Injuries are not fun, and they just plain hurt. As a beginner runner, it’s easy to get hurt due to the high-intensity, high-impact nature of the sport. Some injuries are more of a pesky annoyance, like shin splints, but others can knock you off your feet, like a stress fracture. We wish there were a simple answer or one golden rule to follow that would guarantee injury-free running, but there isn’t.
However, you can minimize the chance of getting hurt with these basic yet effective tips:
1. Plan ahead, and know your limits.
There isn’t a solid line drawn across the road or a magic pop-up in your favorite running app showing you when you’ve reached your limit (wouldn’t that be cool, though?). Instead, you need to plan ahead to prevent doing too much, too soon and too fast. Your muscles and joints need time to adjust to changes in mileage, intensity and frequency. Take your time, and work up to your goals slowly—this may mean longer recovery times, as well. Don’t feel like you have to run every day. Rest days are important, too.
Use the 10% rule for guidance: Don’t increase your weekly training mileage by more than 10% each week. For most, 10% is still a lot. Do what’s right for you, and know that even a 2% or 3% increase is still a job well done.
2. Keep a running journal.
After every run, write down (or log) what you did. Take note of your mileage, time and how you felt. If your shins hurt, note that. No matter how small the feeling, write it down so you can look for patterns and make adjustments.
For instance, you might notice that the side of your right knee hurts, but it only happens when you run 5 miles or more. Important running metrics, such as cadence, vertical oscillation and ground contact time, are great ways to measure inefficiencies in your running form that could lead to injury. Find a device, such as the Wahoo Fitness TICKR X, to measure and store this information for you.
3. Do not run through pain.
Many injuries gradually get worse over time. It may start off as a little twinge, but that twinge can have you reaching for the ibuprofen bottle if you keep running through the pain. Substitute your runs for other workouts like cycling, swimming or walking when you feel repetitive discomfort.
See a doctor who specializes in sports-related injuries (generally, an orthopedist or podiatrist) if the pain doesn’t get better. And don’t forget the previous tip to keep a running journal so you can document when these things happen.
4. Balance running with strength training.
Your body needs muscle to help support your bones and joints when running. Supplement your running routine with strength training, either on your off days or after your run. Focus on strengthening the muscles that support your core, hips and legs—all of the areas that you use when you are running. Squats, lunges, dead lifts, planks and crunches are all good exercises to do.
5. Lengthen muscles, and increase mobility with dynamic stretching.
This may be one of the easiest yet most skipped steps in running (and working out in general). Runners often have tightness in certain areas on their legs and hips. Stretching these muscles will help other areas, like your knees, achieve a better range of motion. Focus on doing active, dynamic stretching before your run, such as high knees, butt kicks, Samson stretch, skipping (yes, it helps!) and ankle mobility.
6. Run in the right shoes.
Shoes are important. They are the only things between the entire weight of your body and the ground. The amount and location of cushion in your shoes can impact your muscles, joints and bones. In addition, some runners over-pronate, which means that their feet roll inward. This twisting can make them more susceptible to various injuries. The good news is that certain types of shoes can help straighten how your foot lands when it hits the ground.
A visit to a running specialty store to get properly fitted with the right type of shoe for your feet is a great first step. Most stores will watch you run and make personalized recommendations based on your form. Ultimately, you don’t really know what works for you until you run in them. If it doesn’t feel good, then it isn’t right for you. Check with the specialty shop to see what their return policy is, or be sure to test several pairs in the store before you buy.
These are not foolproof rules that will guarantee no injuries, but they will help you be more proactive about preventing them. That’s a habit most competitive runners could stand to learn, too!