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Let’s be hon­est: run­ning, a total­ly badass way to prove you’re at the top of your game, is also a high-impact sport that can take a heavy toll on your joints and mus­cles. Be it a nag­ging blis­ter, shin splints or Achilles ten­dini­tis, a run­ning injury can keep you from lac­ing up for days, weeks or even months. For­tu­nate­ly, though, such injuries are easy to avoid if you fol­low a few pre­ven­tive steps.

Invest in the right shoes
When it comes to keep­ing your­self injury-free, it all starts with mak­ing sure you have hap­py toot­sies. Not all run­ning shoes are made equal, just as not all feet or run­ning styles are the same. If you’re not sure what works best for you, head to your local run­ning shore to make sure you get a good style and fit. If your store has a cam­era set up to test your gait, even bet­ter. Noth­ing feels worse after even a short run than mus­cle or foot pain from bad shoes.

Warm up first
It feels so high school gym class to say this, but warm up is key. Don’t shock your mus­cles by try­ing to take off in a quick jog or, worse, a sprint when they haven’t had time to loosen up and move some of that lac­tic acid around first (which is just ask­ing for a pulled mus­cle). Start with at least 5–10 min­utes of warm up—and be sure to include more time the faster you plan to be running.

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Prac­tice prop­er posture
Start with your head and work your way down. Hold your head high, don’t let your chin jut out, but don’t tuck it either. Look for­ward, scan the hori­zon and don’t look down at your feet. You should feel your neck and back straight­en. Relax your shoul­ders. They should be low, not up toward your ears cre­at­ing extra ten­sion. Next, are your arms. Even though run­ning is most­ly legs, your arms are key. Your hands con­trol the ten­sion in your body so don’t clench your fists, but let your fin­ger­tips light­ly graze your palms. When they swing, your arms should move most­ly for­ward and back, not across your body, your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Keep your tor­so straight and run tall. If your head and tor­so are in good align­ment, your hips—your cen­ter of gravity—will be also. And now for stride: don’t let it be too short or too long. Your feet should land direct­ly under­neath your body. Your foot should strike the ground light­ly, land­ing between your heel and the mid­dle of your foot, and then quick­ly roll for­ward to push off with max­i­mum force. The whole process should feel light and springy, cre­at­ing lit­tle to no noise as you run.

Stretch
It’s amaz­ing how many peo­ple neglect doing so. Stay­ing flex­i­ble and lim­ber will not only improve your run­ning per­for­mance, but stave off IT band, hip flex­or, ham­string, quadri­ceps, calve and arch tight­ness that could leave you in a lot of pain, and lead to knee injuries requir­ing phys­i­cal ther­a­py. Stretch while your mus­cles are still warm and don’t rush it; spend at least 30 sec­onds sink­ing into each stretch. Loose mus­cles are hap­py muscles.

Hydrate
Keep­ing your mus­cles hydrat­ed will keep the cramps away, and, not to men­tion dehy­dra­tion is the worst feel­ing ever.

Don’t over­do it
It’s real­ly easy to feel like you need to be push­ing far­ther, faster and hard­er than you phys­i­cal­ly can. Lis­ten to your body. Know your lim­its. Train for longer runs and don’t just jump into it. An overuse-injury can take a long time to heal.