RW’s 60-Second Guides:  Avoiding Injury

Most injury is avoidable: the first rule is not to kid yourself that it's outside your control.

Beginners need to take double care, because their muscles and tendons may need many months to adapt to the forces and range of movement of running. The first rule is to ease slowly into any run. Deliberately hold back for anything from 5-20 minutes; doubly so before speedwork. Stop trying to push, and your body will naturally lengthen its stride and become quicker during the course of your run.

Beginners and regular runners all fall foul of the most common cause of injury: progressing too fast, too soon. Increase mileage or speed, but not both. A newcomer's biggest measure of success at six months would be to have built up to three or four consistent runs a week with no injury. The same goes for marathon runners or anyone bouncing back from a layoff: in a fit of enthusiasm, how many of us try to add 50 per cent to our normal mileage and return to speedwork all in the same week, only to plummet back into injury. Don't add more than two or three miles a week (or 10 per cent, whichever is greater).

The surface you run on makes a huge difference to the impact your body absorbs. Try to do at least half your running on grass or off-road trails. Also, get your shoes fitted by a specialist. You need the right balance of cushioning and stability for your running style. Try new shoes at the first sign of an unexplained niggle: if it goes away, ditch the old ones. Worn-out cushioning and stability is not always visible; the rest of the shoe may be in very good condition (500 miles is an average lifespan; it could be 200-800 miles depending on the shoe and your body).

Consistent running is better for your body than training in fits and starts, but for beginners that means running no more than every other day. Experienced runners get to know their bodies' limits, but for them a useful rule of thumb is to take at least one rest day per week, one easy week per month, and one easy month per year.

All-round strength, especially core stability, is valuable. Most runners only strengthen a non-running muscle if their physio tells them to, post-injury. However, the next injury could come from somewhere else. Doing a weekly whole-body exercise such as rowing, active yoga, swimming or a well-balanced gym routine helps to future-proof your body against the imbalances that can cause strains and over-use injuries. Don't underestimate how much your hips and upper body contribute to a stable, smooth running style.

And stretching? Research is still divided. It increases injury risk before a run (ie, don't stretch cold muscles); it may help after a warm-up before speedwork (though loping practice strides are also important here), and after a run. Two rules: don't bounce as you stretch, and hold stretches for at least 10-12 seconds.

Finally, don't end a run with a sprint finish to your front door. After any brisk running, jog gently five or 10 minutes to let your muscles ease out.

Still pushed for time? Five key articles to print

( indicates magazine subscriber only)
  • Choose the right shoe More
  • Choose a forgiving surface More
  • Warm up, cool down, stretch intelligently More
  • Fix your core stability More
  • Know when to run through pain and when to stop More
Or see all of our injury articles.