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5 Smart Training Tips for Runners 

There are no absolutes when it comes to a running training program. What works for one might not work for another. Still, there are some common errors that we see which lead to injury or frustration. Runners who are trying to improve often fall into the trap of working too hard by overdoing it on what should be an “easy” day. 

An overly cautious training plan with a lot of low-intensity runs and rest days is safe, but unlikely to have enough improvements in speed and endurance. On the other hand, a program that features lots of hard runs, less recovery, and an inconsistent pattern of increasing mileage will most likely cause overtraining, injury and not getting the results that you’re seeking. 

There’s no single rule for optimal training. But there are certain principles that you can follow when you’re chasing your running goals while decreasing the chance of injuries.

1. Plan your Training

The key principle of smart and effective training is periodization and planning.  Instead of going out for a run with no purpose, a periodized training plan gives a structure to each run. This method can help you peak at specific times of a season by incorporating recovery and rest throughout the year depending on your objectives. For example, if your goal is to race in a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, or marathon, you will most likely want to peak near the race date. A typical monthly plan will involve three weeks of building intensity and volume, and one week of recovery. On a weekly basis, distributing your runs accordingly with easy and hard runs while incorporating cross-training and rest days will get you closer to your goals.

2. Know the Difference: Flexibility and Mobility

Flexibility uses external forces, such as body weight or gravity. As long as you stretch gently enough by not aggravating the already damaged tissue, stretching a sore muscle will feel good. 

Flexibility is a must for mobility. While flexibility is passive, mobility is active. Having an increased range of motion without any control and strength within that range is an injury risk. For this reason, you need to have strength in order to have good mobility. Focusing on dynamic warm-up moves such as leg swings and lunges can increase your mobility.

3. Incorporate Cross-Training 

Cross-training can be a beneficial tool for runners. Activities such as cycling and swimming can improve your cardiovascular fitness without the stress caused by running. These activities work well for a runner returning from an injury or a runner that needs a short break. Depending on your goal, incorporating cross-training will complement your running quality.

4. Exercise Selection

Unlike swimming, cycling, or other forms of optional aerobic exercise, strength training is essential to being an all-round runner. Strengthening your prime muscles that you use while running – such as the hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, and core – will definitely improve your performance. Strength training might not make you run faster, but it will make your body more resilient in order to handle the demands of your training better and decrease the chances of unwanted injuries.

The choice of what exercises to do affects the efficiency of your strength program. Try to select exercises that strengthen the muscles that you use the most while running, but don’t miss out on working on your core, prime and stabilizing muscles. If you’re training or running for general fitness, start with exercises that improve big muscles and multiple joints (e.g., squats, deadlifts, hip-thrusts, planks) and progress to the ones that work smaller muscles (e.g., shoulder presses, arm workouts).

5. Navigate Your Injuries & Treatment Options

The value of prevention is priceless, and avoiding a small annoyance before it turns into an injury is our ultimate goal. Addressing some areas that might be a bit overworked or underworked can save you a lot. An area becomes injured either because it’s overworked or because it’s underworked. Sometimes, the injury can be a combination of the two. Perhaps a certain area that is being overworked is also weak. There’s also a third category: accident! 

You might ask yourself as a runner, “Is this pain or injury something that I can run through?” or “Is it time to see a professional?” A starting point is to identify where you are on the pain scale. This can help you to screen yourself and determine if an injury is appropriate to run through or if it is severe enough to need some rest. The rule of when you can run is that if your pain is less than a 3 out of 10 (on a scale with 0 being no pain and 10 being “please take me to the hospital”). 

But this is not the only guide. If your pain increases as you run, stop. You might need to swap today’s run for a cross-training day or a rest day.

However, there are some red flags you need to consider. If you are unable to walk without compensating or are waking up during the night due to pain or discomfort, it’s time to seek professional treatment. Other red flags to look out for are a lack of feeling in an area (numbness), significant and recent onset of weakness (like difficulty flexing your foot), or a distinct change in coloring (the tissue has gone white or turned purple, blue, or black)—these could indicate a serious nerve or arterial issue, and you should seek medical treatment immediately. If you’ve determined that your injury or pain requires a medical professional, don’t wait until the pain gets worse. 

Run Healthy book cover

Adapted from:

Run Healthy

Emmi Aguillard, Jonathan Cane and Allison L. Goldstein

Header photo by Alora Griffiths

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