Have you ever noticed that most runners get hurt ALL the time?

In fact, some studies put the annual injury rate among runners at a staggering 74% (which is higher than professional football).

Why are runners getting hurt so often? If we are indeed “born to run” as many have claimed, why are the vast majority of runners suffering a serious overuse injury every single year?

The answer is complex – but we can break it down to a combination of how we train and the negative side-effects of modern life. Correct these issues and train smarter and the injury rate plummets.

Injury-free running should be every runner’s top goal. When you’re healthy, you can train consistently – and consistency is what I like to call the “secret sauce” of successful running.

Once you crack the code of healthy, consistent running your race times will plummet and you’ll finally glimpse your potential. Just imagine what you could accomplish with no injuries for an entire year?

Let’s help you get there.

Here are three of the best ways to train smarter so you can stay healthy and see significant results.

1. Get Strong!

The top mistake that runners make is neglecting runner-specific strength exercises that can dramatically cut their injury risk. Instead of heading straight to the shower after a run, just 10 minutes of body-weight core and strength work is all that’s needed to help you stay healthy.

Stick to basic exercises like side planks, lunges, squats, pushups, deadlifts, and hip hikes.

More advanced exercises in the gym or medicine ball workouts should only be done about twice per week for most runners. It’s best to also schedule strength workouts on moderate or hard running days to enhance recovery on easy days. This is the “make your hard days harder and easy days easier” principle in action.

Many of the chronic aches and pains runners experience are the result of no strength work and can be easily avoided - or at least minimized - by exercising more muscles than just the heart.

2. Improve Your Running Technique

Unfortunately, most runners are never taught how to run with proper running form. Since running is technically a series of very coordinated hops, correct running technique is critical for injury prevention.

However, there’s a caveat: if you’ve been running for more than five years or aren’t prone to injuries, don’t proactively try to change your technique. Experienced runners who alter their form actually decrease their running economy (or efficiency). So stick with what works!

But if you are prone to injuries and are a relative beginner, there are three simple ways to run with better form:

  • Land underneath your body. Too many runners focus on heel-striking or forefoot-striking. Instead, focus on landing underneath our hips or center of mass. This prevents over-striding and an aggressive heel-strike (slightly heel-striking is just fine!).
  • Increase your cadence. Cadence – or step rate – is the number of steps taken per minute. Most runners think 180 steps per minute should be the goal, but there’s really no magic number.

Work on getting your cadence to at least 170 steps per minute when you’re running at a comfortable pace. It will naturally increase once you start running faster—that’s normal. But if you’re under 170, try increasing it by about 5% every few weeks.

  • Run tall. This simple cue helps improve the body’s overall posture so you’re not slouching. Many runners implement a forward lean by leaning at the waist. Instead, focus on “running tall” by pretending there’s a string attached to your head that’s being pulled toward the sky.

These improvements to your running form make you more efficient, reduce the impact forces your legs experience, and help you run with a more athletic posture – all of which cut your injury risk.

3. Introduce More Variety to Your Training

Most runners complete the same distance, at the same pace, in the same shoes, on the same route, while training for the same distance race. After their run, it’s the same set of static stretches and they never challenge themselves with new race goals.

With this much repetition, I’m not surprised that repetitive stress injuries are so common among runners!

Training variation is an important component in my coaching philosophy. But I’m not talking about “muscle confusion” or anything like that. Variation is in the details: different paces throughout the week, changing running surfaces, and running many types of workouts are all critical to reducing the repetitive stress that’s inherent in the sport of running.

Here are four concrete ways to introduce more variety into your running:

  • Rotate 2-3 pairs of shoes to slightly change your biomechanics and the stress experienced by your feet and lower legs
  • Run workouts during your training program that include paces from sprinting to very eas7 runs
  • Incorporate strength exercises that include a variety of movements to correct imbalances and weaknesses
  • Run more trails and hills – the irregular surface changes how you run

These changes to your training may seem insignificant, but over time they alter how stress is applied to the body. For example, foot strike, stride angle, and your range of motion are all different depending on how fast you’re running or whether you’re running on a smooth sidewalk or a hilly, technical trail.

Combined, these elements of variety reduce the repetitive nature of running and help you run longer with less risk of a serious injury.

Putting it All Together

Most runners don't follow these training suggestions - and they hit performance plateaus and experience injury after injury. They find themselves stuck on the hamster wheel of injuries, hopping from one to the next as they struggle to figure out what went wrong.

Next time you start training for a big race, do more runner-specific strength exercises, improve your running form, and vary more things in your training.

Do that and I’m confident you'll not only prevent more injuries, you'll probably run a shiny new PR, too.

About the Author: Jason Fitzgerald is a 2:39 marathoner and USA Track & Field certified coach. Get the latest training tips at Strength Running – or sign up for two free presentations on injury prevention, more mistakes to avoid, and Q&A to help you stay healthy.

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