How to Avoid Overuse Injury: A 7-Point Plan for Injury Prevention for Runners

“Go hard or go home.” This old message can be found on the walls of many gyms and other facilities where you work out. However, as time goes by, this message does not age well. We know better today because we’re aware of the importance of injury prevention for runners.

Instead of “going hard,” you should actually just do your best on that given day. Also, showing up and doing just a 20-minute exercise is better than not doing anything at all.

Still, it seems that these words and the idea of “going hard” are engraved in the minds of athletes, especially runners. That is why overuse injuries are a common obstacle in their workout regimen.

By “going hard” even when your body obviously signals it needs rest, you could be sabotaging your training. Injury prevention is just as essential as any other part of your routine.

Here are seven ways to manage your risk of overuse injury so that you can avoid having to pause your exercise until you heal.

1. Protect Your Body From Injuries by Warming Up and Cooling Down.

When you’re working out, it’s important to do a warm-up and a cool-down to prepare your body for the more intense exercise to come, and to help your body recover from the more intense exercise. 

A warm-up should consist of a low-intensity exercise that increases your heart rate and gets your muscles warm and flexible. A cool-down should consist of a low-intensity activity that helps your body relax and re-hydrate.

Your warmup before running can consist of three parts:

  1. Start by walking or running for a couple of minutes, so that your body and your mind register that you are about to start your running routine. This is not a start to your real run, so don’t increase your pace just yet.
  2. Slowly turn your walking stride into a run and keep it up for at least two minutes. Speed up a bit for a 100 yards and then slow down again until you’re back to walking. Repeat this at least two times.
  3. Do dynamic stretches. Since you are already putting your muscles into motion, stopping now to do static stretches is counter-intuitive. Pick the dynamic stretching exercises that feel best for you. 

After your run, slow down for a couple of minutes. This is the beginning of your cooldown phase. Don’t abruptly stop, but keep up a slow jog for at least three minutes. Once you feel you are ready to stop, shake your legs gently and do a couple of stretches. 

You don’t need to spend too much time on this. Even just a 10-15 minute cooldown routine will be enough to keep you from injury.

2. Listen to Your Body 

Pain causes your body to send signals to your nervous system saying, “I’ve done enough of this. Something will go wrong if you keep pushing.” Do what you can to reduce the intensity of your exercise. Ignoring your body’s needs can result in overuse injuries simply because you failed to respond to the signals your body had been sending you. As a runner, you know your body well, so listening to it is important injury prevention for runners.

Since many of the overuse injuries happen due to repetitive movements that wear out muscles, bones, tendons, or ligaments, they are quite common with runners. The good news is – your body will warn you. 

While you should be focused on your goal and keep up with your training program, you also need to be in tune with your body and learn to catch its subtle and not-so-subtle messages that it’s being overtrained.

Pain is not something to ignore and you should not be pushing through it, especially if it is localized and persistent. It is better to miss out on one or two running sessions than to risk being benched for weeks until you heal.

3. Increase Your Running Distance Gradually 

If you’re new to running, you should increase your running distance gradually so that your body can adjust safely. Start by running a little bit further than you did the day before and make sure that you’ve warmed up properly before you start increasing your mileage. 

If you want to improve your time and performance, you should be careful about it. There is a “10 percent rule” that can help you plan your progress. As a general rule of thumb, you should not increase your workout intensity more than 10% a week. This way, your body has enough time to adjust to this increase without injury or muscle fatigue. 

4. Add Variety to Your Workout Routine

Overuse injury happens when you repeat a similar motion over and over again for a prolonged period of time. Doesn’t this sound dangerously like running? Yes and no. You can add variety to your running and do your best to work on your overuse injury prevention. 

Doug Hay, the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, suggests 8 running workouts that you can include to shuffle your routine around a bit:

  • Easy run
  • Tempo run
  • Progression workout
  • Hill workout
  • Interval workout
  • Ladder run
  • Fartlek run
  • Long run

5. Don’t Skip the Gym

There is much more to a solid running plan than just running. It should also incorporate strength training for core stability, as well as flexibility workouts. 

Strength training might be something that you associate with big muscles that don’t seem too practical for running. However, muscle strength is necessary for endurance, bursts of sprints, and for injury prevention. Strong muscles can compensate for eventual bone, tendon, and ligament weaknesses, as well.

Core strength is necessary for your body to be able to maintain a proper running technique. This, consequently, helps you avoid injuries, and allows you to run better, faster, and longer. Work with a gym coach to develop a plan to increase your strength. Expect lunges, squats, rows, and the like.

6. Use Proper Gear and Technique

No, this doesn’t mean that your running needs to come with a hefty price tag. Depending on your budget and your desires, you can get your running gear for a decent price

You need good running shoes, high-quality underwear, and clothing. Good running shoes are essential because they can help you maintain a good running technique. If you don’t run properly, the danger of overuse injury increases significantly.

Additionally, you may want to invest in a heart rate monitor, headphones, water bottle, and other additional gadgets that can help you stay motivated and improve your running. 

Also, if you really want to go that extra mile and improve your performance, you should invest in a red light therapy device. In that way, you’ll speed up your muscle recovery, boost your exercise efforts, and work on your injury prevention.

7. Don’t Skip Your Rest Days 

Rest days are as essential as your high-intensity running days. Those are the days when you give your body enough time to rest, recuperate, and actually process the effects of your exercise. If you skip this, your body may fall into the overtraining phase. This could increase your risk of an overuse injury, as well as both physical and mental burnout. 

According to Amanda Brooks, a Certified Running Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, and long time distance runner, this is how you should pace your rest days:

  • 2 weeks after a marathon – no running
  • One week off after a hard half-marathon
  • Full month off after non-stop training for a full year and/or you start feeling burned out.

Rest is essential for overuse injury prevention. It is also critical for achieving any sort of athletic results, as well as maintaining your overall health. However, in today’s fast-paced world, people tend to underestimate rest and consider it “lazy.” Others would love to rest, but they don’t think they have the time for it. 

That may be true, but it is also true that you can make your rest more efficient. Red light therapy can be your best ally when it comes to muscle recovery, sleep quality improvement, and athletic performance boosting. It can do that and much, much more. Discover FlexBeam and all it can do for you.