7 Tips to Avoid Running Injuries

In order to improve and stay motivated as a runner, being able to consistently train without injury is paramount.  I don’t think there is a single answer on how to avoid injury since everyone’s body is different, but there are many things within our control that we can do to increase our odds of staying healthy.  I personally believe that you need to take a holistic view and not rely on a single antidote in order to find that balance between pushing the body to new performance levels without the body beginning to break down.

It has been well over a year and a half and five marathons since I’ve had an injury that prevented me running.  This ability to train consistently has contributed to steady improvements in my race times.  Sure, there have been small aches and pains, but those tended to be minor irritants than anything chronic and never lasted more than a few days.  I don’t claim to have the magic formula, but here are some things that I believe have helped me avoid any significant injury.

1.  I only run three times a week (FIRST training program) and never on back to back days.  This allows at least one or two full days between runs to recover.  Whether we want to admit it or not, running is probably one of the most impactful exercises on our tendons and joints and we need time recover in order to avoid overstressing the body.  I used to run 5 to 7 days a week and never seemed to be 100% during a run, there was always nagging pains that either never went away or even got worse to a point where I would have to take some time off.  And the funny thing is, when I went to running only 3 days a week, my running times improved, as long as the days you do run are of high quality.  When I was running 5 to 7 days a week, I was logging 50 – 60 miles a week, but most of it was not quality miles.  Today I run 30 – 40 miles per week, but each mile I run has a purpose.

2.  Changing to a mid-foot/forefoot runner instead of landing on my heals undoubtedly has helped reduce injuries to the knees and hips.  I used to constantly have pains come and go in these areas, but after changing the way I landed, those pains almost disappeared overnight.  But changing to a forefoot runner took time and patience since it didn’t feel natural at first.  In addition, it also brought a new set of injuries to my calves and achilles tendon since I hadn’t built up this part of the leg muscles.  But over a few months, the forefoot running became natural, the calves and achilles got much stronger, and as a result, it took my running to a higher level.  When I first started forefoot running, I ran in Nike Frees, which were okay, but didn’t seem to fit my foot correctly.  I also experimented with Vibram Five Fingers and did not have any luck with them, they tended to overstress the achilles tendon, especially when it came to hill training.  About a year ago I switched to Newton Gravity and have found them to be the best forefoot running shoe on the market so far.

3.  Strengthening the core muscles of the body contributes to better running form and as a result fewer injuries.  Having a solid core keeps the back straight and body aligned throughout a run.  Since March I’ve been exclusively doing kettlebell exercises using the KettleWorX program with great results.  The time commitment is about 30 minutes three times a week, but you get a fairly intense full body workout.

4.  After my kettlebell strength training routine, I do about 20 – 25 minutes of yoga three times a week.  This helps with flexibility and balance.  There are a couple routines for runners I found on iTunes that I alternate between.  This is an area I can probably improve in, my flexibility is pretty pathetic.  Also, I don’t do a lot of stretching before or after a run, mainly because of time, but I know the limited amount of yoga I do each week is helpful.  I also do a short 5 to 10 minute stretching routine every night before going to bed.

5.  I am beginning to do more cross training such as cycling.  This also seems to be helpful in injury avoidance since it develops other muscles in the legs, which provides more balance and reduces overstress in the running muscles.  Cross-training also has the ability to improve your aerobic capacity without adding the the extra pounding to the joints.

6.  As I posted a few days ago, adequate sleep goes a long way in speeding recovery.  I notice the better I sleep, the better the body feels since our natural healing mechanisms were able to do their job.

7.  Eating right and correct nutrition ensures the body is getting the proper nutrients to build and repair the body.  This is another area I’m looking to improve upon this training cycle since I know there are consequences when we compromise in this area.  Malnourished athletes are susceptible to a host of injuries (weak bones, immune system, fatigue, lack of focus, etc.) because they don’t provide the body the right building blocks to keep the body strong.

Again, I don’t claim to know what works for everyone, but the tips above are what I believe have helped me personally avoid any major injuries for some time.  But I do believe you need to take a holistic approach to avoiding injury, although the list of injury prevention measures may differ from individual to individual.

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11 Responses to 7 Tips to Avoid Running Injuries

  1. You’re so right, Yoga is great, first to develop core strength (try Navasana combined with 4 arm balances in between as in the Ashtanga primary series), and then to stretch, stretch, – and stretch! A longer muscle contracts much more forcefully than a shortened one 🙂

    • Hi Andrea, thanks for the tip! Definitely an area of fitness I would like to improve upon. Being a runner, I have really tight leg muscles, but it always feels great after doing a yoga session.

  2. Marathon Gal says:

    I’ve been problems with my calf muscles and am finding it difficult to run for anything more then 10-15 withine a few days of having taken a week off to rest my legs. I think your guidance on forefoot running will help me.

    I’m a little confused about the various training plans out there though. The Virgin London Marathon training plan is a 6 day a week plan. I was more than a little shocked when I saw that as I’d always understood that if was vital to give your body time to rest following training. Being a beginner means that I want to do well on my first every marathon but feel that if I stray from the training plan I won’t be able to complete the marathon. And that worries me more than anything else right now.

    • Hi Marathon Gal!

      I can understand your frustration with injury and anxiety of running your first marathon, it is a pretty intimidating experience. At least I knew it was for me. But keep in mind, the odds are highly in your favor of you completing the marathon. When I ran the New York Marathon last month, almost 99% of the participants (47,438 started, 46,795 finished) that were able to get to the start line completed the race. As a first timer, I would not be worried about time, just finishing is a huge accomplishment in itself.

