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Injury prevention for runners

Ashley Crossman, Ph.D. is a certified RRCA running coach and ACE personal trainer. She owns her own coaching business, She Runs Strong, and has been the running coach for two charity training teams in Phoenix, Arizona: the MS Rockstars (...

Tips for safe training

Knowing how to train properly and safely is crucial to staying injury-free. Here are some tips to help prevent injuries from ruining your training.

Woman running on pavement

Run on a level surface

Another factor that could have a significant impact on running injuries but that has been rarely studied is road camber. No doubt, you always run on the left side of the road, facing traffic. That's good for safety reasons, but it also gives you a functional leg-length discrepancy since your left foot hits the road lower on the slope than your right foot does. You're also placing your left foot on a slant that tends to limit healthy pronation and placing your right foot in a position that encourages overpronation. And you're doing this — running in an unbalanced way — mile after mile, day after day and week after week. That could lead to hip injuries.

If you can, try to do some of your training runs on a level surface like a bike path or dirt trail. A local track also provides a firm, essentially flat surface that's great for slow-paced running. Also consider the treadmill — it's the perfect surface for balanced running. At the very least, a treadmill provides a great surface for beginning runners, runners who are recovering from an injury and perhaps even marathoners aiming to increase mileage without increasing their injury risk.

Don't race or do speed work too often

Researchers have found a correlation between injuries and frequent race efforts. This connection might extend to speed work since intervals also require a near-maximal effort. So if you train fast once or twice a week and then race on the weekend, that's a lot of hard effort without sufficient rest, particularly if you follow this pattern week after week. Some experts are cautious about recommending regular speed training for certain runners, especially those who get hurt easily. It's fine for those chasing podium placements or age-group awards, but not for mid- and back-of-the-packers. You might get 5 percent faster, but your injury risk could climb by 25 percent — a bad risk-to-benefit ratio.

Give yourself plenty of recovery time (one day for each mile raced). If you are trying to quicken your pace for a specific goal, add a weekly speed-work session to your training plan, but be judicious about it. It is also important to never add speed work into your training plan at the same time when you are building your distance. You should first build your mileage base and then incorporate speed work into the latter part of your training, when your weekly mileage is at its peak.

Cross-training

Most experts agree that most runners benefit from at least one non-running day a week, and they also agree that injury-prone runners should avoid consecutive days of running. Cross-training offers a great alternative.

Use cross-training activities to supplement your running, improve your muscle balance and keep you injury-free. Swimming, cycling, elliptical training and rowing will burn a lot of calories and improve your aerobic fitness, but be careful not to aggravate injury-prone areas. If you are injured, let pain be your guide to which activities are OK.

Properly fitted shoes

Shoes are the most important equipment that you need to run, so having a pair that fits you properly is crucial to your running success. There is no one shoe that is right for every runner, and there is no shoe that is guaranteed to eliminate an injury. To find the right shoe for your feet, go to a specialty store to get advice. The best running stores will watch you run and analyze your gait and stride to put you in the proper shoe. As a general rule, you should replace your shoes every 300-500 miles.

Consider shortening your stride

A December 2009 study reports that runners who shorten their stride by 10 percent could reduce risk of tibial stress fracture by 3 to 6 percent. The basic idea: Overstriding is a common mistake that can lead to decreased efficiency and increased injury risk. If you shorten your stride, you'll land "softer" with each footfall, incurring lower impact forces. A shorter stride will usually lower the impact force, which should reduce injuries.

If you've had frequent running injuries, you might want to try running with your normal stride while shortening it slightly — by about 10 percent. This will help reduce your stride so you have more turnover. The number of foot strikes or repetitions trumps having a longer stride because it reduces your impact load. When making this change, start with a short distance — like a quarter mile — to see if you notice any changes.

More running tips

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