Creaky knees, sore hips, achey shins — most runners are doomed to encounter one or more of these pesky ailments at some point. One second you’re charging down the block feeling like a boss, then suddenly you’re on the couch icing your banged up knee and bingeing on Ben ‘N Jerry’s. No bueno.
As any runner knows, nothing saps your mojo like being sidelined by an overuse injury. Unfortunately, frequent pavement pounding puts a lot of wear and tear on the joints, leading to everything from shin splints to plantar fasciitis to stress fractures. The good news? By taking proper precautions, you can ensure that you keep your groove going and stave off injuries. Here are five proven ways to outrun aches and pains.
Switch up your kicks
Are you still running in those shabby, worn-out Reeboks with the
hole in the bottom? If so, it’s time to upgrade your kicks — ASAP. Improper
footwear is one of the main causes of running injuries, and experts advise
swapping out your shoes every 400
miles or so. If your shoes are past their prime, head to your local running
store — they can evaluate your gait and assess the best shoe for your running
style. Because biomechanical imbalances (such as leg length discrepancies and
overpronation) are a big cause of overuse injuries, it’s important to get the right
pair of shoes for your needs. If you have severe overpronation, for
example, you might be a good candidate for custom-fit orthotics.
Warm up before, stretch after
In the running world, there’s a lot of debate about the best
time to stretch: before or after your workout? While the old-school
mode of thinking says that runners should stretch beforehand to prevent injury,
experts now recommend stretching after your run. Studies from the National Center for Biotechnology Information state that your best bet is to perform a series of active dynamic movements (i.e., walking
lunges, high knees, etc) to loosen the muscles and increase body temperature. Static
stretches are best reserved for after your run, when your muscles are already
warmed up and full of oxygen.
Take time for rest and recovery
Many runners have an irrational fear that taking a day or two off will cause them to backtrack, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Your muscles need ample time to repair after an intense workout, and too much repetitive motion is a sure-fire recipe for injury.
One day every week, give yourself a rest day to prevent overtraining, replenish glycogen stores, and allow your muscles and joints to recover. Chill on the couch and binge-watch Orange Is The New Black, go shopping, do whatever lazy activities you want. If sitting around makes you antsy, you can always engage in some low-key activity, like walking, light yoga, or a leisurely bike ride.
Hit the hay
Equally important as rest days: Getting enough shut-eye. Insufficient sleep levels can hinder muscle recovery by interfering with the release of human growth hormones, so runners should always make sleep a top priority.
Pump some iron
If you always make a beeline for the treadmill the minute you walk into the gym, it’s time to acquaint yourself with the weight rack. Why? Many running injuries can be chalked up to muscular imbalances, such as weak hamstrings and overdeveloped quads, so it’s important to add resistance training to your regimen.
To keep your body properly aligned, pencil in a few strength-training
sessions every week to focus on core, hip, and lower-body strength. Not only
will getting stronger help ward off injuries, it could also increase your
performance; several studies
have found a connection between increased core strength and enhanced speed in
Don’t do too much, too soon
When you start training for a big race, it’s tempting to log longer and faster runs every single day. But the key is to ease your way into your running program and gradually increase your distance by small increments. Classic advice says to not increase mileage by more than 10 percent per week, but there is some controversy about this. A good rule of thumb? Listen to your body. If you notice any discomfort during or after your run, it’s not a bad idea to back off. (Running newbies, check out our list of seven beginner-friendly tips to help kick-start your running routine!).
The lesson? Running injuries are common, but they’re not inevitable. By taking these precautionary measures, you’ll keep yourself in fighting shape — no runner’s tape or awkward knee braces needed.