How to Avoid Injury as we Increase our Training
Spring is here! Fair weather runners rejoice! As we all start ramping up the miles and adding races to the calendar, we need to make sure we are not putting ourselves at risk for injury. This is the time it often happens. Most people are 4-6 weeks out from their initial races of the season. Training loads are increasing, and anticipation is building. We must heed some injury mitigation strategies.
Injury happens when load exceeds capacity. This means the body is taking on demands that it is not capable of handling. Capacity is the work you are ABLE to do. Load is the work you actually do. Think of capacity as your bucket and water as the load you use to fill the bucket. When load (water) exceeds your capacity(bucket), the water overflows and you are stressing your body more than it can handle. Most commonly, this happens when we ramp up our training too quickly. This can mean increasing miles too soon, or even suddenly adding a new type of workout such as hills or speed work without easing into it. This can also happen if we are simply not strong enough, or if our running form is not optimal.
Did you know that running injuries have a 4-6 week delay? This means that the injury process starts 4-6 weeks before you even know you are injured. So how can you know if you are on your way to injury? You can’t really, but there are things you can do to ward off injury!
The most proactive way to prevent injury is to make certain your body can handle the load you are placing on it. This means following a flexible and well-thought-out training plan, allowing for adequate recovery, keeping your body strong, and making sure your form is as efficient as possible.
Smart training: Training load errors account for 60% of run injuries. Running too fast or too far, too early. If you run hard all the time, you have a good chance of getting injured even if you are super strong and have awesome mobility. About 80% of your runs should be below threshold (zone 1-2). Increase your training gradually, but don’t fully rely on the 10% rule. You can’t base your progressions solely on what you did the week before. You have to look about 4-6 weeks back, and also take into consideration stress levels, amount of sleep, and how well you’ve been recovering. Not sure where to start? Consider working with a coach to help plan your training.
Proper Recovery: Sleep is your number one asset for recovery. This is not easy when you have kids and/or a demanding job or commute, but it’s important to make it a priority. Proper hydration and nutrition is a must. Keep a re-fillable water bottle with you throughout the day. And keep in mind, the long run day is not a cheat day! That’s the day you need the best nutrition in order to recover from the hard work you just did. Your foam roller is also a good tool for flushing out the muscles and releasing tight spots.
Strength Training: All runners should strength train! This will help you to increase your capacity, so that your bucket can hold a lot more water! Twice a week is sufficient and should include compound movements like squats and lunges. Single leg exercises like step ups and single leg dead lifts are essential as well, as running is a single leg activity. Seek out professional guidance if you don’t know where to start. Just don’t do a heavy lifting session the day before a hard training run or the week of a race.
Good running form: There is no perfect running form. BUT, load can exceed capacity when running form is suboptimal. When we run, we land with forces equal to 2-3 times our body weight each time our foot hits the ground. For a 150lb runner, that’s 300-450lbs of force with each stride! Our muscles and tendons need to work together to absorb this force and keep our body stable, and then propel us forward for our next step. If running form is not optimal, we are not as efficient at accepting this force. Some areas of the body will be stressed disproportionately to others, and the load on those areas may exceed their capacity. A professional run analysis will identify any faulty gait patterns or imbalances.
Cross Training: Adding in another form of exercise, such as cycling or swimming, or even a sport like soccer or martial arts, is a great way to continue working on your cardiovascular fitness, while taking a break from the repetitive movement of running. Once a week, do something different!
Running is more than just lacing up your shoes and heading out the door. We need to be ready to run in order to run happy and pain free!