Managing Running Load to Prevent Injury

Running is an increasingly popular activity. Around Tasmania we are seeing more people out running. The simple nature of running is a huge factor in its appeal. It allows people a hassle free way to get outside and improve their health. But the simple act of running is often complicated by injury. Injuries are frustrating. They can mean time off running. They can disrupt your preparation for upcoming events. And they decrease your ability to get outside and be active. Wouldn’t it be great if there was something we could do to reduce our chance of injury?

In this article we discuss managing Running Load to help keep you happy and healthy.

What is Running Load?

Running Load refers to the sum of the forces and stressors applied to your body while running. It is related to a number of factors.

One of the biggest, and easiest to track, is your total running volume. This is the total distance or duration of your training per week. You can monitor your volume by timing your runs, or using GPS devices. These devices are particularly useful when combined with an app like Strava.

Weekly running volume can be separated into High Intensity and Low Intensity training. High intensity training involves your faster workouts or races, while low intensity training would include slower runs. High volumes in either area can contribute to running injuries.

Other factors that contribute to your Running Load include biomechanics (how you run), strength, terrain and footwear.

What can we do to manage Running Load?

If that’s what Running Load is, how can we manage it to prevent injury? The following three areas are where we can make the biggest change.

Running Volume:  One of the biggest errors made is in relation to running volume. We are all in a hurry to increase our running volume.  We are always chasing more kilometers. There are many ways to manage your volume, but the most common and simplest is the 10% rule. This is where you increase your running volume by no more than 10% each week. Another method we use at Physiotas is to look at the relationship between acute and chronic volume. However this is complex and beyond the scope of this article. Another related principle is avoiding spikes in training. This is related to either a sudden increase or decrease in running volume.

Biomechanics: The way you run is important. But it’s also a potentially hazardous area to consider in the management of running load. The way we run is unique to us.  Some of us aren’t supposed to move the same way as elite runners. Change to biomechanics, if not monitored closely, can increase the risk of injury. Change to biomechanics can also contribute to a reduction in running economy. This is a bad thing if your goal is performance.

There are many biomechanical factors that can contribute to running injury. There are two we can change relatively safely.  The first is to reduce over-stride.  The second is to increase step rate.

Over-striding (where your foot lands too far in front of your body) is a factor in many running injuries. Try taking shorter steps. This brings your foot strike back towards your centre of gravity.

Increasing your step rate (the total number of steps per minute) can also help. This reduces the impact of the forces related to each step. Aim for small increases in step rate. Try and keep to an increase of 5-10% and only if your step rate is already slow (i.e. less than 170).

Strength: Your ability to tolerate running load is reduced or enhanced by the strength of your muscles. Poor strength puts soft tissues, muscles and tendons at greater risk of injury, particularly when training at high intensities. Poor strength can also negatively impact your biomechanics, particularly when fatigued. Strengthening the running muscles helps manage running load. These muscles include the calves, quads, hamstrings and glutes. It can also help you run faster!

Like running specific training, strength training should be tailored for each individual. It should take into account your goals, existing strength levels and injury history.

Summary

While running is a simple activity, managing running injuries can be complex. Following the above principles and seeking professional advice will help you move better. And when you move better you feel better.

At Physiotas we can design individual running training programs. We can also assess and retrain your running gait, as well as prescribe strength training.

If you have any questions please call us at any of our six clinics.

About the Author:

Ben Brockman is an Exercise Physiologist at our Best Street Clinic.

Ben is an Exercise Physiologist and has been with Physiotas for the past 6 years. He prescribes exercise for health, performance and to help manage chronic health conditions. When not in the clinic, Ben can be found running around the streets and mountains of Tasmania.