Running is one of the easiest and simplest sports to practice. You put on your shoes, you go outside, and you run. It’s that simple. And those 20 or 30 minutes spent running will likely improve your entire day and even week.
But wait. There is one important thing to consider when taking up the sport. Like any sport, it’s possible to get injured. When running, keep the following rules in mind and stay injury-free.
1. Build slowly and scale back for proper rest
Start gradually. If you are building distance or running frequency, plan your build carefully. Follow a schedule that gradually gets you to your goal and log your runs to keep track of how much you’re actually running. Scaling back after a few weeks of building allows your body to rest and recover while avoiding injury. Some people may need to build more slowly than others. Your other activities, or lack of activity, can also influence this.
Slowly building distance and frequency is best to avoid common overuse injuries and burnout. While running 5 or 10 km might seem easy to you, running 5 or 10 km four times a week can be too much if you haven’t gradually built up to it.
2. Listen to your body
All runners are different and the best way to know if something is too much for you is to listen to your body. If you experience unusual fatigue, pain or prolonged muscle soreness, stop running and take a few days off. Upon return, start with light, easy runs. Visit a medical specialist if the pain or soreness persists. If you feel your current running schedule may be too much for you, consider scaling back and changing your goal.
3. Warm up and cool down
Many experts agree that warming up is a good idea. For runners, this could mean starting off with a light jog for about 5 – 10 minutes before speeding up to your normal pace. It’s also possible to do some dynamic stretching exercises that involve quicker movements to warm up different muscle groups.
Cooling down after a run could mean slowing to a walk for 5 minutes before following with long, slow stretches of the major muscle groups.
4. Keep an eye on your goal
If your goal is to train for a marathon or a 10K race, keep this in mind when out there on your runs. The idea is to get there without getting injured. Your goal isn’t to run faster and further every time—although tempting for those with a competitive spirit. Save the PRs and sprint finishes for your race day. Remember that these are training runs and treat them with care.
5. Don’t run through pain
In the past people said things like, “be strong, be tough, no pain no gain.” We now know that this is not smart. A minor injury often starts out as a very dull ache or soreness and should not be ignored. Usually, it’s best to give those muscles a rest from running for a day or two. With proper attention, it’s possible to prevent it from becoming a major injury and to quickly return to training.
6. Run easy on easy days
An easy run means exactly what it says. It’s easy. On easy run days, it should feel easy for you. You will feel like you could go faster and farther. Holding yourself back is perhaps the difficult part, but it’s key to keep from overdoing it. Easy runs are a form of active recovery and allow your body to recover from harder workouts. Run too many runs at a fast pace and you put yourself at risk for overtraining, overuse injuries, and burnout (feeling excessively tired).
7. Vary your running surface
If you always train on a soft surface, such as trails or on a treadmill, but plan to run a long-distance race on pavement, your body may feel the shock. Vary your running surface, keeping in mind that softer surfaces can be easier on your body, but also allowing your body time to adapt to running on harder surfaces.
8. Run on level ground
Take caution when running on a sidewalk or street that is slanted. Choose a path that is level to keep your hips aligned.
9. Build core strength
Strengthening your core muscles, including the hip, buttocks, back, and abdomen, as well as the outer and inner thighs can increase leg stability and reduce risk of certain injuries or pain (including IT band syndrome and knee pain). Following a run with a few strength exercises is a good way to incorporate it into your training routine.
10. Improve flexibility with stretching
Stretching is not only useful following a run, but light stretches performed a few times a week can improve your flexibility and provide relief to tight muscles. Improving flexibility is better for overall fitness and performance. “A flexible body is more efficient, sees more gains in strength and endurance, enjoys more range of motion, is less injury-prone, recovers more quickly, and simply feels better,” says Musculoskeletal Therapists Jim and Phil Wharton in this article.
11. Take sufficient rest
Training requires sufficient rest to allow your body to recover and to build without injury. After a hard run such as speed work, a race or a tempo run, take 48 hours of rest. Carefully consider your other sports activities, such as tennis or football. Cycling, swimming, yoga, and Pilates complement running and can be considered active rest in between runs.
12. Follow the RICE principle for quick recovery
As soon as you feel pain or soreness, remember the RICE principle—rest, ice, compress, and elevate. Rest means stop running and take a day or two of rest. Ice the injured area for 10-15 minutes several times a day. Compress it by wrapping it with a dry bandage, and elevate it by propping it up while you sit or sleep. Place a support under your leg such as a pillow to prevent hyperextension of your knee.