How to avoid running injuries: the beginners step by step guide to running
This article is for those just starting run, those thinking of starting to run and those that need a little help getting back on track. You will be guided on how to start running and how to avoid developing injuries.
Running can be a very enjoyable and effective form of exercise with many benefits over other forms of exercise.
Benefits of running
• It is versatile – you can run as part of a group, with a great chance to socialise and keep in touch, or if you don't want to rely on others or your friends can't keep time you can run on your own.
• It doesn't need spcialist equipment – Apart from a pair of shoes, a t-shirt and some shorts or jogging bottoms you don't need anything.
• It is free! - Save money on your gym membership, running is absolutely free. You don't need specialist equipment or expensive sports facilities, just lace up, get outside and run.
• It is a great way to exercise and stay healthy – The UK's National Health Service and the USA's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults perform 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times a week. Running is a great way to build up those minutes.
Running sounds great! What is the catch?
Unfortunately injuries are very common amongst runners, one recent study found that up to 79% of runners suffer an injury every year. Beginning to run can be hard enough without having to cope with painful injuries. This step by step guide to running and avoiding injuries will take you from your first few steps to becoming a confident injury free runner.
Good, correct fitting supportive footwear is a key way to avoid unwanted aches and pains when starting to run. Each step you take when running sends a force multiple times your body weight through your legs, correct footwear can help attenuate those forces and put you in a biomechanically advantageous position.
The big problem is knowing what type of running shoes to buy... I recommend well cushioned shoes, designed specifically for running (not fashion!) which provide support for your specific foot type. You can find these type of shoes in most sports shops, but often get much better choice in specialist running shops. You have three options to choose from to fit to your type of feet anti-pronation, anti-supination and neutral. The two easiest ways to get advice on which type is appropriate for you is to make an appointment to see a physiotherapist who will be able to assess your gait and recommend optimal footwear. Alternatively you could ring your local running shop and ask whether they have gait analysis facilities, however, do be aware that retail staff may have no training in healthcare or gait analysis, and the quality of analysis you receive may vary greatly from shop to shop.
You may have heard about minimalist running shoes or footwear designed to replicate barefoot running, these have become increasingly popular over the last ten years. The topic of minimalist footwear warrants a full article in itself, to provide very much a brief overview I would not recommend this type of footwear to beginner runners. Research in this area is still undecided as to whether the benefits of this type of footwear outweigh the potential for injuries such as stress fractures. It is worth mentioning that not unlike regular running shoes, there is a substantial commercial interest in minimalist footwear for several parties, and it is worth bearing in mind the source of any information you read on this topic.
2. Have a plan and run for time not distance
A great way to stay injury free and keep on course is to have a plan. It is very easy to lose motivation or over extend yourself if you don't have a predetermined idea of what you are going to do before setting off. If you have a plan of each session it provides you with a goal for every session and avoids you doing too much too quick which can cause great fatigue, and increase the risk of injury.
I recommend that you set a monthly plan, this gives you a good medium term goal without being too intimidating, and gives you a real sense of accomplishment when you complete the whole month. It also gives you a chance to try some different types of sessions and keeps you interested and excited to get out for each session. Here is an example of a three times per week monthly training plan for someone completely new to running and with very little previous exercise experience. This plan has you finish the month with a thirty minute run, this would be a great achievement, I would recommend running these sessions with one day complete rest in between, for example Mon, Wed, Fri, or Tue, Thu, Sun etc.
1. 30 seconds jog, 30 seconds walk – 15 minutes total
2. 5 minute jog x3 with 3 minutes rest
3. 15 minutes jog
1. 30 seconds jog, 30 seconds walk – 20 minutes total
2. 5 minute jog x 4 with 2 minutes rest
3. 20 minutes Jog
1. 30 seconds jog, 30 seconds walk 20 minutes total
2. 5 minute jog x5 with 1 minutes rest
3. 25 minutes jog
1. 30 seconds jog, 30 seconds walk 30 minutes total
2. 10 minute jog x 3 with 2 minute rest
3. 30 minutes jog
I think the biggest mistake I see at the Health in Motion Physiotherapy clinic in Sheffield is people running too quick too often. When you are training you should be building and improving your fitness, not constantly testing it. Running flat out every session is the best way to burn out and predispose yourself to injuries. It can be very hard to force yourself to run slowly but learning to run isn't a sprint, before you know it your 'slow' running will be faster than you could go all out when you first started. You will still get a good training effect without feeling like you are on death's door, and you will feel good to go out and do it again for your next session, this consistency is what adds up to make you a better runner.
There are several ways to pace yourself, including heart rate training, scales of percieved exertion, percentage of race pace or VO2 max. When just starting out I wouldn't worry about any of these, run to the pace that makes you moderately breathless. A good rule of thumb is that you could give brief short sentence answers if asked a question, but you wouldn't be able to hold a full conversation.
Another big factor that makes people speed up (and then ultimately slow down) is being embarrassed to run slowly. Often you see people come speeding past and feel inadequate compared to this apparent Olympian. However you have to bear in mind that this is only a snapshot of their training, this may be their quickest run of the week, it may be their quickest 100 yards of the week, they may also have seen you coming and decided to put on a show and are about to have a lie down to recover once they get round the corner! Run at your own pace and you will be really surprised at just how quickly you improve.
4. Don't ignore strength exercises
When you start a new exercise regime the last thing you want to hear is to do more exercises, but, strengthening exercises can be crucial in avoiding running injuries. Research has consistently found certain biomechanical factors to predispose you to injuries such as back pain, hip pain, leg pain, knee pain, ankle pain and foot pain. The bottom line is that the way you run can cause or increase your risk of injuries.
These biomechanical deficiencies are often caused by a lack of muscle strength or endurance in certain muscles key to running with efficient and safe technique. One of the large benefits of running as a form of exercise is that it is free and requires no gym membership, the following recommendations of exercises therefore are for people without access to a gym and include only body weight exercises. I recommend performing these exercises twice a week in addition to your running on non-consecutive days. They can be performed on the days that you do run or on days in between running sessions, it is most important that you just manage to fit them in at some point during the week.
Single leg squats from a step –
Stand side-on, on the bottom step of the stairs or a small portable step if you have one. Let one leg hang off the side of the step and bend your supporting leg slowly until you either touch the floor with your hanging leg, or begin to lose control. Focus on keeping your pelvis level and ensuring that your supporting knee stays in line with your foot.
Aim for 3 sets of 10-15
This exercise is performed in the press-up position, but on your forearms instead of your hands. You can either rest on your feet, or if you can't manage, on your knees. The aim of the exercise is to maintain a straight strong trunk, there should be a straight line between your shoulders, hips, knees and ankles. Focus on squeezing your gluteal and abdominal muscles.
Aim to build up to 3 x 30 second holds
Side planks –
Like the regular plank you are aiming to maintain a strong solid trunk. However, as the name implies you lay on your side and rest on your forearm and your foot or knee. Because this is a one sided exercises you must repeat this on your left and right side.
Aim to build up to 3 x 30 second holds on each side.
Sean Brindley - MCSP
The information provided in these blog articles is the opinion of the author, based on best available evidence at the time. Is not intended as specific individual advice and should not be used as a substitute for professional advice from a healthcare professional.