Survive Your Training! 8 Strategies to Prevent Injury
Imagine standing on the start line of your next race. You are fit and prepared, without any pain, and without any concerns of what might break down en route to the finish. You’ve done all the training. Your body is a well-oiled machine - running smooth and strong and resilient…
Unfortunately, it seems as though injuries almost always interfere. Running is very hard on our bodies - it’s a high impact sport with so much repetitive movement that our muscles and joints really take a beating. On the other hand, some soreness is actually a good sign because training gains require breaking down and rebuilding of muscle. Stress, Recover, Repeat: that’s adaptation.
So since running is a violent sport in terms of how it affects our bodies, we need to take care our bodies to can survive the sport we love. The following 8 strategies will help you stay healthy, recover fast, and prevent little aches and pains from becoming race-cancelling or season-ending injuries.
1) Get Enough Sleep
Unpopular but true. The #1 way to stay healthy, prevent injuries and help your body recover and regenerate is to get enough sleep. Everything on this list is secondary to getting enough rest. Don’t believe me? Try it. Get more sleep starting now.
2) Eat and Drink Adequately
Eat enough food. Drink enough water. A very close second (maybe tied) to getting enough sleep as the most effective way to avoid injury and stay healthy. (Your best bet is just do both.) Training causes microdamage to the body and the body can’t repair itself without being adequately fed. Check out my 3-part series on Nutrition & Hydration basics for more information about how to fuel your body to optimize performance and recovery before, during, and after you run.
3) Do a Warmup
Take a few minutes before each run to loosen up with active stretching. Always engage body AND MIND during your warmup, approaching this time as a self-assessment of how your body feels and moves. Watching yourself in a mirror can also help you identify if one side of the body is tighter than the other or has limited or different movement patterns. By being intentional and thoughtful with your warmup, you will notice if anything is amiss, and can then address it before the run with some extra stretching, foam rolling, or strategy in your arsenal of self-therapy strategies (see #6 on the list).
Here’s an example of a great warmup (shown in 2x speed). This is the Dynamic Mobility Routine I teach to all my clients:
”Activation” is a term often used by runners, but what does it even mean? Quite simply activation means making sure that all your muscles are awake, ready, and firing. It may sound strange but various muscles in our bodies often “shut down” and stop doing their jobs. They get away with it because our bodies are resourceful, and when one muscle isn’t pulling it’s weight, another will step in and get the job done.
A very common issue in running is a lazy booty A.K.A. under-working glutes! This issue can pop up after long periods of sitting especially if your posture is poor, so if you have an office job, listen up! For runners, our glutes are our CANNONS. The posterior chain (musculature on the back of the body) is what we use to push ourselves forward to run. If the glutes aren’t firing on all cylinders, each stride will be less powerful, which is a major bummer when you want to run fast. But that’s not the worst of it. When something is under working, something else will over-work to compensate. In the case of underworking glutes guess who picks up the slack: the hamstrings and lower back. If you’ve ever experienced overly tight hams or low back or any injury in one of these, the first thing to rule out would be under working glutes. Get your booty going and let everything else stop working overtime.
Here are two instructional demo videos of great glute activation exercises. You may have noticed the donkey kick in the dynamic mobility warmup!
Massage therapists, physiotherapists, athletic trainers and/or chiropractors - there’s a reason these people exist! They have knowledge, expertise and training that we don’t have and can provide assessment of pain, advice, treatment and maintenance. Regular appointments with a qualified and experienced therapist during heavy volume or intense training phases is an important part of injury prevention. Even a once or twice-monthly appointment will help you keep on top of small issues.
If your therapist can’t provide basic tips on how you can help yourself, then it might be time to find one who can.
Always ask your therapist for suggestions on how you can help yourself manage any issues between sessions. Pay attention during your treatment and start collecting strategies to work on tight spots and problem areas specific to you. This is how you learn to do effective self-therapy.
6) Become Your Own Therapist
Step 1: Buy a foam roller
Step 2: Use the foam roller. Regularly!
Step 3: Expand your arsenal of self-therapy techniques and tools over time. This begins with body awareness and an always growing understanding of the aches, pains, tight areas you most often experience. Become an expert on yourself! Ask for tips from your therapist and try out a variety of tools, gadgets, balls, and rollers.
A thoughtful warmup will indicate if extra TLC (i.e. stretching, rolling, mobility work) is needed in certain areas before you hit the road. Then you can work on those little tight spots or imbalances before your run so they don’t get worse.
Below is a display of my own collection of self-therapy tools, my “box of tricks” curated over the course of a 20+ year career of competitive running. During my long career I never had a serious injury and never missed a season. Now, I can’t take all the credit - I was born into a resilient body. But I am also incredibly disciplined and I believe injury prevention is a non-negotiable part of being a runner. The older ! get, the more important the habit of self-therapy becomes.
I’m the self-proclaimed queen of self-therapy
7) Respect the Pains!
Despite our very best efforts and total commitment to injury prevention, something will inevitably pop up. Injuries are part of a runner’s journey, and some of us are more prone to injury than others. How we deal with aches and pains is very often the difference between a blip on the radar and cancelling our next race. Immediate awareness and attention to any issue is absolutely crucial in keeping setbacks as short as possible, so do not ignore pain. Do not just try to run through it until you’re forced to stop. Do not just take a day off and hope it “goes away.” Rest is often required as it allows the problem to settle down, but rest alone does not fix a problem! Therapy is #5 on my injury prevention list but it is #1 for injury treatment. Get an assessment, start treatment, and get better ASAP.
8) Don’t Wait
Take your pick: Injury prevention or rehab. Prevention means doing something now, before you are injured. These disciplines require investment of time, mental and physical energy, and money. But injury recovery and treatment require even more commitment. As runners we ask so much of our bodies that it’s time we start giving back. By applying these strategies you will be able to avoid many preventable injuries and do more of what you really want to do: run.