Of course it’s not always possible to run injury free, but what are the main things we can do to try and avoid injury?
There are three main factors to take into consideration. They are good running technique, the right running shoes and not overtraining (or being unrealistic in your running goals).
1. Good Running Technique
As a running technique coach I see many runners who have injury problems through bad technique.
A lot of runners over stride, dorsiflex the foot (pull the toes and top of the foot towards the shin) and heel strike. This is high impact and can lead to a host of injuries.
Other runners transition too quickly to minimal shoes without good technique, or strengthening the feet and legs slowly and steadily. This can also lead to injury.
Many common injuries can be caused by bad running technique:
Plantar Fasciitis (PF)
PF can be caused by heel striking and any action which stresses the plantar tendon. This includes running downhill, dorsiflexing the foot, climbing stairs and walking or running on your toes (including wearing high heels!)
Also tight calf muscles can be a factor in PF. So make sure you stretch well after running.
Many runners overuse their calves, leading to injury. If your running posture is very upright, you have to push off with the calves to move forward. Instead develop a whole body lean (without bending at the waist) to engage gravity to move you forward. This technique can be observed by watching most of the top African runners in action.
Often caused by dorsiflexing your ankles too much and heel striking. Also suddenly switching to running on the forefoot puts a lot of pressure on the calf and shin muscles. So transition gradually and after landing on the forefoot allow the heel to also come down to destress the calf. You can also try the mid-foot strike which spreads the load more evenly.
Again heel striking on a straight leg is the main culprit. So learn to adjust your stride to your speed and don’t over stride. Try to land under the knee on a bent leg with the knees soft.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITB)
This is caused by too much side to side motion on the hips as you run. This motion can be improved by strengthening the core muscles and also in particular the glutes minimus and medius.
So these are the most common injuries I see. I will cover them and how to improve your technique to help avoid injury in more detail in future articles on this website.
2. The Right Running Shoes
So once you have good technique you also want to have the right shoes. You need to have gait analysis to see which shoe is the right one for you. Focus on how they feel when you run in them and which feels best for your particular running style. Ideally a shoe should be flexible enough to allow your natural foot movement as you run. It should also have the right level of cushioning appropriate to your style of running and level of running technique.
3. Avoid Over-Training
Whatever level you are at as a runner, progress slowly and steadily and allow enough time for recovery. The body grows stronger after you exercise if you allow it to. So don’t suddenly increase your mileage but increase gradually and sensibly.
If you are stressed or tired, have a few rest days or easy days to recover. More experienced runners may want to invest in a heart rate monitor to make sure they don’t over train. A simple rule of thumb is: when you are doing a training run you should be able to talk in complete sentences or you are running too fast for your present capacity.
So work on your technique, get the right running shoes and don’t over train and you are on the road to progress in your running!
Balavan Thomas is a Chi Running instructor and runs Chi Running Workshops and running technique coaching sessions at Run and Become. He also recommends reading Danny Dreyer’s Chi Running book for useful information on improving your running technique.