As someone who is accident-prone and tends to get sick and/or injured often, I’ve read a lot about how to keep running healthy. I have tried many different ways to train and tips to stay healthy and injury free, especially when I’m training for a big race.
Here are 10 tips I’ve picked up along the way to run healthier with fewer injuries. I am not a doctor or expert, just someone who has done a lot of trial and error (lots of error…) and found what works for me.
1) Get fitted and buy good running shoes.
Visit a specialty running store and have them look at your feet. A really good store will have a treadmill to actually watch how you run. Let them help you pick out the shoes that will work with your foot. Some feet turn in or out, and some people need extra cushioning. A lot of running stores will let you run in the shoes and bring them back if they aren’t exactly right.
If you already have any sort of foot or leg injury, running stores can also fit you with an insert for your shoe that may be able to keep that injury from recurring. You will probably spend a little more for your shoes, but it’s worth it. Doing this is the best money I ever spent on my running.
2) Do more than just run.
Don’t run every day. Switch it up by cross training: bike, elliptical, swim or do a workout DVD. Do something you enjoy and have easy access to! Switching it up reduces the impact on your body and makes sure you use different muscles. You will be more likely to look forward to your running days.
3) Don’t run too much too soon.
You have to ease into it! Start out by running two miles three days a week. Once you feel comfortable with that, increase one run to three miles a week… then four. Don’t ever increase your total weekly mileage by more than 10 percent. You may feel like you can run more, but in my experience, breaking this rule is an easy way to end up hurt.
I have mentioned before that yoga is the best thing that has happened to my running. Running causes your body to really tighten up. Most running injuries are caused by muscle imbalances in the body. Yoga stretches those imbalances and keeps you limber.
I had bad shin splint problems until I took up yoga. The backs of my legs were basically too tight, causing pulling in my shins. I realized I couldn’t even touch my toes! As a former dancer, this was ridiculous. Yoga immediately helped my sore shins and legs. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Take a class at the gym, or buy a 20-minute yoga DVD to try. I really like Rodney Lee DVDs. I was skeptical too, but I promise it will help!
5) After a hard run, ICE!
Even if I’m not injured, I ice my ankles and shins after a hard run. It keeps everything from getting swollen and sore. I either fill zip baggies with ice or stick my feet in an ice bucket for 10 minutes. For the marathon, I’ve graduated to ice baths for anything longer than 13 miles (which I now refer to as my “stupid long” runs).
6) If it feels off or hurts, take a day off.
Sometimes your body needs a short break to recover. If something hurts (more than just “good” sore) and you just aren’t sure what’s going on, take the day off. It may seem like it will ruin your training program or your race, but it will be fine. This is one tip I have a hard time actually following. I’m all about following the plan, and it is hard to convince me that it’s a good idea to take the day off. Usually someone talks some sense into me – thanks Hubby….
Running on an injury is more likely to kill your program than just taking a day off. Often, that is all your body needs to repair the problem. If it still hurts after a couple days, have a doctor check it out. If you keep running on an injury, it will never get better. Really.
7) Take vitamin C.
Exercising regularly is great for your immune system, but training really hard for a longer race can be taxing on your body. Take extra vitamin C to get some increased immunity.
8) Warm up and cool down.
Don’t just jump into your run. Walk briskly for 10 minutes before you run to warm up your muscles, then stretch some. Avoid stretching cold muscles. After your run, cool down by continuing to walk another 10 minutes. This transition lets your heart rate slow back down at a nice pace. Take the time to do a long stretch after you run. Use some of those fancy yoga moves you learned. Downward dog, anyone? Your body will thank you.
9) Use a foam roller.
This simple little device can save your legs. Roll out your calves and thighs after a long run. It massages the muscles and keeps them loose. It’s awesome. Just try it – you’ll love it.
10) Eat protein after a hard workout.
You have to be careful with this. You don’t want to negate your run by eating more calories than you burned; however, if you are really using your muscles and working hard, you want to either eat food with protein or take a protein supplement within a half hour of your workout. The protein goes to your muscles and helps them recover faster.
For more posts from Julie Wunder, check out Running in a Skirt.
Featured Image credit: iStockphoto