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Why do so many runners get injured?

Lisa Tamati

Posted on March 30 2016

Why do so many runners get injured?

Are we wrecking ourselves by running.

Did you know that 8 out of 10 runners you see at any one race will be injured at some time during that year? 

Horrific statistic isn’t it, does that mean that running is as many claim, bad for you? Are you going to wreck your joints? 

All valid concerns but lets take a look.

We have all followed in the last few years the barefoot running revolution instigated in part by my friend Christopher McDougalls’ in-depth book “Born to run” and the ensuing changes in running shoes available on the market everything from vibrams to Nike frees to zero drop shoes. 

Everyone seems to have their own opinion on minimalist or zero drop shoes etc. But before we look at valid foot wear discussions and technique discussions (addressed in other articles) I believe we need to look at another couple of areas that cause most of the injuries.

The first area, I believe we need to address is structural/skeletal and musculature imbalances in the body these may come from a genetic problem, body shape problems (e.g. wide hips in women) or weakness and shortening in some muscle groups. 

These structural problems can often be addressed and eliminated altogether if we are diligent with our mobility exercises, strength exercises and stabilisation exercises. 

Its crucial to have a solid foundation to build on. If you go out and run high volume or do speed work when you have structural imbalances or weaknesses you are inviting injury.

The other main cause of injury is when the aerobic/anaerobic fitness of an athlete improves quicker than their tendons, ligaments, muscles and bones do. 

People start feeling fitter once their cardiovascular systems are improving and go and do too much mileage, too fast, leading to overuse injuries with the ligaments, muscles etc. 

Take for an example a mid thirties runner who is just starting back into a programme after a 3 year break from running.

They were fairly good runners earlier and think perhaps they are still just weeks away from their previous form and distances. They start a good cardio programme and find they are getting fitter quickly and start really enjoying themselves and getting enthused about their new re found fitness. So they ignore the slow progression rules and start smashing the mileage and the speed, ramping it up too fast. Their cardio systems can handle it, their skeletal systems, ligaments, tendons, bones and muscles cant yet. Injuries ensue.

Tendons and co take a lot lot longer to strengthen than does the cardio system so don’t get overexcited too early. Give your body time to adapt. 

So back to the structural problems. You need a strong core, hip complex, strong ankles and strong knees to be able to run well and injury free. 

Hip strength or weakness relates strongly to running knee injuries for example. So start a hip strengthening programme, this I believe is especially important for women with wider hips or after childbirth. (see our programme library for hip exercise examples). Stable, strong hips are crucial to the runner. it also relates to back problems and is a pivotal part of the kinetic chain and it needs to be super strong so as not to have a knock on effect on other joints.- i.e. one areas weakness can affect the functionality of the next

The core is another whole chapter in itself, a strong core will help protect you from back problems, help with correct posture and breathing and even digestion while running. The core is another crucial area that needs constant attention. 

If you spend time (especially beginners but often even very experienced runners will benefit) building up the strength in these key areas before ramping up the volume and especially the speed you will avoid many of the common injuries and speed up the progress you make. 

Start with strength exercises using your own body weight in a circuit or tabata style fashion where you are using your cardiovascular system as well as building your stability and strength (see our library for such programmes)

BUILDING BASE and progression 

Once you have built up the strength and stability and not to forget the flexibility you can start upping the mileages of your runs progressively (as a good rule of thumb don’t ever increase your weekly mileage more than 10% in a week, often less is better).

During this base building phase you shouldn’t be doing speed work. You should be developing the body’s ability to withstand the pounding and strengthen the ligaments, muscles and tendons, getting them used to the load.

After a 2 to 4 month period of base building you need to start CAREFULLY building in speed work but don’t just jump straight in at the intense interval training level but work in some fartlek, strides, hill sprints and limit end aerobic runs (running at the point where you are getting slightly into the anaerobic zone, when you start being in oxygen deficit and puffing hard but not really hard) for short periods maybe up to 25 mins at a stretch. 

This gentle and playful introduction of speedwork will make sure you don’t overdo it and injure yourself. Be very self aware in this phase and listen to you body and pull back on the speed if you are getting niggles or problems, progress cautiously if you are doing ok.

Speed work is where you make massive gains in fitness, weightloss happens quicker and of course good race times but its also the most dangerous part of your training so caution is advised. Avoid going from easy long runs to full on intense speed training for long periods. Its a recipe for injuries


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