It’s January – a time of year where many make New Years Resolutions to start being active and lose weight. Keeping in theme with the month this article will discuss the topic of running, one of the most popular forms of physical activity take part in.
Running has numerous health benefits – but is also associated with a higher rate of injury compared to many other forms of physical activity including strength sports. If you’re PT or Chiro you, like me, see runners on a fairly regular basis through the year (except for right now in Ontario Canada where the windchill is approaching -40 celsius as I type this first draft).
It begs the question – is running a good idea for you or your clients? In this article I allow you to make the decision and provide you with some tips to reduce the chances of running injuries.
PART 1: IS RUNNING A GOOD IDEA?
I never look at exercises in absolutes. A better approach is to look at them in the context of the following factors …
The most important factor I use to determine whether or not an exercise is a good choice is the individual’s medical & history. Many cardiovascular, pulmonary, and orthopaedic conditions can make running detrimental to one’s health. While I’m not going to say you will never run if you have the above issues … it is in your best interest to get them dealt with first. The last thing I’d ever want anyone to do is run 10 k with atrial fibrillation or with a femoral neck stress fracture that hasn’t been managed appropriately.
The second factor I look at is the individual’s fitness level. Some are going to disagree with me on this – but I do believe running is something you have to get fit to do. Given it’s a high load activity with a high injury rate I have a hard time recommending people run who are quite overweight and/or have poor fitness. It can be done – but its not something I’d recommend. For many new gym goers I’d recommend doing a proper weight training progression and losing some excess bodyweight first before hitting the pavement.
Lastly – what are the goals of the individual? Goals which determine the acceptable risk/benefit ratio of an exercise. For instance – going to a 1 rep max deadlift, while appropriate for a competitive powerlifter (that’s their sport), likely has way more risk than benefit for a recreational gym rat.
With respect to running – it comes down to whether or not you enjoy it? If you enjoy it and satisfy the three points above … carry on. If you don’t enjoy running and are just using it as a means to an end for fat loss or cardiovascular fitness there are (in my opinion) much better options from a risk/benefit perspective such as circuit training or interval training done using lower impact modalities such as weights (done properly), pushing or pulling a sled, and/or a stationary bike.
Use these principles to determine if running, or any type of exercise, is a good fit for you and your clients.
PART 2: HOW TO REDUCE RUNNING INJURIES
In no particular order, the most important ways to reduce the likelihood of a running injury are …
1) Proper volume management & progression: I would argue that the vast majority of running injuries are due to “training load errors” or doing too much too soon. A wise strategy is to stick to the 10% rule – don’t increase your running volume by any more than 10% per week.
2) Reread #1 above. It’s that important
3) Managing psychosocial factors: While it hasn’t been thoroughly studied in runners a large body of research shows a significant link between psychosocial factors, sports injury, and chronic pain.
Most people reading this article are likely not head-shrinks or counsellors – but if you are a strength & conditioning or rehab professional it is important to network with people who you know can help in this regard.
4) Proper strength training
While again not studied thoroughly in runners strength training has been shown to effectively reduce sports injuries and can improve performance in runners.
5) Diet & hormone management
A specific demographic of female runners can develop what’s called the female triad – a combination of undereating/disordered eating, amenorrhea and low bone density which can predispose them to injury. While I’m not a doctor or dietician – this again emphasizes the importance of working with people in other professions to effectively manage these issues that can predispose an athlete to injury.
What about stretching & running shoes?
It is commonly believed that stretching prior to running is an effective way of preventing injuries although the research suggests otherwise and suggests that a proper level of stiffness is actually associated with better performance. A more efficient way to warm up is through lighter, lower intensity cardiovascular exercise and movement to raise the body temperature prior to running.
In addition it is commonly believed that a proper running shoe matched to your foot position will prevent running injuries but research done (and interestingly funded by Nike) has shown no correlation between matching running shoes to foot style and reduction of running injuries.
There you have it – 5 simple tips to help with running injuries plus guidance on determining whether running is an appropriate exercise for you or your clients goals. Thanks for reading.
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