Are you fed up of getting injured all the time? Whether you are a seasoned pro or are new to running, this post is just as relevant all the same.
Firstly we need to look at a break-down of the most common reasons for injury:
Overuse/overload – This might sound a bit obvious but the main cause of injury is down to a poorly planned training schedule. This can be the result of a lack of rest days between sessions or a sudden increase in distance/speed (>10% in one week) or frequency of training sessions. Other issues include a lack of variety, such as doing lots of speed work but no distance sessions and vice versa. Rest is important and is often a highly undervalued or neglected part of your training regime.
When people are planning their training plans for a marathon or iron, rest days can seem like a waste of time, however this couldn’t be further from the truth! Overtraining leads to reduced performance, weakness and burnout. Having those pre-planned rest days is vital for muscle recovery, continuously improving your run times and most importantly avoiding injury!
Muscle imbalance – Many runners dedicate a lot time and effort to running for a myriad of reasons – the runner’s high, to lose weight, improve or maintain fitness for an upcoming event, reduce stress or even just to have that all important alone time! But few often consider the importance of strength and conditioning sessions slotted into their weekly training schedule. If you continue to suffer from a ‘niggly calf’ or ‘tight hamstring’, consider this, why is it niggly or tight? Sometimes it may the case that you simply need to stretch more, but more often than not, these symptoms are a sign of muscle fatigue due to weakness or overload as the result of compensating for another weak area. Regular resistance training for the gluteals, quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles have demonstrated significant benefits in reducing risk of injury and improving your overall performance allowing you to reach your goals.
Poor technique – Running gait can affect your efficiency and load on different tissues which can therefore alter your risk of injury. If you are serious about improving your time, have hit a recent plateau or wish to see if anything is amiss with your running technique – a detailed gait analysis can assess your form, loading patterns, cadence and most importantly your step rate. Increasing step rate by just 5-10% can significantly reduce the load going through your knees by reducing over-striding and thus reducing the risk of knee or shin pain.
Footwear – There has been a lot of development in recent years with regards to possible shoe options. From no shoes at all (barefoot running craze!), to sturdy trail shoes the options are endless which can sometimes make the whole process confusing. If you are serious about running, then purchasing shoes from an accredited running store should be the first step in your journey to ensure optimal comfort.
Nutrition and hydration – Regular water intake is key to the successful runner. On a rest day in the middle of winter 2 litres may suffice. When the sun is blazing and you have scheduled your long run, make that 4-5 litres! When doing longer sessions (especially in the heat) consider replenishing those all-important minerals and electrolytes which can be obtained through alternating between plain water and sports drinks. By the time you experience thirst your strength and endurance can be depleted by up to 20%!
Nutrition is key in terms of maintaining adequate energy reserves. Complex carbohydrates such as oats, brown rice, brown pasta, rye bread or sweet potatoes 2-3 hours before a run can significantly boost your energy. Pre-run, glucose or fructose in the form of a piece of fruit can provide that kick start and boost for your system. Protein is also vital, especially when putting your muscles through their paces and is necessary for the rebuilding process which occurs during sleep. Do not neglect fats in your diet! As well as many other necessary bodily functions, from a running perspective, fats play a vital role in hormone production which in turn are vital for sustaining healthy muscles and bones. Omega 3 fatty acids have also shown to provide anti-inflammatory benefits which may aid recovery. Caffeine in your morning coffee drank 20-30 minutes before a run can be a great boost, but ensure that you limit your intake and couple this with water as overloading on caffeine can lead to dehydration due to its diuretic effects.
Sleep – last but by no means least, sleep is vital in allowing our muscles to recover, particularly after long and strenuous training sessions! Sleep is when muscle repair takes place and so if you are burning the candle at both ends, this can have serious negative implications on your ability to keep on running injury-free. The average recommendations for sleep are 7-8 hours per now, however you may require 8-9 hours with regular intensive exercise. Avoid screens or excessive eating before bed and keep cool to ensure you achieve optimal high quality sleep.
Take home messages – 6 easy steps to running success:
- Plan your training schedule wisely avoiding too many back-to-back sessions and respecting your rest days.
- Pencil in some strength and conditioning sessions around your running 1-2 times per week.
- Make sure that your running shoes feel comfortable and if they no longer feel supportive, consider buying a new pair from a running store.
- Get into good habits of drinking water at regular intervals.
- Create a personalised meal plan to provide your body with the essential nutrients.
- Get to bed on time and create a healthy sleep schedule.