Runners push themselves. They also sometimes have problems with moderation. They have a result in mind–a certain speed, distance, time, or weight–and they’ll push themselves beyond their limits to achieve it. That sometimes leads to successes. Other times, it leads to injuries. But just because you’re pushing your body hard doesn’t mean injuries are an inevitable hurdle to overcome. With the proper care and due diligence, you can prevent most running injuries.
So What Can You Do to Prevent Running Injuries?
Do Your Stretches
Sure, we harp on this quite a bit, but it still stands. Too few runners take the time to stretch enough. Your muscles need flexibility and to be prepared for the exertion and pressure they’ll be under with every increasing footstrike. Here are some exercises that will give your muscles the wake-up call they need. Your warm-up should take five to 10 minutes to flush out lactic acid and prevent muscle soreness from setting in too early.
Your feet and your ankles take a real beating while running. Both are physically weak areas prone to injury–particularly the bottom of the foot. There’s only a thin layer of skin protecting the Achilles tendon and the plantar fascia. Injuring either of them is surprisingly easy and very painful.
Spread a towel on the floor. Set a chair at on end of the towel (length-wise) and sit in it. Use your foot to grasp the towel and keep pulling it toward you like it was your hand. Keep doing this until the towel is crumpled entirely at your foot. Spread the towel again and repeat with your other foot. As this exercise becomes easier, place a book or weight at the far end of the towel to make it more difficult.
The ankle is among the easiest areas in your body to hurt. There ligaments and bones that are important for runners, but ultimately prone to damage. After your towel pulls, remain in your chair or sit on the floor. Use your hands to manually rotate your ankle in clockwise and counterclockwise rotations. Then use your hands to stretch the ankle in various other ranges. When the ankle feels loosened up, switch and do the other.
Seated Calf Stretch
As per the title, this will stretch your calves. The calves connect your feet to your thighs–injuring the calf will guarantee you’ll be exchanging your running schedule for the TV Guide for a while. If the TV Guide still exists. You can probably just marathon something on one of the many thousand streaming services we all pay for. It’s really become the new Cable TV. Anyway, look, do the damn calf stretch. Here’s how.
Keep your towel (or resistance band if you have one handy) and stay seated on the floor. Place the towel/band around the upper part of your foot. Pull your toes toward your kneecap. Do this slowly and gently. When you feel a stretch, hold the pose for 15 to 20 seconds. Switch feet and repeat.
Reverse Sliding Mountain Climbers
This is for your hamstrings. Like your glutes, your hamstrings add power to your stride. Want to run faster? Want to run for longer? Feed the hamstrings.
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat. The weight of your feet should be on the heels. Carefully lift your glutes into the air, creating a bridge. While keeping one leg bent for balance, stretch the other leg out and forward. Return and switch legs. Repeat at an increasing speed. Do one set of 25 reps.
This is the technical term for your glutes and hips. The hips, in particular, take a real beating during your runs. You need to stretch the piriformis area to enable greater stride and flexibility. A well-stretched piriformis can also reduce pain during your run.
Remaining on the floor, lie back. Your knees should be pointed upward while your feet are planted flatly on the floor. Use your hands to pull your right knee up toward your chest until you feel a stretch. Then cross the right leg over the left. Pull your left leg toward your left shoulder until you feel a stretch. Hold it for 20 seconds. Switch leg formation and repeat.
No need to get too crazy. A simple squat exercise can do wonders for your quadriceps. They run through the front and side of your thighs. These are massive muscles that need to be well taken care of. In this case, we chose jump squats because they come with the added bonus of exercising your glutes.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees into the squat position. When ready, jump up explosively. As you land, do so carefully and gracefully back into the squat position. Do two sets of 10 reps.
There are many core exercises available to runners. I chose the Superman exercise because I like the character. He has an optimism and empathy I think we can all use more of in real life. Anyway, look, working your core is more important than the simple vanity of having abs you can chip a tooth on. A strong core reduces the likelihood of injuries. And the core isn’t just your abs–it’s also your obliques, hamstrings, lower back, glutes, and hips. Having all of these areas working together provides an overall better running form, greater balance, and a more energy-efficient runner.
To do the Superman, lie face-down on your stomach. Raise your arms and legs in the air. Hold for as long as you can (minimum of two to three seconds). Do two sets of 15 reps. While a core exercise, it focuses primarily on your lower back.
Push-ups or Pull-ups
Your arms aren’t getting much attention, but they perform a vital function during your runs: balance. Proper arms movements keep you steady. Stronger arms provide greater balance.
Okay, I’ll admit that this exercise has a scary name. Those who run on asphalt or concrete tend to feel pain that registers from their feet up through their spines. It’s not an enjoyable sensation. Spine stretches increase flexibility, improve the alignment of the spine, and relieve tension in your shoulders.
Sit on the floor with your legs spread far apart. Nod your head forward while sinking your chin into your neck. Once you feel a stretch, hold the pose for 10 seconds. Do five reps.