Running is one of the most widely practiced types of exercise, partly because it’s so accessible. Change into shorts, lace up your shoes and hit the road, right? Well, that’s a mistake many first time runners make, and it can end badly. To get the results you want from your run and avoid getting injured, there are a few crucial points to consider before you get started.
Always warm up thoroughly
Before any run, even a short distance jog, you need to ensure your muscles and tendons are prepared for the increased exertion and load they will be under. Without warming up, you risk cramps, tears, and sprains, which can put you out of action for weeks at a time, or in severe cases, leave you with permanent damage.
A hip circle bandis ideal for runners to warm up with, as they are lightweight and compact, and allow you to stretch out your glutes, hamstrings, and calves in preparation for a run, without the need for bulky or heavy equipment. So you can even do your warmup on the starting line!
Focus on your diet.
For any form of exercise, eating the proper foods is extremely important. Without the proper fuel, you can’t expect your body to perform well, and missing out on certain nutrients, vitamins, or minerals can actually increase the likelihood of injury.
To power your muscles through a run, the most important macronutrient is carbohydrates. You should aim to eat a meal containing 150g of carbs, and low in fat and protein, around 3 hours before starting your run. After a run, your body will need protein for muscle growth and repair, so make sure you plan your recovery meal accordingly.
Micronutrients that are vital for recovery include calcium, vitamin D, protein, magnesium, and copper, as well as plenty of antioxidants, and of course, plenty of water to replace the fluids lost during exercise.
Choose the right running shoes
A standard rookie error is grabbing any old pair of sneakers and setting out on a long run. For maximum performance and minimum risk of injury, you need to pick running shoes that are specifically suited to your body, your running style, and the type of exercise you’re doing.
Your local sporting goods store should be able to offer you a gait analysis, which is a procedure where you try on different styles of shoe and are observed running on a treadmill to identify how you place your feet during a run. This will allow the staff to recommend the correct style of shoe with support in the right places. You needn’t spend a small fortune on brand name shoes, but you do need to know which style is right for you.
A full gait analysis will also give you tips on your posture, whether you’re leaning forward too much or your back is too stiff, as well as the movement of your arms.
Avoid pushing yourself too hard
It’s great to be enthusiastic about any sport, but you also need to be realistic. Attempting too hard a run, or too long a distance when you’re just starting out, or recovering from your previous run, is shortsighted. You’re much more likely to injure yourself if you put your body in a position it’s not ready for.
Plan your runs carefully, with the aim of making moderate progress over time, and you’ll get much better results than if you try to go all out right from the start. A healthy running schedule should include rest and recovery days, as well as exercise days.
Use foam rollers after a race to rub down your leg muscles, take regular hot baths, and go for a sports massage if your legs or back are feeling tight after a run. And don’t forget one of the most vital aspects of recovery – good quality sleep. The time you spend on your recovery is just as crucial as the time you spend on the road or the track – it all helps build your performance.
Listen carefully to your body
You’d be amazed at how many runners find themselves with serious injuries, which could have been completely avoided if they paid proper attention to the signals their body was sending them.
Of course, some runners suffer significant injuries from slips or falls or a sudden twist of a joint or tear in a muscle. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about bad luck like that; you just have to do your best to get well. But the vast majority of runners’ injuries are the result of a minor problem or issue building up over time without treatment.
So possibly the most essential piece of advice in this article is to listen to your body. If you feel a slight twinge in your knee or a minor pain in your foot, or your hamstrings are too tight, don’t just press on forwards, hoping that you can “run it off.”
Take even the most minor issues seriously. Give yourself a couple of days to recover, and then start out again with a very gentle run to assess the situation. If the problem persists, speak to your doctor or physiotherapist before exercising again. Trust us; you will save a lot of time and pain in the long term if you can catch these minor injuries early.
Naturally, however, much advice you take, you can’t make yourself one hundred percent injury-proof. But the guidance given above can certainly protect you against the most common causes of a minor injury. If you follow this advice, your running career will be much happier, healthier, and you’ll spend more time on the track than in the physio room. Remember to run with your head – not just your heart!