As running season starts to pick up with the beginning of spring, many people begin earnestly training for summer and fall races, including marathons and half marathons. Like other high-impact sports, running can lead to injury if you are not careful and precise about your training.
If you're throwing yourself into this running season, follow these tips to help stave off injury so you can enjoy the fruits of training on race day.
1. Start Slowly
If you've been keeping fit with fitness classes at the YMCA during the winter months, you might dive headfirst into long runs and an aggressive training program. However, the reality is that even for people who are reasonably fit in other areas, it's still important to start slow when beginning running training.
Running places unique strain on the joints and muscles, particularly on your knees, hips, and ankles. Without a slow buildup of speed and mileage, you can develop overuse injuries like shin splits or even hairline fractures. Your heart and lungs may already be in great condition, but slowly building your training gives your bones, ligaments, and muscles time to catch up.
Generally, most runners who abide by the 10 percent rule are less likely to experience training injuries. To follow the 10 percent rule, increase your mileage by only 10 percent each week at the most. However, for runners who are less fit or who have never run before, even 10 percent is aggressive; stick to 3 or 5 percent instead.
If you're frustrated with "scaling back" the intensity and duration of your workouts, do plenty of cross training in the beginning. Stay with low-impact exercise classes or use the swimming pool on alternate days to maintain your fitness level.
2. Vary Your Runs
It's tempting to treat every run the same. You get into a groove, and you might think that if you're getting your miles in, there's no right or wrong way to train. This is somewhat true, but you can actually reduce injury by varying your runs a little bit to adapt your muscles to different terrain and speeds.
For example, if you always run on flat, level ground, encountering hills during your actual race can actually lead to strain. It's best to acclimate your legs to all the stresses they will experience on race days.
For best results, vary your runs. Use the treadmill to push yourself to increase your pace. Treadmills also help train you to run at an incline, which can be helpful if you live in an area that has mostly flat roads. Use the indoor track to maintain a steady distance.
At least once per week, run outdoors alone or with a fitness group on varied routes to get the psychological feel of running long distances while changing speed, direction, and elevation.
3. Stay Flexible
Running stresses the body. It's a great sport for fitness and cardiovascular health, but you should always be mindful that any exercise that requires high levels of exertion will tighten your muscles. Don't neglect your stretching and flexibility when training; you'll need it to combat the tightening and strengthening of your muscles.
Instead of static stretches, however, it's best to focus on range of motion exercises that will lengthen and stabilize your developing muscles. For example, bending down slowly to touch your toes 10 times is better for your training and flexibility than bending and holding a folded stretch.
You can also join a flexibility class or yoga class at the YMCA. Yoga in particular is beneficial for runners because it encourages more balanced muscle development.
For more information on preventing injury while training, contact us at the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati.
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