As Physical Therapists, we will always be treating runners with injuries during increased training periods. As a result, we notice some common trends that tend to increase this risk. Here’s three running tweaks that we find tend to help our runner’s decrease injuries and improve their overall performance on the roads and trails!
1. Don’t Just Run
Running is a great form of exercise that can lead to improved cardiovascular health and strength. However, when we mix in other forms of exercise, our bodies get to experience different stresses, which will improve overall health and fitness while reducing risk of repetitive stress injuries. Some examples of good cross training activities are biking, swimming, hiking, and strength training. I would especially advocate for runners doing some additional strength training at least twice a week. For one, this allows you to build up muscles needed to achieve proper form and improve performance. Strength training also allows you to create for yourself a kind of savings account that you can tap into on runs where you end up doing a bit more hills than you thought you would, or run a little further, or your body just doesn’t seem to have the juice it normally does. Tapping into this savings account can greatly reduce your risk of injury when your body would otherwise more easily succumb to its weakest link or point of excess stress on a particular day.
2. Assess Your Weekly Training Volume and Intensity
Depending on your running experience and ability, there can be a lot of variance in what your weekly training schedule looks like. Your running schedule should align with your goals, whether they are to run farther, faster, more hills, trails, etc. Your training patterns should incorporate the features you want to improve upon. If you have a big trail run with lots of elevation changes on your race schedule, training exclusively on flat pavement or track would be a sub-optimal strategy. It is important to remember that many running injuries occur from doing too much too soon. You want to increase your volume of mileage, speedwork, or hills all at an appropriate progression. If you are new to the sport, following a specific training program targeted to your abilities may be a good idea to keep you on track. If you are a more experienced runner and manage your own training habits, scheduling out your runs in advance is a good way to hold yourself accountable, make appropriate goals, and chart progress.
3. Optimize Your Running Mechanics
There are many variables that go into the biomechanics of running and what makes for good form. Often times these variables need to be assessed on an individual level considering your body type, running experience, and injury history, however, there are some general tips to consider.
- An increased cadence (how many steps you take per minute) can often improve efficiency and decrease joint stress. Around 180 steps per minute has been the benchmark for what is ideal, but this may vary slightly based on your speed and height. If you count your steps with a watch (count how many times your right foot hits the ground in 30s and multiply by 4) and you find your cadence is less than 160 steps per minute, consider trying to increase your cadence by around 10% initially.
- Try to have your foot strike landing relatively underneath your body. This can help prevent overstriding which can lead to decreased performance and increased injury risk.
- Make sure you are running and pushing yourself forward rather than up and down. Too much bounce in your stride makes for an inefficient gait.
- Maintain an upright torso without excessive arch in your lower back or slouching through your upper back.
We hope you find these three tips helpful to improving your overall running and future training. If you are suffering from a running related injury and would like help with incorporating an individualized strengthening program and assessing your running mechanics, feel free to give our office a call at 541.752.0545 to set up an appointment.
Dr. Peter McMillan, PT, DPT
Doctor of Physical Therapy