Seven rules to stay injury free:
Warm up and cool down:
You should always warm up and cool down. Research has repeatedly shown that warming up and cooling down is crucial in avoiding muscle and ligament damage.
For runners that means starting out slowly, gradually building up to peak intensity, then easing off gently at the end. Walk for a couple of minutes, then stretch to complete your cool down.
Listen to your body:
Remember the old 1970s workout mantra, No Pain No Gain? That confused a lot of people, who began to equate pain with progress. However, there are different types of pain, and you have to distinguish between them, that means learning to listen to your body.
The good pain is the type you feel when you do a hard workout, tired muscles, burning lungs. The bad type is the pain you get in your joints, your muscles, your tendons or ligaments, the pain that does not end a few minutes after your workout.
If you experience this type of pain, the first thing to do is stop! Then you need to follow the RICE formula:
R (Rest) Stop whatever is hurting
I (Ice) Apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes
C (Compression) After icing, wrap the injured area in an elastic bandage
E (Elevation) Raise the injured body part
Use the RICE procedure as soon possible, experts estimate that each minute you delay icing an injury slows recovery by an hour. You can continue to use this several times a day for three or four days.
If pain persists for more than a few days, consult a doctor.
When scientists recently took blood samples of competitors before a marathon, they estimated that 95% of them were over trained, in other words, they would have performed better if they had trained less!
When you exercise, your body needs time to recover, if you perform another hard workout too soon, you dont make progress, you break down. Muscles need 48 hours to recover between workouts, so after a hard run (intervals, long distance), the next day needs to be either a day off, a recovery run, or an alternative workout (swimming, biking, yoga etc).
You also need down time, as a general rule, you should take one or two days off per week. Finally, you need sufficient sleep. In a recent experiment, a group of college athletes had an extra hour of sleep every night for two weeks before a competition, on average, they increased their personal best by 5%!
Imagine the scene, a Formula 1 race, Lewis Hamilton pulls into the pits to refuel, and they fill his car up with diesel! That is what you do to your body every time you eat junk food.
When you work out hard you place huge extra demands on your body. In order to cope, that is, get fitter and stay injury free, you need a healthy diet.
Your diet should therefore be based around plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, quality protein (chicken, fish, lean meat, beans), and whole grain carbohydrates (bread, rice, pasta). Be sure to also drink plenty of water, eight glasses per day minimum for an athlete.
The 10% Rule:
There is probably nothing that causes as many injuries as people increasing their mileage too quickly. It is easy to do, you run 10 miles per week and it feels easy, so the next week you bump it up to 15. That does not seem too hard, so the next week you do 20. The week after that you get an injury!
For that reason, coaches teach the 10% rule, this means that you keep increases in distance and speed to 10% or less.
At first that sounds pretty small, like you will never make progress, but in reality it can add up quickly. For example, by adding around 10% to your mileage each week, you can go from 15 miles per week to 30 in around 8 weeks.
Just about all runners know that they should stretch, but few of them do. Indeed, for most, stretching involves nothing more than a few quick moves at the start of a run.
Ironically, this is the worst possible time to stretch. There is a growing body of research that demonstrates that the best time to stretch is immediately following a workout, when the muscles are warm. In fact, stretching before a workout, with cold muscles, is counter productive, it can temporarily shorten your range of motion.
You should thus stretch immediately after you finish your run. This will maximise the gains in flexibility, speed recovery, and reduce your risk of injury.
It is an anathema to many runners, but it seems that cross training does not only reduce your risk of injuries, it might just help you to run faster.
Cross training is of course what triathletes do, and involves using a variety of different forms of exercise (for example swimming or biking) on a regular basis.
The advantage for runners is that you can use it for your recovery workouts (i.e. those workouts between the hard days like hills and intervals), and also to build your basic endurance with less strain on your legs.
You still get the benefits to your cardio system, but without the pounding on your joints.
Combine these practices with smart training, and you should be raring and ready to go when your next 10K rolls around.