Most runners love setting outcome-oriented goals, like running their first marathon, notching a certain time, or running their longest race.
While outcome goals are great, they’re often best served by first focusing on training goals. This is particularly important for runners who might be injury-prone, because staying healthy enables all the outcome goals that runners care about!
After all, success only comes from consistent training. And consistent training can only occur if you’re healthy.
The good news is that injury prevention strategies are really “high performance” strategies in disguise. Tailor your training to prioritize staying healthy and you’ll improve your ability to train harder and race faster.
Here’s a 5-point plan for preventing injury and maximizing your running performances.
1. Warm Up Dynamically
A dynamic warm up is far more effective than static stretching to prepare you for a run. That’s because it accomplishes the goals of any good warm up:
- Increases heart rate and respiration
- Lubricates joints
- Opens capillaries, especially in the extremities
- Improves range of motion
- Metabolically primes the body for exercise
“An effective, dynamic stretching and activation routine can go a long way when it comes to prepping your body for the demands of running and reducing your risk of a running-related injury,” says Caitlin Alexander, a physical therapist and biomechanical specialist in Boulder, Colorado.
And dynamic warm up routines don’t need to take very long. A short, 5-10 minute series of activation exercises is all you need to get the benefits for most runs. If you’re planning a very intense workout, you may want a more thorough warm up to ensure your muscles are ready to move faster.
2. Start Each Run Slowly
The warm up process doesn’t end when you take your first step. Much like you would warm up for a faster workout with some easy running, we should also warm up for our easy runs with even more easier running!
It’s always a good idea to start every run very easy. This helps further prime your legs and allows your aerobic system to catch up. If you’ve ever felt out of breath in the first few minutes of a run, but then felt better, it’s likely because you started a little too fast.
The good news is that injury prevention strategies are really “high performance” strategies in disguise.
You’ll also just feel better starting slower. Negative splits are always a good thing! By starting every run at a truly easy effort, you’ll reduce your injury risk by ensuring that your body is absolutely ready to increase the intensity.
RELATED: The Importance of Starting Slow
3. Get Your Sleep
The recovery industry will try to convince you that every new massager and gadget is necessary to perform at your best. And while some may be helpful, there’s no substitute for the best recovery tool of all: a great night’s sleep.
Sleep is where your body not only recovers from, but adapts to, all your training. Tissues are repaired and built back stronger to withstand the stress of a similar workout in the future. While many runners think they get faster through long runs and workouts, those are only the stimuli for adaptations. You get faster when you sleep!
Injury-prone athletes should prioritize healthy sleep habits with a regular bedtime, 8 hours of shut-eye, blackout curtains, and a sound machine, if necessary. Reading before bed and avoiding screen time are also effective ways to help yourself sleep longer and more soundly.
You get faster when you sleep!
4. Eat Enough Food
Food is fuel, but it’s also nourishment. There’s a reason high-level elite athletes not only focus on eating a nutrient-dense diet, but also one with sufficient calories.
In fact, many maladies that runners experience are the result of insufficient fueling. Stress fractures are one of the most serious injuries that often result from a lack of calories, especially in female athletes. Overtraining syndrome and RED-S can also be exacerbated by not eating enough food.
Make a habit of eating three meals per day, with enough snacks to keep you fully energized between meals. A personalized blood test can pinpoint nutrient deficiencies or specific physiological problems you might be having due to insufficient fueling.
RELATED: Five Signs You’re Not Eating Enough
5. Strength Train Regularly
One of the most effective injury prevention strategies is to make strength training a regular habit. That’s because running is an impact sport (it’s you vs. the ground!) and each step sends impact forces totaling several times your bodyweight through your feet and legs.
Strength training gives you the “armor” that protects you from this impact. It increases durability in muscles, joints, bones, and connective tissues that often get injured.
“To increase the capacity of your muscles and soft tissues to handle the demands of running, work needs to be done outside of running to improve tolerance,” says Alexander. “Strength training is critical for runners and can go a long way to keep your running healthy and efficient.”
If you’re not sure where to start, a simple series of running-specific strength exercises following each run is simple, approachable, and highly effective.
Ultimately, running is a sport with a fairly high injury rate. If we want to stay healthy, run pain-free, and maximize performance, we have to make injury prevention a top priority. That means structuring our running to prioritize our health.
It also means learning to take a break – or ease off on the intensity of our training – if other life stresses demand it. Alexander says, “Stress is needed for physiological adaptation, but for all of us, stress comes from more than just our training. We need to take that into account when analyzing factors that may contribute to injury risk.”