric Military Occupations.
Rappole, C., Grier, T., Anderson, M., Hauschild, V., & Jones, B. (2017). Associations of age, aerobic fitness, and body mass index with injury in an operational Army brigade. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S144024401730991X