Injury Prevention for Running
The risk of injury is a cause for concern for every athlete, the prospect of nursing the pain of an injury during competition or being forced to spend time out from the sport that you love is a daunting one. For runners of any distance the repetitive impact on the track or the road, coupled with the high mileage covered in training, makes preventing chronic injuries a priority. The temptation for a lot of athletes is to target areas of perceived weakness with exercises that isolate individual muscles or joints, however this is not the most efficient means of protecting yourself from potential injuries and can even lead to further injury if performed improperly.
Before we delve deeper into how to reduce your risk of injury it is important to understand the physical demands of running and the areas of the body that are most at risk of injury. Using this knowledge you can build a structured plan as to how to reduce your risk of injury. Plantar fasciitis, patellar tendinopathy, hamstring tendinopathy and iliotibial band syndrome are the most common injuries in runners. While injuries such as shin splints, ankle sprains and Achilles tendinopathies are less common, they are no less debilitating and should be considered when preparing a training programme to protect against injury. As you can tell from this list, injuries to the lower limbs hold the greatest prevalence in runners of any level. To put it simply stronger, more mobile athletes are harder to break. So your first priority in your injury prevention programme should be to get stronger in the squat, lunge and hip hinge movements alongside maintaining or developing good range of motion in every mobile joint. Becoming stronger through a greater range of motion will reduce your risk of tendinopathy and provide a training stimulus that will strengthen the lower limbs and reduce your relative force output with each stride when running. Consequently each stride is easier and has a lower energy demand, reducing your risk of overuse injuries. But this does not mean that an effective injury prevention programme should focus solely on the lower limbs. The legs are obviously an important area to target in your training but the role of the upper body in running performance is less well understood despite being no less significant to the movement and therefore no less important in an injury prevention protocol.
The arms and the trunk play an important role not just in your running performance but also in protecting you from injury. Learning to improve the efficiency of the upper body will dramatically reduce your risk of injury lower down your body. Let’s look at the arms first: as you run your arm swing not only helps to produce forward momentum, it also acts as a counterbalance to the pumping action performed by your legs. Your trunk (everything between your hips and shoulders) plays a huge role in running economy and reducing the risk of injury. To produce strong and efficient movements your limbs require a solid base of support on which to anchor. Training your core musculature to improve trunk stability will provide this as well as improving your ability to reduce unwanted movement of your hips and shoulders. Running is a sagittal plane activity, meaning your limbs move forwards and backwards like pistons to create the propulsion needed to run. If you find that your pelvis and shoulders rotate from side to side or rise and fall laterally with each stride it is indicative of trunk instability which not only wastes energy but also could increase your risk of injury. The best runners are able to keep their hips and shoulders facing forwards at all times with minimal movement meaning all of the force they produce with each stride is directed forwards and not wasted with lateral movement. Strength training for your upper body will improve the efficiency of your arm drive as well as the synchronisation with your lower limbs, making for a more efficient running gait.
The human body is not a set of individual muscles and joints but a system and it should be trained in such a manner. Strengthening and improving the movement efficiency of the entire body through the use of compound, multi-joint exercises will not only improve your running performance but help to protect you from injury.