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.
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.
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.
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.