When you’ve been working hard logging those running miles, the last thing you want is to be sidelined by an injury. To help you stay injury-free while pounding the pavement, try these 5 tips from Rich Green, a physical therapist and Director of Physical and Hand Therapy at DMOS Orthopaedic Center:
Start Slow and Follow a Routine.
If running that first block feels good, you might be tempted to push hard your first day out. But if you’re a beginning runner – or are returning to running after an absence — Green advises building a base first.
“It’s hard to pace yourself when you’re excited about those first few runs,” Green said. “But pushing yourself too hard when you haven’t established a base is the easiest way to get an injury. When you’re first getting started, be sure to alternate walking and running.”
Green recommends starting with a 30-minute run/walk every other day. Run until you start to feel tired (generally a minute or two), walk until you feel recovered (generally three or four minutes), and repeat for 30 minutes.
When that initial routine gets too easy, try following a training program to gradually increase the difficulty of your workouts. Two sources Green recommends are www.halhigdon.com and www.desmoinesmarathon.com.
Buy Good Shoes.
Before you start running, there’s only one essential piece of equipment you must have — a good pair of running shoes. Make sure you buy shoes made specifically for running – not walking, aerobic or cross-training shoes.
Before you buy your shoes, consider obtaining a gait analysis from your physical therapist. This analysis can help you determine if you should buy a special shoe to help correct any gait issues or best train for a specific type of race. If you’re not able to get a gait analysis, make sure you buy your shoes from a reputable store that specializes in running shoes.
To avoid injury, beginning runners should rest every other day. And even seasoned runners need to incorporate some rest days into their schedule.
Rest days help ensure your muscles recover, your immune system stays strong, and you avoid running-related illness or injury.
However, resting doesn’t have to mean – and usually shouldn’t mean – spending the whole day on the couch watching Netflix, Green advises. Instead, try yoga, weight lifting, swimming, or an easy walk or bike ride.
Listen to Your Body.
When you first start running, you’ll most likely have some soreness. If you have mild pain or discomfort while you run, it’s generally safe to run through it. After your run, ice any sore areas for about 20 minutes.
“If your pain persists or forces you to change your gait, you need to take a break from running and change to a form of exercise that doesn’t exacerbate your injury,” Green says. “If the pain is severe or doesn’t subside after a week, consult a physical therapist.”
To help avoid injury, Green recommends a little dynamic stretching before each run. Dynamic stretching involves gently moving muscles through a range of motion. In addition to walking, try some heel raises, step-ups, and easy squats before you run.
“You don’t want to hold a static stretch on a tight muscle that hasn’t been warmed up,” Green said. “But dynamic stretches help you warm those muscles up and get ready for a great run.”
After your run, Green recommends a few gentle static stretches for your hamstrings, quadriceps, hips, and calves – holding each stretch for about 30 seconds. If you aren’t sure how to best stretch these muscle groups, consult a physical therapist.