Running is a great sport. It’s a sport that doesn’t require expensive equipment or gym memberships. All you need to get into running is a great pair of sneakers; a decent stretch of road, sand or trail; and the will to keep on going.
When they’re not training properly, however, runners are very susceptible to foot injuries. At no time is this truer than when you are just getting into running for the first time, or right after you’ve taken a long hiatus from the sport.
Why New Runners Get Hurt
A study published by Danish researchers in the Journal of Sports Physical Therapy examined runners during their first three weeks of training, a period in which injury is very likely to occur.
According to their findings, obese runners (those with a BMI of 30 or greater) had a dramatically higher risk of sustaining a running injury during their first three weeks of training. This fact is troubling, since many heavier individuals will take up running as a way to lose weight.
In order to avoid this heightened risk of injury, the study offered some great training tips. One important suggestion (which lowered a runner’s risk of injury by 50 percent!!) was to run no more than a total of two miles during the first week of training. While this might seem like a shockingly low number for more seasoned runners, researchers found that this was the magic mileage threshold for new runners in terms of injury prevention.
The study also suggested that, before engaging in running for weight loss, heavier individuals would be wise to begin a lower-impact walking or walk-run exercise regimen, only starting to run for longer periods of time once they’d already begun shedding pounds.
Building Up Your Running Skills
After taking it extremely easy during your first week as a runner, you may be ready to take on slightly bigger challenges. Over the next few weeks of your new training program, it’s still very important to exercise caution.
To begin with, set aside three days each week to run. On each of these days, try running for no more than 20 minutes at a time. Stick with this time frame for a few weeks, until your runs start to feel comfortable—or even easy. Once you’re really comfortable with those shorter runs, you can gradually increase your workout times. Of course, just as it’s ok to start gradually building up your run times, it’s always ok to return to an easier training schedule. If running for 20 minutes straight feels very challenging, build some walking breaks into that time period. Or feel free to return to your week-one program, logging two miles in total for your entire training week.
Beginners shouldn’t worry about increasing their pace or mile count. The key numbers to focus on are the amount of minutes you can devote to uninterrupted runs. As you build up strength, your body will naturally move faster, and you’ll run farther and faster in the same amount of time. You may even find you’re ready to run for longer periods of time. The key is to listen to your body; if any addition to your running routine causes you discomfort, stop training for that day and return to a previous routine that worked. Slow and steady progress beats quick gains that only end in injury.
While every runner should warmup and cool down with stretches, it’s especially important for beginners, as they may be impacting muscles they haven’t used in a while. Ideally, a new runner will devote about 10 minutes to pre-run stretching, but even devoting three-to-five minutes to your warmup will go a long way towards preventing injury.
The best warmup stretches for runners are dynamic ones—that means that they incorporate some sort of movement into the stretch. Dynamic stretching is a great way to safely prepare your muscles and joints for the full range of motion they will experience during a run.
Not sure where to start? Try working some of these dynamic stretches into your running warmup:
Walking lunges are fantastic for runners because they open up your quads and hip flexors while mimicking the forward motion of your upcoming workout.
WHAT TO DO: Start by standing with your feet together, then take a long step forward with your right foot. Bend your front knee to a 90 degree ankle; bend your back knee until it is almost touching the floor (or as close as you can get without experiencing pain.) Hold this position for a few seconds, then try straightening out your back leg to stretch out your left thigh. Next, stand up, bring your feet together, and repeat, this time leading with your left foot. Keep this up until you’ve done at least five lunges on each side.
Strike a (Pigeon) Pose
Dynamic pigeon poses take a lot of pressure off the muscles that take a real beating during your runs: namely, your glutes and IT band.
WHAT TO DO: To get into pigeon pose, get onto the floor and fold your right knee in front of you, so the knee is pointing towards the right and your shin and outside of your thigh are touching the floor. Put your left leg behind you, making sure that the leg is straight and your shin, foot and top of your thigh stay on the ground. It’s also important to level out your hips to enjoy the full benefits of the stretch. If this stretch is enough (as it may be for beginners), feel free to keep it static, just alternating several times between sides. If, however, you are ready for a dynamic stretch, you can add a twist in the torso to your pigeon pose. While your right leg is bent in front of you, bring your right hand up behind your right ear, then start twisting to your left side, bringing your elbow across your body. Repeat the twist several times on your right side, then switch your lead leg.
Post-Run Cool Down and Stretches
Of course, what you do after your run is just as important as the way in which you warm up and train during a workout.
The first step of a proper runner’s cool down should involve slowing your pace. If you’ve been sprinting, take it down to a jog. If you’ve been jogging, slow your pace to a brisk walk. The key to this portion of the cool down is to gradually and safely return your heart rate to its normal state. If you stop moving altogether right after extreme exertion, you may feel ill or light-headed.
During a runner’s cool down, it’s also important to flush out tension that may have built up during your muscles. If you don’t, you’ll feel stiff and sore next time you run—and you’ll be much more susceptible. While it may seem counter-intuitive, many running experts actually suggest brief bursts of specific cardio moves after completing your run.
A sample runner’s cool down could include:
1. 30 seconds of butt kicks
2. 30 seconds of leg shuffles
3. 30 seconds of skipping, bringing your knees into your chest
4. 30 seconds of quick jumps, making an effort not to let your feet rest on the ground for too long.
If this cool down gets you a bit winded, you may want to take a walking or jogging lap afterwards, to get your heart rate back down where it belongs.
Starting a new running program can be risky, regardless of your weight or previous fitness levels. If you want to get into running but are concerned about your foot health, schedule an appointment with one of our experienced running doctors to discuss your safest training options.