Over roughly four months last year, there were 858,000 downloads of Public Health England’s Couch to 5K app. It was a 92% increase compared to the same time in 2019.
It’s not really surprising, is it? Gyms were closed and team sports suspended. It was either running or Joe Wicks.
Now in a third national lockdown, many of us are once again lacing up our trainers.
Couch to 5K is a great initiative, backed by the NHS, designed for people with little to no running experience. But it doesn’t prevent injury. If you’re not used to running, you could be putting yourself at risk.
Why a new running routine can increase your chance of injury
Our bodies are impressive structures, designed to move and flow in a variety of ways. However, we all have restrictions and limitations on how our body will move.
We tend to have a dominant side, even in our daily activities and routines. This means we will move well in some areas, but feel restriction or tightness in others.
When we start our new running or exercise regime, we tend to favour these dominant patterns. But doing so can lead to targeted fatigue and tension in some muscles and joints, compromising movement and causing compensation patterns.
Ultimately this leads to excessive strain and stress through the body. Too much and you’ll end up injured.
Where this injury occurs will depend not only on where these stresses are, but where they come from too.
Common running injuries include:
Tendinopathy (Achilles or knee/patella)
IT band syndrome
Lower back pain
You can read more about common running injuries and their signs and symptoms here.
But how can you avoid injury and keep enjoying your new running routine? Here are our top priorities.
1. Focus on your leg, hip and pelvis mobility
When we run or walk, our hips, pelvis, knee and ankles rotate. That gives us stability and creates the perfect tension through our tissues so we can be propelled forward. This process is known as the gait cycle.
Focusing on the mobility of the pelvis, hips, knees, and ankles will help your body move more effectively and efficiently throughout this cycle.
We’ve got a series of mobility exercises right here.
2. Always cool down after your run
Exercising is a bit like getting a car to start. We can’t do it without fuel. But what does this have to do with cooling down?
Well, as our energy systems (our personal fuel) are depleted our body produces waste byproducts. If we suddenly stop exercise, the waste byproducts can pool or gather within the muscles. That’s when you’ll feel muscle soreness and fatigue.
A simple cool-down routine, such as walking after a run, helps lower our heart rate while still allowing blood to flow and remove waste toxins.
Gentle stretching afterwards also allows those overworked tendons to relax to their natural state. But, it’s also important not to overstretch here!
3. Your running routine must include rest
It might seem counterintuitive if you’re trying to get into a consistent running routine, but the psychological changes that happen when we exercise adapt and improve on days we rest. Great news, right!
We know that physically our muscles will get stronger the more frequently we exercise. But for our bodies to fully adapt to the exercise we do, we must also give ourselves time to recover from the physical stress.
If we don’t take sufficient rest, our bodies will not recover. This means our whole bodies will be exhausted, not just the muscles engaged during exercise. Ultimately, that leaves us at higher risk of injury.
4. Stay hydrated and follow a nutritious diet
Spoiler alert: you can’t outrun a bad diet! We are not nutritionists, and we are not here to tell you what to eat (or not eat). But it’s undeniable that your diet (including when you eat) plays a vital role in active recovery from exercise.
Your body stores energy in the muscles and liver: this is the energy we burn when we exercise. We must replenish these energy stores as quickly as possible with quality nutrition (not a Big Mac).
5. Above all, listen to your body
This sounds simple, right? But it’s something so many of us (myself included at times) fail to do.
The cliche of ‘no pain, no gain’ couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s no question that starting a new running routine will bring us some aches and pains. We’ll be using muscles that have been dormant for a while (maybe even years). Suddenly we’re waking them up and pushing them to new limits.
Delayed Onset Muscle Fatigue (DOMS) and dull aches are expected when you start a new running routine. However, you shouldn’t put up with sharp pain or a niggling ache that won’t go away. If pain or feeling causes us to start looking at Dr Google or asking friends for advice, we need to listen and rest. We’re also here to help in the clinic.
Keep on running
We’ve all got to do whatever we can to get through this tough time. But you don’t have to do it in pain. If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of people who’ve taken up running during multiple lockdowns, these essential parts of your routine will help prevent injury and keep you pounding the pavement.