Injury Prevention, Simplified
As a physiotherapist, I see a lot of injured people. Especially with runners, it can seem at times like no one save for the occasional mutant human is immune to the high-impact, repetitive nature of running. Despite having shoes made of the lightest materials, strength training videos available at our fingertips and enough performance supplements to sink a ship in our kitchens, each week brings me a fresh crew of runners with running-related injuries. So what’s going on?
Here’s the thing: it actually isn’t that hard or complicated. It’s not about how much you weigh or how much protein you’re eating. Distance running is about training the human body to do the same thing over and over again for a very long time, and there is no way around that fact. However, we are able to control how often, how long and how hard we run.
Tracking your weekly mileage is the easiest and simplest way to avoid running-related injuries. Consider the way our muscles, ligaments and tendons work. At birth, we’re soft and malleable, ready to adapt to our new surroundings. As we age, the stresses of life shape the way we look and how we move. Each day the effect becomes cumulative. And we become better equipped to do more of that thing.
About double our body weight in force goes through each leg with each foot-strike. While there are benefits to being strong and efficient, what matters most is having a sense for how much of this particular stress your body is presently primed for based on approximately your last four weeks of training. We must slowly prepare the body to go farther, longer and faster. Patience is a runner’s best friend. If you’ve been running on a f lat indoor track for the last few months, it’s not a good idea to do six steep hill sprints with your running group on a Wednesday night at top speed. We are dynamic, adaptable creatures who operate purely on the “use it or lose it” principle. The same principles apply to people running longer distances faster and more competitively – pushing speed too much over a couple of weeks or even a slight change in footwear over 100+ k per week can lead to trouble.
While the hills example is quite obvious, more often injury development comes along more subtly. Generally, do not increase your weekly mileage more than 10 per cent per week. gps technology has made recording this variable quite easy. If you don’t have a gps watch, it’s also fine to go by time – even if you’re just writing down each run on a scrap of paper and sticking it to your fridge.
At the end of the day, listen to your body. Take rest days when you need them, and push harder if you feel strong. Keep buying your lightweight shoes, doing strength training and supplementing, but don’t make running any more complicated than it has to be.