Want to learn a scientific fact about running? Well, it's not good. But we can beat it, so here goes. New runners have a higher risk of sustaining injuries than any veteran trainer. And that's true no matter how many miles each athlete is trying to log.
That can be scary if you're hoping to pull off a couch to 5K. But, as I said, I can help you not get hurt, even if you're new to the sport. So, first, we'll look at the evidence. Then, I'll show you how and why we'll keep it from being your problem.
Research on New Runners and Injuries
I found a study that followed 4600 Dutch runners over the course of four years. To start, researchers divided participants into new runners. (These were people in their first year with the sport.) Then, in the other group, there were experienced runners. (They'd been running for longer than a year.)
The study looked at two factors. The first? The type of injury that popped up in both running groups. Here, there was lots of equity. Both groups shared the most common types of injuries, with knee and lower leg pain. But things started changing when they looked at the second factor, how often they got hurt. Because the data grows apart when it comes to how often these runners sustained injuries.
In fact, for every 1,000 hours of running, the beginners got injured twice as often as those with more experience! Now, like I said, I don't want newbies getting scared by these findings. But I do want you to understand something important. You have to work on your technique when you run. Because it's really your running form, not the wear and tear of the sport, that's probably going to get you hurt.
In my office, I can give you tools to help you run more efficiently. (And with less injuries.) I offer a gait analysis. And I can fit you for custom running orthotics, which can even out imbalances. (Which should further decrease your running injury.)
Need a little more running inspo? Not to worry. Keep reading for my top tips to keep new runners training without the pain.
Backwards Running: The Surprising Running Backwards Benefits
Now, this may be a step too far for new runners, but I've been hearing and reading a lot about backwards running recently. It's exactly what it sounds like: instead of running toward a goal, you put one foot behind the other. Most often, people try this on a treadmill. But some brave souls even try racing as backwards runners.
But that's not all. Trainers often suggest backwards running as a form of rehab. That's because it's better for building lower leg muscle. Plus, it improves running efficiency. And that can help take pressure off your body, further reducing your injury risk. Just like the next 8 tips I'm about to share with you. (Some of which may feel less scary for my newer runners.)
8 Ways to Reduce Your Risk for Running Injuries
Here are a few steps new runners can take to avoid injury and train smarter:
1. Switch up your runs
Almost all running injuries are the result of repetitive strain. Also called overuse injuries, these happen when a muscle, tendon, or bone reaches its breaking point. Usually after taking the same pounding again and again.
How can you avoid this issue? First, you should switch up the forces you put on your body. That could mean running on different surfaces. Or training at different paces for different times and distances. Do any or all of these switches and you’re less likely to experience a break down in one area of your body.
2. Build up slowly
Rome wasn’t built in a day, so you shouldn't squeeze marathon training into a few short weeks. When you’re just starting out with the sport, stick to slow increases in your training schedule. Not sure what that means? Think one extra mile each week, or one new short, easy training day each week. (You may have heard about the 10% rule of training increases. But the numbers I just mentioned are easier to quantify. Plus, new research from the University of British Columbia in Canada suggests that number is arbitrary. Because, according to lead study author Jean-François Esculier, how much you run and how quickly you build up training can impact your injury risk. But there’s no blanket increase rate that will protect you or put you at risk. Instead, he says, you have to look at increases along with other crucial factors. And those include your sleep quality, nutrition, and hormonal fluctuations, all of which can affect how your body reacts to stress. You can see the full report in the Journal of Athletic Training. )
How will you know if your training add-ons are safe for your body? It's simple, really. If you don’t feel aches and pains in one specific area of your body when you run, you should be good to go.
3. Pick the proper shoes
I'm sure you'll know to choose a generally supportive athletic shoe. But I want to add an extra rule to that. You should select a pair that feels good from the first moment you slip them on.
Yup, I've said it. There should never be a ‘breaking in’ period when it comes to your running shoes. And if you think you'll get really serious about running, go to a specialty store and get fitted for a sneaker that works with your gait and foot type. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune or come with lots of bells and whistles—it just has to feel good and provide support in the areas in which you need it the most.
4. Improve your strength and flexibility
I can’t say this enough: runners need to cross train. Any kind of training regimen for runners should include exercises that strengthen a runner’s supporting muscles: core, hips, legs etc, not to mention less intense cardiovascular workouts to keep your endurance up without overloading your training muscles.
5. Find a friend (or friends!)
There’s power in numbers! Grab a pal or join a training group and start pounding the pavement together. The accountability, support and motivation will make it easier to stick to a new program.
6. Take breathers
Recovery time is crucial to runners—that’s your body repairs itself after the physical demands of exercise. Build rest days into your routine, make distance and speed increases gradually and be sure to stretch after every run, as it will keep you from stiffening up and experiencing post-running pain.
7. Focus on a goal...
But make sure it’s attainable. Sign up for a 5K, but not the week after you start training. Be sure and find goals that will keep you working hard, but won’t push your body past the limits of safety.
8. Tune in
Make sure you take note of how your body feels after each run. Ideally, the discomfort (if there was any) will lessen as you get stronger and train harder. Don’t ignore lingering pain—it could be a sign of a developing injury!
When taking the proper precautions, running is a sport that’s safe and effective for novices and old pros. For those who want more information on safe training methods for runners, come in for a consultation with Houston running doctor Andrew Schneider.