7 ways to prevent running injuries – including how many rest days to take

Learn how to avoid niggles from becoming running injuries with advice from leading fitness experts.

If you love running and have previously had to take time out from it due to injury, you’ll know how frustrating those periods can be – and will no doubt be keen to prevent running injuries striking again.

But the good news is there are several steps you can take that will reduce the risks of developing a running injury, and subsequently needing to follow an exercise recovery plan.

To help with this, we asked leading fitness experts for their best injury prevention advice for runners.

Older female warming up before a runCredit: Shutterstock/Ground Picture
Warming up before a run and cooling down afterwards is key

1. Start regular strength training

If you don’t already incorporate regular strength training for runners into your fitness routine, now is the time to start.

Not only will this help to prevent running injuries, but it will also help improve your running form, says James Staring, lead coach and co-owner of Fit to Last.

“The stronger you are, the more stable you will be on your feet,” he explains, “and the more power you will be able to generate with each running stride.

“The key is to lift heavier weights for a lower number of repetitions as this will help to build lean muscle that will support your joints when you run.”

He recommends starting by training with weights you can lift for five repetitions. And if you’re able to add in a couple more repetitions with relative ease, that’s a sign you could perhaps increase the weight.

“It’s vital you choose weights that you can lift with correct form (this includes having equal weight in both feet and engaging your core) but that also challenge you,” says Staring. “This will help you to build a stable foundation so you can run without injury.”

2. Focus on your front and back when stretching and strengthening

When strength training for running, it’s important to make sure you focus equally on the front and back of your body, as this will help to avoid any muscular imbalances from developing.

“For example, if your thighs were to become stronger than the back of your legs, this would place uneven pressure on the joints these muscles support (your knees and hips), and this could lead to injury,” Staring explains.

“Just imagine repeating a motion 10,000 times when one side is stronger than the other, and you can see how easily this could happen.”

Older man in plank pose to work on his core strengthCredit: Shutterstock/stockfour
Planks are a great way to strengthen your core

3. Work on your core strength, too

You can work on your core strength in just a few minutes by adding in three sets of 30-second planks to your strength training routine.

Staring says you can gradually increase your plank hold time up to 60 seconds as it becomes easier (and as your core strength improves).

“This will help you to develop a stronger core and help you to breathe better, and therefore run better too,” he adds.

4. Stretch your hips before and after strength training

Before you begin, it’s a good idea to warm up your hips with dynamic stretches, such as leg swings, side lunges and bodyweight squats.

After you’ve finished your strength training workout, prioritise stretching out your hips as this will help to keep them mobile and also avoid stiffness, advises Staring.

5. Vary your training intensity

A great rule of thumb to keep in mind when you run regularly is to make sure your easy runs are exactly that.

As a general guide, your easy run pace should be at least two minutes slower than your 5k or 10k race pace.

“There has to be a balance to your training intensity, though,” says Lewis Moses, former international middle distance runner, founder of New Levels Coaching and running adviser for compression brand, CEP.

“Way too many people fall into the trap of running their easy days too hard or too fast, which can result in injury,” he explains.

“Managing the intensity of your training can allow you to safely increase your running volume.”

Older black runner wearing a striking yellow top stretching outdoorsCredit: Shutterstock/DisobeyArt
Varying your training and making time for stretching is important

6. Prioritise rest and recovery

It’s not advisable to run every day, and fitness experts advise having at least one rest day per week.

If you have a previous history of injuries, however, building in a couple of rest days will help your body recover from your training load.

“Typically, I’d advise doing three sessions of running per week, combined with three strengthening and stretching sessions, with rest days interspersed between each run,” advises Katie Knapton, a physiotherapist and founder of PhysioFast Online.

“Allowing for recovery time will help to avoid fatigue, as running too often without having rest days will tend to make you more prone to injuries. Most commonly, these will be tendon or muscle injuries.”

She adds: “There’s also the risk of bone injuries, too, such as possible stress fractures from overdoing it.”

Moses adds that sleep is the best form of recovery we have, so creating a good bedtime routine to try and maximise the quality of your sleep is vital. Keeping hydrated and eating a balanced healthy diet can also help to promote recovery, he says.

7. Mix it up!

Don’t become too focused on running, as other forms of exercise can help to complement what your main training efforts are working towards.

“Running should only form part of your training programme,” Knapton advises.

“It’s important to cross-train (such as combining cycling, swimming and practising yoga or Pilates), as this helps to build your strength and stamina to reduce the risk of overload.”

Avoid training mistakes that could increase your risk of a running injuryCredit: Shutterstock/Maridav
Avoid training mistakes that could increase your risk of a running injury

4 things NOT to do if you want to avoid running injuries

1. Don’t neglect strength and conditioning work

This point is especially important if you have previously been injured.

Runners often fall into the trap of the run-injury cycle, Moses says, where they diligently follow rehab exercises that have been set by a physio and then forget about them when they get back to running again.

“Try to keep strength and conditioning in your plan as this will help you to build a stronger running body,” he says.

“Think of it like building a house. When you have solid foundations and a strong structure, the house (your running body) will be more robust.”

2. Don’t compare yourself to others

We often want to do everything that others do, but that isn’t a wise way to train or compete as a runner, Moses says.

“You are unique, and what works for someone else won’t necessarily work for you.”

3. Don’t ignore what your body is trying to tell you

There will be days when you just don’t fancy pulling on your trainers and going for a run, and that could be owing to many reasons – from a poor night’s sleep or feeling a little under the weather, to being slightly concerned about a niggle you’re experiencing at the moment.

Listening to your body is key here and resting when you don’t feel like it is more than OK, says Staring.

“You won’t lose any fitness if you listen to your body and take a day off when you don’t feel up to it,” he says.

“By giving yourself a day off when you need to, you’ll also come back to your next run feeling refreshed and invigorated.”

4. Don’t take a hit-and-miss approach to stretching

Post-run stretching helps to promote blood flow to your muscles and joints, so it’s really beneficial from an exercise recovery perspective.

Stretching before a run – with dynamic movements such as leg swings and jumping jacks – helps to warm up your muscles so they’re more likely to respond to your training.

After a run, static stretching, such as side bends, standing calf stretches and touching your toes, is best.

“Always warm up before and stretch after every run – no exceptions,” Staring insists. “It’s a small investment of your time but it can mean the difference between feeling fresh and ready for your next run or feeling sluggish, tired and being at increased risk of getting injured.”

Julie Penfold

Written by Julie Penfold she/her

Updated:

Julie Penfold has been a specialist health and wellbeing journalist for more than 15 years and has been a finalist in three prestigious health and medical journalism awards during that time. She has written for a wide variety of health, medical, wellbeing and fitness magazines and websites. These have included Running, TechRadar, Outdoor Fitness, Be Healthy, Top Sante, Doctors.net.uk and The Guardian’s Social Care network.

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