The more you run, the greater your risk of injury, so learn how to train safely

Increasing running miles is exciting. But it can also be dangerous. Because when you train harder, you up your risk for running injuries.

Now, there's an unspoken rule among runners. And it says that iit’s generally a safe to increase your weekly miles by 10%. (Which means you run 10 miles the first week of training, 11 the second, etc.). The thinking goes that, at that pace, you should be able to avoid injury. 

But, unfortunately, actual science doesn't agree with that notion. In fact, a study in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, proves increasing running miles weekly will ALWAYS up your risk of injury. So, what does that mean for your training schedule?

Well, it's like this. Whether you do it by 10, 20 or even 30%, running more miles every week means your injury risk is always on the rise. If that news has you scared: good. Because a bit of healthy fear could save you from pain. And so could taking a closer look at the data. (Plus some bonus tips for boosting your running profile.) That way you can safely increase your training miles and meet your running goals!

What's Risky About Increasing Running Miles Each Week?

For the study in question, researchers in Denmark spent a year following 873 new runners. They were all healthy at the start of the study. To begin, researchers placed runners in three groups. One group increased running miles by less than 10 % per week. The second group increased their mileage by 10-30 % per week. Andthe last group increased their mileage by more than 30 % per week.

During the year-long period of the study, 202 of the runners sustained injuries. Now, that's not an overly high number. But here's what's interesting:  there was no real difference in injury rates across the three groups. Even though some were upping their miles far more than others each week. How could that be, you may be asking? Here's the deal:

While the rate of injury didn’t vary between groups, the type and significance of the injuries did. And the group increasing miles by 30% or higher group suffered the most lasting injuries. So, even though all the harder training led to some type of injury, the slower you upped your mileage, the less serious your injury was likely to be. And that means you're far less likely to be sidelined from training due to a running injury.

What's the Safest Way to Increase Run Training Distance? Increase running miles based on your body, not your training schedule

As this study shows, running can be risky. That's why I always tell my Houston runners to focus on how they train each week, not on how much they train. First of all, every week of running should include rest days. I'm also a huge cheerleader for cross-training exercises for runners. That includes strength-training or low-impact cardio like the elliptical trainer. 

If you're not sure where to begin with your strength training, here's a good place: your abs! I know it sounds strange, but hear me out. There's lots of exercises you can do to strengthen your feet. And they could certainly help you run with less pain.

But when you strengthen your abdominal muscles (your core), something magical can happen. With a stronger core, your posture can improve. And so can your running gait. Which could mean less pressure on your legs, knees and feet.

That's not all. When your strength comes from your core, it's easier to find balance during your runs. With this improvement, all your other muscles can equally share the impact of running. And that's one of the best ways to avoid overuse injuries such as shin splints or plantar fasciitis. Plus, you might get that six-pack you've always dreamed of, especially if you're running for weight loss.

Abdominal Workout for Runners

To improve balance and strength, try this core workout from Cory Wharton-Malcolm, co-founder of Track Mafia, and courtesy of Furthermore at Equinox. Bonus: you can bang it out in under 10 minutes! Do each exercise for 45 seconds, with short or no breaks in between.

1. Flutter kicks

Lie face-up with your legs a few inches off the ground. Put your hands under your glutes and “flutter” your legs up and down a few inches.

2. Scissor kicks

Keep your previous position, but now scissor your legs. (Cross one over the other, and alternate.)

3. Forearm plank to high plank

Get into a forearm plank. Place your right hand on the ground, then your left, rising to high plank. Reverse the movement and start again, now beginning with your left hand.

4. Mountain climber

Start in a high plank. Drive your knee towards your right elbow, returning it to start as you bring your left knee towards your left elbow. Alternate legs, moving as quickly as you can.

5. Push-up with knee drive

Begin in a push-up position. Slowly lower down towards the ground as you bend your left knee, bringing it out to the side and towards your left elbow. Push back up as you return your foot to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.

6. Russian twist

Sit on the ground with your knees bent and feet a few inches off the ground. Clasp your hands in front of you and twist to the right, bringing your hands to the outside of your right hip. Then, move through center as you twist to the left.

7. Beast hold

From all fours, raise your knees up about one to two inches off the ground. Hold this position.


8. Hip bridge

Lie face-up with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground, arms by your sides. Raise your hips so that your body forms a straight line from knees to shoulders. Hold.

9. Single-leg hip bridge

Assume your previous position, then raise and extend your left leg. Hold for 20 seconds, then switch legs for another 20 seconds.

10. V-up

Lie face-up on the ground with legs outstretched and arms overhead. In one motion, bring your legs (keeping them as straight as possible) and your hands to meet over the midline of your body. Return to start and immediately repeat.

Safer Running Programs in Houston  Don't burn out or get hurt. Try cross training before you increase running miles

Too many running programs tell you to increase running miles on pre-determined date. But that's not great for your body, as we just reviewed.

Want my best advice for safely running farther? Stick with a set distance for a few runs, until it feels comfortable. On your rest days, work at building up your core strength with crosstraining workouts. Then, and only then, should you try to run a little bit farther. And listen to your body afterwards.

If that new distance feels ok? Stick with it and, congratulations, you've safely upped your miles. But if your body hurts, beyond the normal discomfort of a longer run? Go back to your previous distance and wait another week or two before trying to increase again.

Now, that's my best general advice. But, if you are a runner, you'll need to figure out your best bet for staying injury free while training. That's why you should schedule an appointment with your Houston running doctor. I'll give you a comprehensive consultation and help customize your training program

Dr. Andrew Schneider
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A podiatrist and foot surgeon in Houston, TX.