Avoiding running related injuries and running training tips

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By Shane Fagan

Another lockdown has continued to see a large amount of people out ‘pounding the pavements’ doing long distance running, with a big increase in popularity of people running 5k’s.

From an evolutionary requirement, the human body is designed for long-distance running, which likely evolved during our time as hunters and gatherers. Although the ability to hunt and gather is no a longer necessary, people continue to run long distances today due to the health benefits it offers. Unfortunately, distance running also carries the significant risk of developing injury. People with a lesser history of regular physical activity prior to the commencement of running are at a greater risk of developing injuries such as bone stress injuries, i.e. Shin splints (Warden et al 2014).

A key to manage the risk of injury in running is by getting the correct training volume, and avoiding large spikes in training. Naturally, if someone is only recently taking up running, this will see their training volume increase significantly. The general consensus is that large weekly changes in training load increase the risk of injury. A popular training volume tip is the ‘10% rule’. The 10% rule states that your injury risk increases when your training load increases by more than 10% each week.

Runnin Graph

While the 10% rule can be a useful guideline to reduce injury risk, it has many flaws and limitations. Changes in training load should be interpreted in relation to the chronic load of the individual athlete. For example, small weekly increases in training load (≤10%) in athletes with low chronic training load will delay the return of that athlete to full capacity, whereas an athlete with high chronic training load will likely tolerate much smaller increases in training load from week to week.

Another more detailed way to calculate training load is the acute chronic workload ratio. The ACWR has been found to be an effective way to monitor load and reduce injury risk.

  • Acute Workload – this is the workload performed by an athlete in 1-week (7 days)
  • Chronic Workload – this is typically the 4-week (28 day) average acute workload

There are numerous ways to calculate ACWR (i.e. GPS, internal, external loads etc) – however a way to do it yourself is by using training session duration (i.e. 20 mins) multiplied by session rate of perceived exertion (RPE) of 1-10 (1 being very light, 10 being max effort).

The ACWR value and its various meanings are listed below:

  • < 0.80 (Under training and higher relative injury risk)
  • 80 – 1.30 (Optimal workload and lowest relative injury risk – “The Sweet Spot”)
  • > 1.50 (The “danger zone” and highest relative injury risk)

High days, low days

Consistently running 5ks at your best pace two or three times a week will quickly see you plateau in your times. A useful way to programme your training is by doing a long easy pace run (i.e 7km at 5.30 per min pace) once a week, one day doing a long threshold run (i.e 4km at 4.40per min) and one day doing intervals (i.e 10 x 400 metre runs at 1.45 per minute). Havinh training days which will target different heart rate zones, intensities, duration, energy systems and rest periods will help performance. Have low days where you train at a lower intensity than maximum, and high days where you train at near maximum intensity. Your training week should be built around high days, and you should be careful to avoid training high days in consecutive days.

Strength training

For injury prevention purposes – strength training has been shown to reduce the risk of injury by as much as 69% (Lauresen et al. 2014). In terms of performance – strength training has been found to improve endurance running performance, running economy and maximal sprint speed in middle and long distance runners (Blagrove et al 2018). For runners, make sure to incorporate strength exercises such as squats, deadlifts, step ups and calf raises. Exercise programming should ensure sufficient recovery time of at least >3 hours between running and strength training sessions (Blagrove et al 2018). In addition to that, recent research has shown the benefits of foot strengthening in runners, where the addition of a foot core strengthening programme reduced the risk of running related injuries by x2.4 times in runners (Taddei et al. 2020) – stronger feet, safer runner!

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Rest days

Endurance athletes who have less than 2 rest days per week have been found to have a 520% heightened risk of injury (Ristolainen et al 2013). An easy way to reduce your risk of injury – have a rest day! This doesn’t mean staying in bed and resting all day. A rest day can be an active recovery day, and include activities as going for a walk or stretching.

Hope these tips help – and happy running! 🏃🏃‍♀️


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