Running is a healthy, rewarding activity that is accessible anywhere – including right outside your front door.
While many of us take lessons and learn techniques to practice most sports, people often just jump into running with both feet (no pun intended!). However, many runners (50 to 80% depending on sources) end up experiencing pain or dealing with an injury that affects their ability to continue running. Let’s expand on a few factors that can help you keep running – injury and pain free.
1. Running Cadence
On average, a runner should take 180 steps per minute, however, lots of recreational runners tend to run at a lower step rate. Increasing your cadence will help to:
- Position your body in a forward position (maximizing your momentum);
- Diminish your stride length which will allow the mid and forefoot to contact the ground rather than heel striking;
- Diminish your contact time with the ground, hence reducing forces acting on your joints and muscles.
In order to estimate your running cadence, count the number of steps you take over a 10 second interval and multiply that by 6. If you need to make adjustments to your running cadence, there are several ways you can go about it. Some of the best options include downloading a metronome app on your phone, taking shorter running strides or practicing running downhill. Whatever method you choose, the key is to be gradual with the changes and only alter your cadence volume by 5-10% at a time.
2. Think of the 10% Rule
The body is highly adaptable to various changes in load and stress, however, every person and every situation is unique. Most running injuries can be traced back to errors while training; and the most common error happens when people add too much load or stress too quickly. A generally accepted rule in the fitness world is that you should not increase the training load on your body by more than 10% weekly. With running, load and stress factors include:
- Volume (total distance)
- Speed work
- Hill work
Taking a “slow and steady” approach and increasing the amount of load gradually will allow your body the time it needs to adapt while minimizing the potential for pain or injury. Put differently, consider only making a single load change at a time. For example, if you increase your volume or total distance in one week, don’t add a hill run or a speed workout in the same week. This will help ensure you don’t exceed your body’s loading capacity.
3. Running Form
As we’ve already discussed, having proper running mechanics will prevent the development of aches and pains as you increase your training. However, there are several factors to consider when we look at running mechanics. Height, weight age, body type, past running experience all play their part in how we move, as does our past injuries. Whether or not our past injuries are related to running, they have an impact on how you move: in physiotherapy we refer to this as “motor patterning” and “motor planning”. Essentially, our past injuries can affect the range, timing and forces produced by our bodies when we run, and when we multiply these minute adaptations over hundreds and hundreds of steps they potentially lead to new injuries.
There are a number of exercises that address proper range of motion, flexibility, balance (proprioception), strength and endurance, in preparation for healthy running. I will cover one exercise that I find very pertinent here, the lunge.
First, take a very long step, putting your feet shoulder width apart. Lower your back leg until both knees are at 90 degrees (do not shift your weight forward, rather move straight down and do not let your knee touch the floor). Push with the front leg to get your feet back together. Please only try this at home if you do not experience prior pain, or stop if you experience pain while doing the exercise.
Consideration of elements such as cadence, gradual progression and proper biomechanics can certainly enhance your running experience. If you have any mechanical dysfunction (past injuries, symptomatic areas etc.), please make sure these are addressed first. You can do this by consulting a CAMPT-Certified physiotherapist! This will ultimately help you optimize your running season and enjoyment.
About Linda Bélanger
Linda is originally from Montreal, where she graduated from Physiotherapy at McGill University in 2004. Since then, she has worked in both public and private practice, in Québec as well as in the Canadian Arctic, BC and now Alberta at Sunshine Physiotherapy. She enjoys working with all kinds of conditions, from acute to chronic, and has a special interest for shoulder, low back and pelvis problems, as well as sport related issues. When she is not working, she loves the outdoors and can be found on her mountain bike, training for triathlons or on the slopes snowboarding or patrolling as a volunteer.