The Happy Runner's Guide to Injury Prevention
5 ways to run healthy, strong and injury free
Sooner or later, if you run long enough, you’re going to get injured. It just comes with the territory. But that’s OK. And everyone has a different level of injury proneness based on a whole slew of ingredients including lifestyle, skeletal structure, age, muscle tone, flexibility, etc., etc. Luckily, you have the power to modulate most of those variables in a positive way and, hopefully, run more injury-free miles than you otherwise would.
Here are five tried-and-true ways to run healthier, happier and longer:
1 - Get more sleep.
Ah, the elusive shut-eye you rarely get enough of in this modern age of go, go, go. But when it comes to thwarting injury (and let’s be frank, everything in life), maximizing quality pillow time is paramount. While you’re off in dreamland, your body is fast at work repairing itself from the efforts of the day before.
“Even one extra hour of sleep per night can improve your athletic ability,” says Tressa Breindel, L.Ac MSOM of Integrated Health Richmond in Richmond, VA. “Sleep is a major performance enhancer, and we just don’t get enough of it.”
With the assistance of wearable tech and some simple bedtime hacks, you can up your z hours in no time. (Check out our sleep story to learn more.)
2 - Balance strength and flexibility.
Wes Miller, a physical therapist in Asheville, NC, says, “Muscle mass creates better stiffness and makes you a better, more efficient runner.” But that’s only one piece of the puzzle. Miller also suggests that it’s the right balance of muscle mass, mobility and flexibility that keep you healthy mile after mile.
That’s because running is a repetitive motion. In order to run day in and day out, your body needs to be able to do the same motion over and over and over, without getting an overuse injury. “Stretch what is inflexible and strengthen what is weak,” he says. Put simply: balance.
But it’s not always that easy to decipher. You might misinterpret a nagging hamstring as being tight, so you stretch more. And more. And then the niggle feels worse. Could be because it actually started bothering you in the first place because of weakness, not inflexibility (maybe). Perhaps you start doing body-weight squats and other strengthening exercises mixed with a bit of mobility and things get better. … See what we mean? The solution isn’t always cut and dry.
In short: learn to balance strength and flexibility. How? Well, that takes us to number 3.
3 - Listen to your body.
Runners are notorious for ignoring discomfort and running through pain. And that’s fine (to some degree), because running isn’t always comfortable, and no one achieves their goals without a bit of discomfort. Have you ever heard elite athletes talk about learning to be comfortable amidst discomfort? But not all pain is the same. And learning to distinguish general running discomfort and injury is crucial to stave off injury long term.
Not sure where to start? Go through this simple checklist every time you feel pain. If you answer yes to any of these questions, stop running immediately.
- Is the pain forcing you to alter your gait?
- Does the pain interfere with your ability to rest?
- Do you need to take medication to deal with the pain?
4 - Practice self-massage.
A little bit of bodywork goes a long way in helping you to recover from any hard effort. A plethora of products, like massage tools exist to help your recovery right at home after every run. Incorporating self-massage into your training takes is about 10 minutes per day (or less!) to roll out sore muscles and dig into problem areas.
5 - Learn mindfulness techniques.
Learning to tune-in to your body’s signals takes work and a willingness to be present and mindful. If you’re feeling disconnected, consider taking a mindful movement or meditation class to learn some valuable tools for “being in the moment” and listening. Learning to be present will help you more honestly respond and listen to your body’s signals (when to push, back off, stay the same, etc.), maximize your training potential and even more gracefully get through injury when it does rear its ugly head.
Mackenzie Havey, a runner, writer and mindfulness coach in Minneapolis, says that mindful practices actually rewire the brain.This means cultivating mindfulness in running will not only help you to be more content with your daily life, but it will also help you to discern potential injuries so you can address them before they become an issue.