group of laughing runners

Running for fun – 5 tips to remain injury free!

At the time of writing, the weather is beautiful, and summer feels like it has arrived. With the warm weather we are all naturally drawn to spend more time outdoors, which is as it should be. At the beginning of the year I wrote a blog for our experienced running clients focused very much on setting 2023 running goals, but right now the team and I have noticed that there are more and more conversations in clinic about how to get out and run for fun, without risk of injury, and how to get started with a bit of running after recovering from injury – which is great news!

Perhaps you want to lose some weight, enjoy having some ‘me’ time, be better at playing a favourite sport or just want to improve your running technique. Getting out and running is also a great way to support your mental well-being; putting your trainers on and heading out of the door a couple of times a week is a great way to get away from the day-to-day norm and de-stress. Whether you run, run/walk, jog or run with great speed, most of us run to grab some time to ourselves or just have fun with friends.

Contrary to out-of-date beliefs, running IS good for your physical health – it improves bone density, strengthens your muscles, tendons and ligaments, and of course, there are cardiovascular benefits too. However, it does increase your risk of running-related injuries such as stress fractures, ‘runner’s knee’, and Achilles tendinitis. Research does vary but between 35% – 75% of runners will struggle with either the niggly and annoying injuries that ricochet around the body each year or suffer an acute high-grade injury.

In our blog this month, we thought we would share some hints and tips for those of you who want to run for fun and remain injury-free, or maybe you’re a beginner runner just starting out.

Here are our top tips:

1. Start with a warm-up

I know that it is tempting just to head out of the door and go, but warming up is so important to help keep you injury-free. Start by walking at a brisk pace to get the movement going in the body, and practice high knee lifts, sideways ‘open and close’ hip movements, and arm circles. Progress to lunges and skipping before settling into an easy running pace.

By sticking to dynamic movements such as these for your warm-up you are preparing all of your joints and soft-tissues for the main run. Avoid static stretches as part of your warm-up completely, unless something is particularly tight in which case a stretch once your muscles are warmed-up is best for you. Never stretch cold muscles before running!

2. Strength exercises for runners

If you can take some time each week to complete some strengthening exercises, it will really support your running progress and technique. While running itself improves general running strength, it will cause a breakdown in specific areas and weaknesses over time. This may lead to injury. Strengthening your gluteals, calves, midsection and upper back is important.
Check out our video for our top five running strength exercises, here:

3. Vary your running – don’t get stuck in a running rut

Varying the routes that you run will not only keep you interested and engaged, but it will help you to strengthen your joints and muscles, improve your resilience, and increase your fitness by running over different terrains, distances and speeds. Your body reacts positively to controlled stresses such as these and loves being taken out of its comfort zone mentally and physically. The rewards of doing something different but achievable are huge.

Even if you don’t have a race in the diary or a distance to achieve, you will benefit greatly from having a running training plan. In our opinion, the single most important reason for having a running plan is to achieve your goal injury-free. A good running plan is written with the right training, strength, rest and recovery balance. It provides the baseline to measure your improvement and the variables that can be adjusted according to feedback, such as performance or problem/ injury.

4. Essential stretching and mobilising for runners

Exercise causes soft tissues to physically shorten and constrict, leaving tight bands of tissue at risk of injury, such as a calf or hamstring strain, and restrictions like these lead to a restricted range of motion in your joints. It’s important you stretch out after running, but it’s even more important to move through a running-specific mobilisation routine a couple of times a week for your shoulders, spine, hips, knees, ankles and feet.

5. Learn how to fuel your running

Carbohydrates are the body’s main energy source, so fuelling with carbs in the hours before a run can be beneficial for performance. However, manipulating this food source is the key to burning fat during your run, so if you are running to lose weight, you are likely to need to fuel differently than somebody with a performance goal. One constant, no matter your goal, should be optimal recovery. To get this right, we must ensure that your post-run meal includes both protein and carbohydrates. Protein rebuilds and repairs damaged muscles and carbohydrates increase protein uptake into the muscles, helping you stay injury free! Consider seeing a Sports Nutritionist for individual advice.

In summary, there is no quick fix for guarding against running injuries, but there is real worth in taking the time to support your running with our tips above by setting aside an extra hour or so each week.
If you would like help with any of the aspects we have covered here, come and see one of our sports therapy practitioners.

Let us help start your running journey, enjoy!