The following article is written by Coach Scott Fishman, a certified trainer and USA Track and Field coach with over 15 years experience working with athletes. He is also the founder of Team All-American.
The truth is, running isn’t the only ingredient to being a successful runner—staying healthy is crucial. When searching for advice about running injury free, it can be tough to separate the bad information from the good information—which is the difference between injury and long-term quality results.
As a coach with over a decade of coaching experience, I embrace all facets of coaching, including injury prevention. I understand the science behind quality conditioning and training to maximize physical development, no matter where the athlete’s starting place. There isn’t anything magical about coaching but there is something extraordinary about learning from professional research and experience—especially when it comes to injury prevention.
Before you begin reading, keep in mind that these suggestions are like building a classic S’mores sandwich (constructed out of a graham cracker, piece of chocolate, and toasted marshmallow)—that is, whether you like more chocolate and less marshmallow, or less marshmallow and an extra layer of graham cracker, it is important to include all of the elements in order for the creation to be a true S’more. Similarly, I encourage my athletes to embrace and include all of the below notes into their running regimen, even if some of the tips hit closer to home than others.
Just like our bodies need to alternate incorporating workout days with recovery days, so can the same theory apply to shoes. Shoes need a rest from our bodies, and so do our bodies need a rest from our shoes. This is why I recommend alternating your running sneakers every other day. I also recommend alternating not only your pair of shoes but also the model of running shoe every other day. The reason for this is so that we don’t strike the ground at the same angle over and over again.
By changing our running shoes, we keep our shoes and bodies fresh. Since we strike the ground differently depending on our pace—sprinting uses the forefoot, stamina running uses the midfood, etc.— I recommend that we apply the same variety principle in our sneaker regimen. It’s the combination of variety in our workouts and variety our running shoes that contributes to our striking the ground at different angles and thereby strengthening our feet. Strong feet are key to injury prevention!
Water is wonderful, but it is not enough. Electrolytes replenish the body with necessary minerals lost during runs and are a key part of a successful runner’s routine.
The most common misconception about refueling fluids is many runners feel that they should drink before and after runs but will not stop during a run to replenish.
On the contrary. It is during a run that our bodies may need that tiny burst of electrolytes most. And by giving our body fluid during intense activity, we are more likely to finish a workout feeling strong and better able to recover for the next session.
Water alone is not enough and, in fact, over doing water intake will actually deplete the body of necessary electrolytes. Adding electrolytes gives our bodies the chance to replenish before we are fatigued. Fatigue leads to injury. The best injury prevention is about being proactive, not reactive!
Nobody wins the easy run, especially the runner who finishes their recovery run in first. This is because a huge part of our bodies’ adaptation to our hard workouts occurs during our recovery day. A coach designs a workout plan to include these recovery days for our own mental and physical good—so that we can last in the long run.
We humans are like slinky-springs—we need time to recoil up and regain our strength. If we continue to stretch ourselves out, we wear thin and weak.
It is important to trust the GPS watch and stick to the easy run paces your coach prescribes. Running slower or faster than we are supposed to on our recovery days will not stress the aerobic energy system appropriately. Sticking to a pace range helps prevent over or under exertion on recovery days. The athletes who trust and believe in recovery days they do their workouts will go the farthest.
There are plenty of different types of running surfaces, and our mind and body will benefit differently from each of them. Where the grass might strengthen our micro-muscles and aid in recovery, the track might help us in speed development. Alternatively, a treadmill run might give you more bounce than a track.
Mentally, we benefit from changing our surroundings. Whereas a dirt trail run might give us the sense of adventure we crave, running on the roads might help us practice focus and visualization for a long road race. Also, practicing decelerating, accelerating, changing direction might help us experiment and learn our personal comfort levels.
Mix it up between grass, dirt, tracks, pavement, and treadmills. Avoid concrete.
Minimize or eliminate hill training for your running regimen. Hill running, especially downhill running, often results in more risk than reward.
Fuel is your post run friend. Running without refueling within 30 minutes of a run may reverse some of the positive effects of the workout and put you at a greater risk of injury.
I recommend packing an easy-to-drink smoothie for immediately after your run, and then integrating a high protein meal 1-2 hours after your smoothie.
As a general rule for post-workout fuel, aim for a 4:1 carb to protein ratio during the initial fuel, and then a more protein heavy meal in the 1-2 hours after. Carbohydrates help replenish the glycogen lost during the run, and protein will help with recovery and the formation of new muscle.
The body is good at healing itself if we take complete rest and avoid physical activity, but for the active runner, we can use the extra help of a masseuse to keep us running strong.
My philosophy is that regular massage is best incorporated into our routine as injury- prevention, rather than only using massage to aid with an existing injury. This way, we can prevent injuries from even cropping up in the first place. Plus, preventative massage doesn’t have to be incredibly painful—ideally it should be maintenance work.
Toss a water bottle in the freezer and use it as a foot massager! After a run, gently roll the bottom of your foot with the frozen bottle. This way, when you are unable to see your masseuse, you can use this simple technique to maintain your body health everyday.
Remember. Be careful, because the bottle will be slippery. One foot at a time, just like running. You can also use this as a foam roller anywhere else that needs attention.
Take an entire week off every couple of months. That’s right, complete rest. This is crucial for mental and physical longevity.
Also, sleep doesn’t get the credit it deserves. As a coach, I would rather an athlete get one more hour of sleep rather than run one extra mile. Or try adding a power nap to your daily routine.
And finally… This is the most important
Running is a high impact sport and the margin for error is very small—managing the many elements and decisions that go into long term fitness and health is tough.
Sorting through the bad and generic advice to find information pertinent to you as a unique runner is a challenge. As a coach, I believe as a coach that every athlete needs something specific and different.
Hiring an excellent coach to work with in developing a custom training plan can be a life changing decision— it can be the difference between feeling healthy today and staying healthy on race day and for many race days to come!