Running is a full-contact sport—every stride inevitably leads to a brutally forceful impact with the ground. Not surprisingly, runners get injured at fairly high rates. In fact, multiple surveys have revealed that it’s much less common for a given runner to enjoy an injury-free year than it is to experience at least one ding that requires time off from training.
Sure, there are many great options for cross training that runners can utilize—but if we wanted to be swimmers, Nordic skiers or cyclists we’d switch to those sports and spare ourselves all the pounding that running inflicts.
So, how can you join the ranks of the minority of runners that escape injuries for extended periods of time? Here are seven effective strategies to help keep you off the couch.
1. Stop overstriding
When your footsteps consistently land in front of your center of mass you’re in danger of overstriding. This leads to increased forces on your legs that can even carry through the chain of muscle and bone that leads to your upper body. The best way to figure out if overstriding is an issue is to work with a professional running coach, but you can also get to work on cleaning up your stride with a few do-it-yourself remedies.
2. Commit to a warmup
Most of us advise newer runners to perform a good warmup before a run or race—but too often it’s a “Do as I say, not as I do” proposition. Even a short warmup, perhaps a few leg swings and some lunges, is far better than none at all. Once you get into the habit of it you’ll notice how strange it feels to begin a run without preparing your muscles first.
RELATED: The Best Way to Warm Up
3. Run on a variety of surfaces
Surprisingly, the advice here is not to run exclusively on soft surfaces like dirt and grass. While those are great for reducing impact on your feet, research shows that the body adjusts to the impacts of different surfaces, so alternating between harder and softer terrain may do more to keep your running, and your legs, fresh.
4. Increase weekly miles strategically
The best single predictor of running performance is weekly mileage—study after study indicates that faster runners tend to run more miles. But how do you reach a higher mileage total without getting injured, since high miles is also closely linked to injury rates? The often-touted guideline of adding no more than 10 percent more miles from one week to the next is a starting point, but here’s a more strategic approach.
5. Work on stride mechanics
A recent study from researchers at Harvard University followed 249 runners for more than two years to examine their injury rates and how those rates related to stride mechanics. Sure enough, the runners with better biomechanics experienced far fewer setbacks due to injuries. One simple piece of advice the researchers pointed to was to simply listen to your footsteps—the quieter the better.
6. Know when to back off
Runners are typically big on the value of “good work ethic” and “putting your nose to the grindstone.” That dedication is a big part of running’s appeal, but it can also be a recipe for disaster. Push your body too hard, too often and you will inevitably succumb to overtraining, which, almost by definition, puts you at risk of an injury.
RELATED: 4 Ways to Avoid Overtraining
7. Stay informed
Unfortunately, we have barely scratched the surface of the injuries and the strategies for overcoming them, that runners may need to know. If only there was a convenient way to research the causes and cures for dozens of running maladies, with searchable results and new information constantly being added. Hurray! Just such a resource does exist. Find it by visiting the Injury Prevention section of Competitor.com.