3 tips for avoiding running injuries with LDN Physio

A quick summary:

Although there isn’t a “one size fits all”, there are common themes when it comes to running, injuries and performance, and we think it might be helpful for the Heka community to go over them! Especially as we see so many of you have started running during lockdown.

This blog post can be used as a way to understand the main principles behind running injuries but also it will improve your performance, speed and efficiency when hitting the road.

If you are struggling to shake off any running-related pain or you have developed sharper, more concerning symptoms then don’t hesitate to search for us on Heka here and talk to us directly before trying anything new.

Tip #1: Start strength training

If you haven’t started strength training to complement your running, now is the time! Running alone often won’t be enough to stay healthy and injury-free. Strength and conditioning on the other hand has been shown to increase our body’s tolerance to the demands we put it through when increasing our mileage. This is heavily supported by research and agreed across sports coaches, physios, athletes, the lot.

There are a wide range of pain problems that can develop from over-running and under-training. Pain at the front of the knee (“Runner’s knee”), tendon problems in your Achilles, foot (plantar fascia), hips and knees, low back pain and the dreaded shin splints, are the most common. A small injury can cause a disproportionate amount of severe pain and set you back weeks to months on your running journey. Some injuries are pesky and really tough to treat at times, therefore we emphasise prevention of injuries as a super important training choice.

What muscles should I train?

Our biggest muscle (gluteus maximus) and strongest muscle complex (calf) are all behind us. Along with the hamstrings, we call these muscles the “posterior chain”. Building strength in your posterior chain as well as your core is a great way to increase the power you develop, give your muscles and tendons the strength needed to deal with the impact of running, and in turn get faster!

Quality reps over quantity!

As it is tough to replicate the repetitions performed in running during exercise, it is important to engage the muscles for long enough during our exercises. We need to slow down on the downwards phase of exercise. 3-5 seconds descent with each repetition – this is a painfully long time. But with eccentric, downwards moving exercise, slower is certainly better. This will help stimulate fatigue and build endurance.

How many reps and sets should you be doing? It will vary per person, per exercise and even vary day-to-day for any one person. Essentially, as long as you maintain good form and control, you can go on until fatigue or failure, then take 30-60 seconds rest, then go again, and then again (3 sets). The body will only make significant positive changes and strength adaptations once you stress it towards its limits.

So where should I start?

Let’s look at 3 exercises that you can start including in your routine now to strengthen key muscles for your running. Check the video below for our tips on form and technique when performing them.

1. Core: High knee overhead marching

The aim of this exercise, like a lot of running rehabilitation and training, is to perfect your single leg to pelvis control. Using this exercise, you are able to engage the necessary muscles in your glutes, core, upper back, hip flexors whilst working your single leg balance crucial for running.

1a Overhead march

Pro Tip:
stand as tall as possible throughout this exercise. Don’t let your standing hip poke out to that side or let your body sway.

Advanced Tip: Once you’ve perfected this exercise towards fatigue, try adding a partial lunge in there between steps.

2. Hamstrings & glutes: Single leg RDL (Romanian Dead Lift)

A lack of single leg stability can tend to be the undoing of many runners. It can be related to issues such as: gluteal tendon injuries, runner’s knee, ITB related pain low back pain, this list goes on. This single RDL (Romanian deadlift) is a great way to challenge and develop single leg stability whilst adding a stimulus of weight.

1b Single Leg RDL

Pro tip: Maintaining a slightly squatted position helps to mimic a running posture during the stance phase of your running gait. Pick a weight that is challenging yet allows you to keep good technique and perform the exercise for 3-4 sets.

Advanced tip: Key prompts to take into this exercise is chest forwards and shoulder blades pinched backwards. The hamstrings (back of your thigh) will tighten at the end of the movement – don’t progress further.

3. Calves: Tight muscles are often weak muscles - Soleus reach

Calf strengthening is often overlooked for stretching but much more important. Have you ever had that feeling of your calves feeling super tight after a run? Although it feels like you need a stretch, it is more of a cry for help from your muscles that they aren’t quite capable of what you’re asking of them! This exercise is a great way to work calf in a similar position to running.

1c Soleus Reach

Pro tip: Keep your heel on the ground throughout, chest forwards, sit your bum backwards behind you and ensure your knee doesn’t track inwards.

Advanced tip: Mix this exercise in with reaching behind you, then out to the side to improve lateral hip control. Make sure you stand up tall between movements.

Tip #2: Be careful introducing changes

Research says that up to 8 out of 10 running injuries are caused by training error. Training error can be described as any sudden change in your training load (most likely an increase) which leads to injury. This also includes those of us with a fairly good background of running but haven’t been as active recently. We see this a lot in runners who drastically increase their mileage in preparation for a big run, or charity runners who sign up for a marathon with just a couple of months to go.

Other sudden changes we frequently see causing injuries:

  • Change of foot posture / form: especially people changing from heel striking to forefoot running which is a big cause of calf injuries
  • Change of terrain: eg: from soft to hard
  • Change of cadence (steps per minute): The word cadence is frequently thrown around in running circles and often associated with a number. Typically this number is 180 steps per minute. If you’re returning from injury with a concrete plan in place this should include a cadence above 180 at around 190-200 in the beginning to ensure a safe return to the road. However, you have to consider your personal preferred cadence, and slowly work up towards the desired cadence. No big jumps!

Tip #3: Warm-up appropriately before a run

We often think of warming up as doing a few random stretches and throwing our legs and arms about. Stretches have their place and increased flexibility and mobility does decrease injury risk. However, stretching alone won’t prevent injuries significantly and it is not going to get the muscles fully prepared for the demands of your run.

If in doubt, a slow stop-start pace to the start of your run over a 10 minute period can be the difference between injury and progression.