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Be Injury Free!

Running Injuries- The Exception not the Rule

So now we’ve covered the background on how man has evolved to run, along with how to build an endurance engine, and how to improve your running form.  But what about preventing injury?  60-90% of runners are hurt every year, but are running injuries inevitable?  Absolutely not!

It all boils down to: Too Much, Too Soon, Too Hard, Too Fast. Research is now showing poor technique, imbalances, and improper footwear are culprits also.

Running within your aerobic heart rate builds fitness and allows your body to signal when it has had enough. You are aware of discomfort and can adjust or cease the exercise. High intensity running causes our fight-or-flight system to mask structural pain.  So if you are running above your aerobic heart rate, you may wake up sore the next morning, or worse discover an injury.

The body is remarkably adaptable.  It repairs most stresses to the bone, tendons, and muscle by making the area that has been stressed, stronger.  But this requires just the right amount of stress and adequate time for your body to repair and recover.

The body experiences significant repetitive stress when running, much more so than when walking.  In fact, we take about 1,200 steps per mile when running.  And, each step lands with a force close to 3 times our body weight.  Because of this repetitive stress, if there are problems with your form or strength, the likelihood of developing a problem or suffering an injury is amplified. If you have an injury remember every mile is like 1200 reps -it’s not “just a mile.”

Therefore, when starting an exercise routine, progress gradually. Don’t be afraid to start off walking, progress to a run/walk mix, and graduate to running. Walking injuries are rare. This concept applies to experienced runners as well.  When making a change, make the change gradually so that you don’t overtax your body and the individual tissues.  The body will adapt, as long as the load applied does not exceed our capacity to adapt. (thanks you Blaise DuBois for this quote)

One way to alleviate repetitive stress on your body is to alter your running route.  Many people always run the same route. Altering where you run is a good idea, because it gives your body a chance to adapt to different environments. Be careful to use the same principles of gradual change.  Although trail running is a great way to improve balance and muscle strength, it poses risks with an unstable surface.  Likewise, soft grass or sand requires more muscle use, since there is less “energy” returned when your foot strikes the ground.  Running up hills develops strength. So, mix it up, throw in some new challenges, and enjoy!

Moving from a heavily cushioned shoe to more level or minimalist shoe may prevent some injuries. This change needs to be done gradually, either by starting off with infrequent use of the minimalist shoe, or making a gradual change from a heavily cushioned, elevated-heeled shoe to a more level shoe.

Making changes slowly and progressively minimizes risk of injury.  Listen to your body. Do not mask discomfort with pain medication or anti-inflammatories. Instead, pay attention to what your body is telling you, and slow down if necessary.

Another way to prevent injury is to avoid stretching before you run.  In spite of what you may have practiced before, muscles are not meant to be stretched before exercise.  It disrupts the contractile fibers and decreases performance.  Perform stretches specifically designed to improve running related dysfunctions, and do them after or separate from your run. Stretching temporality deforms tissue, and the end reparative result is lengthening, which takes 8-10 weeks.

So what should you do instead of stretching before your run?  Warm up by walking or running at a slower pace for up to 10-15 minutes as you increase your effort toward your aerobic heart rate. This “warm up” period gets the muscles and tendons loose, the circulation going, and your body ready to run with a smile.


Dr. Mark’s General Principles of Injury Free Running:

  • -Train the Endurance Engine First
  • -Do not jump into harder running too soon
  • -Devote an hour a day to your health (to include shower and change).
  • -Strides, drills, short hills can be added from the start to help develop strength and coordination progressively
  • -Fun and variety.  Find types of runs and locations that are enjoyable for you and provide the appropriate challenge and stimulus.
  • -Have patience. It takes 8-12 weeks for cardio-respiratory and muscular/metabolic adaptations to occur, 8 weeks for strength and flexibility. These adaptations continue to build progressively for years.
  • -Body composition changes take 8-12 weeks.
  • -Play!  Focus on the relaxation of running and walking.
  • -Don’t sit all day.
  • -Running faster is not always better, in fact it rarely is.  “Train Don’t Strain” (Arthur Lydiard 1960)
  • -Always run with correct technique.
  • -Exercise is not only good for, it is essential for your brain.
  • -Get in touch with your human springs.  Your body has  shocks and suspension in the feet, ankles, Achilles, knees, and hips. Do not overstride and take the load in your joints.
  • -Always start off slower than you plan to finish. Take it easy up front and slowly relax and build your momentum as your body allows.
  • -Teach your body to stay relaxed at the start and carry that with you into your workout. Keep your posture aligned, but relax your shoulders, arms, hips and lower legs. Held tension creates inertia and can slow you down.
  • -If your breathing is labored, slow down, shorten your stride, or take a short walking break
  • -Do Dynamic Stretching regularly after you run.  Warm up and loosen before you run.  See the Fun Drills section and Lets do Lunge
  • -Keep your posture tall but with a slight lean from the ankles.  Think “face forward”.
  • -Frequently check in with your technique focuses and to relax your shoulders, arms, and lower legs.
  • -Hydrate before and after every workout.  You do not need sugared sport drinks.
  • -Follow a harder workout with an easier one or a day off.
  • -Run with a cadence between 170-180 steps per minute.
  • -Relaxed speed comes from fartleks or surges, and not necessarily on a track (short surges or gear changes followed by short slower-pace rest breaks).
  • -Short hills are great strength builders.
  • -Downhills are great for coordination and speed development. Use them to stretch your legs without effort
  • -Breathe deeply from your belly, not in shallow quick breaths.  Watch this video for how to do it.
  • -Mix up your workouts to keep your activity playful and interesting.
  • -Have a plan but be willing to modify it if needed. Listen to what your body needs and what it can handle on any given day.
  • -There’s no rule that says you have to run the entire way. If you need a recovery break. Learn to take short recovery breaks if you need them.
  • -During your 6-week race ramp-up (for 5k as example) , practice timing yourself for ½ mile intervals running at or slightly faster than your ideal race pace. Then, in your practice workouts, run 4 x 1/2mile intervals with a 30 sec. break between each interval. Your pacing should be: #1 slightly slower than race pace; #2 and #3 at race pace; and #4 slightly faster than race pace.
  • -Rehearse your pace a couple times in the month before the race.
  • -Set goals and chart them.
  • -Make physical activity a daily habit


Dr. Tim Noakes 10 laws of running injuries (Published over 10 years ago but nothing has changed)
South African physician, exercise physiologist, ultramarathoner, and author of “The Lore of Running”
Can be applied to any sport which involves running, jumping, throwing, or any repetitive movement

1. Running injuries are not an act of God

2. Each Running Injury Progresses Through Four Grades

3. Each Running Injury Indicates the Athlete Has Reached the Breakdown Point

4. Virtually all Running Injuries are Curable

5. X Rays and Other Sophisticated Investigations are Seldom Necessary  to Diagnose Running Injuries

6. Treat the Cause, Not the Effect

7. Rest is Seldom the Most Appropriate Treatment

8. Never Accept as a Final Opinion the Advice of a Nonrunner

9. Avoid the Knife

10.  There is No Evidence that Running Causes Osteoarthritis in Runners Whose Knees Were Normal When They Started Running


Our piece on Plantar Fasciitis (or -osis)- not much has changed since 2011

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