Running: how to avoid injury now that we're running a lot more than usual

Posted by for Strong Women

More of us are jogging our way through the coronavirus pandemic but more miles can mean more chance of injury. Here’s how to stay mobile and pain-free.

Lockdown has seen an explosion of former running naysayers take to the streets for a golden hour of state-sanctioned exercise. After all, there’s only so much indoor activity a person can take and if you’re going to go out for a walk, you may as well go for a jog.

With all races and meets being cancelled, most of us are going out to stay physically fit and/or to reap the mental health benefits that running has to offer. For the most part, our 5K meanders are all about going steady and enjoying being outside.

But that doesn’t mean that injuries can’t crop up. Dramatically increasing the amount you run over a short period of time tends to be a recipe for disaster – and if you’ve started running five days a week having never really jogged before, you may be running on borrowed time.

So how can we protect ourselves while clocking up the miles?

A woman running
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Warm-up

Whether you’ve just woken up or you’re heading out for a 5K after a day of sitting at your laptop, you need to warm up. It’s not so crucial if you’ve been active all day, but these days, most of us are at home all day moving between our beds, kitchens and sofas, so it’s important that you spend five minutes warming up the body.

You want to try dynamic stretching rather than sustained static stretching (stretching that doesn’t involve any movement) as some experts believe that holding stretches before heading out for a run can actually reduce the amount of force your muscles can produce. A warm-up should take you through your range of motion, raise your temperature and your heart rate…not necessarily make you any more flexible.

Try:

Inchworm/walkouts: stand hip-width apart then bend forwards at the waist to tap your toes. Walk the hands out into a plank, hold for a couple of seconds before walking the hands back to the toes and stand back up. Repeat for 40 seconds.

Hip opener: from standing, raise your right knee to the chest (holding just under your knee, on the calf bone) and then rotate outwards to 90’. Bring the leg back to front, lower your foot and change sides. Repeat for 40 seconds.

Prison lunge: clasp your hands behind your head, elbows facing outwards and then go into a walking lunge. Keeping your chest and head up, step forwards with your right foot, bringing the front knee to a 90’ bend and keeping your back knee an inch off the floor as you go. Come back up to standing and step forwards with the left leg. Repeat for 40 seconds.

Side lunge: stand feet shoulder-width apart before bending your right knee so that you’re hovering inches above the ground on the right side while keeping your left leg straight. Bring yourself back up to standing and repeat on the left. Repeat for 40 seconds.

Woman doing yoga plank

Check your shoes

Shoes play a huge role in injury-proofing your run. However, given that most running shops are now closed, it may be more difficult to get a trainer assessment right now.

Instead, make sure that your toes have a thumb-width of room between the end of the shoe and tie the laces so that the trainer doesn’t keep moving and bashing your toes. And then it may be worth ordering some insoles.

“We all know how debilitating lower limb and foot pain can be,” says Nick Beresford, CEO of Enertor.

“Every runner will have experienced some kind of niggle, right through to injury such as stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, even runners’ knee but scoping out the latest, scientifically proven kit and adding to your run and strength training programme will help to prevent injury in the lower limbs and improve the level of pain experienced in the feet and ankles.”

Enertor insoles, for example, are credited with 44% shock reduction and 36% energy return for improved performance and muscle function.

They’re even backed by the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt! As the official insole partner of England Athletics, the statistics speak for themselves; 91% of foot pain sufferers reported an improvement in the level of pain and 75% confirmed that the insoles healed their plantar fasciitis. 

So if you can’t get to a store for a new shoe examination, you may want to start with an insole.

Learn the drills

“Each time our foot strikes the ground, we experience huge impact forces and considering the size of a foot compared to the body, it’s easy to appreciate the demands placed upon them,” Marc Brown, Strength & Conditioning Coach at PerformancePro tells Stylist.

“To prevent injury and enhance performance, developing mobility and improving strength in the feet and ankles is vital.”

Try these drills, anytime, anywhere:

Towel curling: a great place to start and can be performed anywhere. Stand on a towel, scrunch your toes and pull the towel towards you. Control the movement, ensuring the ankles and knees remain straight throughout. Go for 2 sets of 20 reps.

Heel walks: pull your toes up towards your shins ensuring the balls of your feet are off the floor. Walk at a steady pace for 20m, I always recommend small steps about a foot in length. Keep your knees straight place your weight through the heels at all times.

Keep strength training

Strength training two or three times a week can significantly reduce your risk of injury, says Amoila Cesar, Beachbody On Demand Super Trainer and Creator of 6 Weeks of The Work.

“There are advanced runners who can strength train and run 4-6 days a week, but that level of training takes years to obtain. You’ll need to be in tune with your body and know how to recover and fuel well.

“Mastering the art of hinging at the hip and knee and performing deadlifts, squats, split squats, lunges, dumbbells snatches and unilateral deadlifts are the go-to moves for increasing power and strength in runners. 

“3 sets of 8-12 reps will ensure gains in stability and strength, making your runs feel much easier.”

No gym? No problem. Set yourself a circuit of bodyweight and dumbbell exercises to complete twice a week including:

A lot of running injuries come from muscle imbalance so it’s important to work on unilateral movements too – i.e. single leg work. Try adding single-leg deadlifts and split squats to your routine and add balancing drills to your everyday routines. Do the washing up or brush your teeth balancing on one foot.

How to avoid running injuries: keep strength training
How to avoid running injuries: keep strength training

Take it easy

One of the big causes of injury is getting tired and lazy. When we get tired, we stop picking our feet up high enough or we start to lean on one side – putting pressure all the way down the chain from our hips to our ankles.  

But seeing as there’s no need to wrack up a lot of miles at the moment, stick to short and sweet outings. Take it steady on the pace if you’re new to running and just get used to enjoying moving and breathing easy. Now isn’t the time for going hard.

Stretch it out

Remember we said that static stretching wasn’t ideal before a run? That’s because it’s best saved for when you come back.

PerformancePro’s Marc admits: “We can easily neglect stretching and recovery with a busy run training programme. Static stretching (where you hold a stationary position for a period of time) can be a really valuable tool to increase range of motion, improve posture and decrease stress levels as it’s an effective relaxation technique.”

Marc suggests these two stretches at the end of your run:

Hip flexors: kneel down on one leg keeping the hips and torso square. Gently push the pelvis forward until a stretch is felt on the front of the hip (of the back leg). To increase the stretch and maintain a neutral pelvis position, engage the glutes on the back leg

Calves: keeping the toes on the edge of the step, drop your heel as far as possible. Keep the knee straight throughout. You should feel a stretch in the calf but if you don’t, try to drop the heel lower.

Stay safe out there!

Images: Getty, Instagram

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