      Many beginners like to do too much, too fast, and the body is just not ready for it and begins breaking down. Training 6 days a week without a strong base of running beforehand, in my opinion, is too much for a beginner. I think you can reduce it to 3 to 4 days a week and have a more effective training cycle. The key workout to finishing a marathon is to focus on your 1 weekly long run, where you eventually build up to at least 18 to 20 miles. The other 2 or 3 running workouts you could spread out every other day, giving you at least one full day of recovery between runs. If you feel you need more miles, instead of running, maybe ride a bike, walk, or some other low impact aerobic exercises the other two days.

      Going back to the weekly long run, again, this is what is going to get you over the finish line in one piece. This is also the workout that will take the most out of you as well, so you need to ensure you hydrate and fuel well before and during the run. As a beginner, I highly recommend that you incorporate the run/walk technique developed by Jeff Galloway (web site http://www.jeffgalloway.com/training/marathon.html). It is a good technique on so many levels – less injury, able to run further, less intimidating – especially for someone who is running their first marathon.

      As far as forefoot running, keep in mind that it takes some time, so you want to have some patience and ease into it.

      Well, best wishes on your training! I always wanted to run the London Marathon, definitely on my list to do someday. Appreciate the comment and hope you continue to visit the blog.

  3. Tom Griffitts says:

    Hi, I came across your blog a several months ago looking for race schedules in Japan and have been following it every since. I think you are right on in injury prevention, balance and not running back-to-back days have really helped me get mostly over a 9 month nagging injury (hurt myself running to quickly after Tsukuba Marathon last year). I also started running a few days per week in NB Minimus and switched to a very light and lower profile main running shoe.

    Off topic a bit, but running and racing in Japan is really a lot of fun. It is a great way to really see neighorhoods and it is amazing how many little pathways are tucked away in Tokyo.

    • Hi Tom,

      Thanks for following the blog, hope you are getting something out of it. Probably the biggest thing that has helped me prevent any major injury is not running on back to back days. Be interested on your take of you new shoes. Although I like the Newtons, I don’t find them to be perfect – if such a shoe exists.

      Running in Japan is great. As you mentioned, there are so many neat little hidden things that you come across that make a run interesting. It is also nice to see many more runners in Japan, I remember when I was running here over 10 years ago, you would normally only see the hard core runners out there, but today I rarely go for a run where I don’t pass at least a half dozen other runners.

      Well, hope you continue to visit the blog. Thanks so much for the comment!

      • Tom Griffitts says:

        After I got hurt and doing quite a bit of reading, I decided to move away from heavily padded shoes (used to run in Aesics Gel type shoes). I liked the feel of New Balance Minimus, which don’t have any padding and are flat. It really helped me shorten my stride, quickened my stride and reinforced mid-foot striking. I think it helped reduce pronation as well. It definitely brought my calves in a lot more (first 3 or 4 runs I had sore calves). I’m just starting marathon training (planning to run Nobeyam in May) using a Hal Higdon 3 day/week schedule with heavy cross-training. I do at least one of the mid-week runs in the Minimus. The other shoe I am wearing is the New Balance 890. I chose it mainly because it was the lightest/flattest shoe that the Exchange carried. I am quite happy with them. However, I’m not sure how either shoe would work for people that are running a lot of mileage, I’ve only been running 15-25 miles per week in the month or two. I’ll see how they work out as my mileage ramps up this winter/spring.

        I have only been in Japan for 2 and half years so can’t compare numbers, but definitely see a lot of runners on almost every run. I haven’t run races much outside of Japan, but am amazed at the numbers of people that race in Japan and how fast they are. I ran a local 10K a few weeks ago, set a PR for me (49:36) but finished 60 out of about 115.


      • Thanks for the feedback. Finding the right running shoe is always difficult, so many choices and opinions out there. But like you, the heavily padded shoes tend to be problematic for me as well.

        Good luck with your marathon training, sounds like you have a solid training plan. Also, I think you’re right, the Japanese are faster runners, I think many of them really grit it out — taking it to a pain threshold I’m normally not normally willing to enter voluntarily.


  4. fiberliza says:

    Hi Runninginspired! I have to write and tell you that I got the KettleWorx with a 10 lb weight at a local store and my DH and I have been doing them about 2 to 3 times a week on days when we don’t want to run. I LOVE the program and am recommending it to friends like crazy. DH likes it because it is like good old fashioned calisthenics, the exercises don’t make you look like a pretzel when you are doing them, and there are guys in the video. Thanks for the tip!
    Please share which yoga programs you are doing?
    Thanks!, from Fiberliza in Oregon

    • Hi Fiberliza,

      Glad to hear from you again! I’m thrilled that you are enjoying KettleWorX, I’ve cycled through the program probably 5 or 6 times already, just seems like a perfect complement to running. My wife has also been doing KettleWorX and has stuck with it for almost 9 months now and she has never stuck with an exercise program for so long – so I think there is some staying power that you don’t find with most exercise programs. Well, I hope it helps with your training.

      As for Yoga, I used to have a subscription to My Yoga Online (http://www.myyogaonline.com/), which had hundreds of yoga routines at various levels with many different teachers. I may eventually subscribe again, but right now I’m basically using two routines I found on iTunes for free (podcasts) – YOGAmazing (Yoga for Runners, 20 minute routine) and Simsbury Community Television (Journey into Yoga for Runners, 25 minute routine). I’m sure there are other good ones out there, but haven’t had the time to do much more research. I usually do one of these routines right after my KettleWorX workout, which seems to work well.

      Thanks for the comment!!

  5. Pingback: Top 10 Things that Helped Me Finally Qualify for the Boston Marathon | Running Inspired Blog

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